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White House Task Force Tells Victims “You’re Not Alone”

Posted by On Friday, May 2, 2014

This week the Obama administration took unprecedented steps to address the problem of campus sexual violence. The First Report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, titled “Not Alone,” echoes President Obama’s message to victims and survivors:

Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.

On the same day the Task Force report came out, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a new set of guidelines for Title IX compliance. This week the OCR also released a list of 55 schools that are currently under investigation by the OCR for possible Title IX violations. This sends a strong message to colleges and universities across the country to make their compliance efforts a top priority.

This post will focus on the White House Task Force report. Besides acknowledging areas that require research and further study to determine what works, the Task Force report recommends the following best practices for schools to focus on:

  • Campus Climate Surveys: Developing a comprehensive prevention program is an ongoing process. To determine the unique needs of each campus and to measure a particular program’s success, schools need to gather data on the incidence of sexual assault occurring on their campuses and assess the campus climate among students, faculty, staff, and administrators. The Task Force recommends that schools administer an annual survey in the winter or spring to gather this information and provides guidelines for conducting the surveys. In 2016, the administration will explore legislative or administrative mandates requiring schools to conduct annual campus climate surveys.
  • Prevention programs: Given that evidence on effective campus sexual assault prevention methods is limited, the Centers for Disease Control will solicit research proposals in 2015 to inform sexual violence prevention efforts. Until then, the best practice is for campuses to provide continuing and universal prevention education for all students. Specific training requirements are found in the Campus SaVE Act education program requirements and the OCR’s “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.”
  • Employee Training: The Task Force emphasizes that the first person a victim talks to should be able to provide a victim with information about available resources and services, how to access confidential support, and how to navigate the school’s disciplinary process. Identifying victim advocates who can provide confidential emergency and ongoing support for victims and survivors is deemed a “key best practice.”
  • Reporting and Confidentiality Policies: The Task Force acknowledges that responding to reports of sexual assault while maintaining a victim’s request for confidentiality is a difficult balancing act. However, it is critical that victims get the support they need and schools adequately respond to the situation. The purpose of the report’s suggested policy language is to make students aware of their options for reporting or making confidential disclosures of sexual violence. The Task Force also promises to provide additional sample language on “several challenging areas” by September 2014.
  • Sexual Misconduct Policies: While a school’s sexual misconduct policies must reflect “the unique aspects of the institution and its student body,” the Task Force provides a checklist of important considerations when drafting policies that effectively address prevention, reporting, and responding to sexual misconduct.

Key elements of the Task Force’s recommended victim-services plan are to either provide comprehensive trauma-informed services on campus or partner with community-based organizations to make crisis intervention services available 24 hours a day. In addition, when reports involve criminal investigations there needs to be communication, cooperation, and coordination among campus security, local law enforcement, and victim support groups to make investigations and adjudications more efficient while supporting the victim’s recovery.

Some schools are experimenting with new ideas for investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases. The Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women will begin assessing different models and identifying promising practices in October 2014. Holding offenders accountable is another area where research is “desperately lacking.” The DOJ is now seeking grant applications under its Campus Assault Perpetrator Treatment Pilot Project to gather information on current campus sanctions for sexual assault perpetrators, and to develop and test sexual offender treatment programs.

Finally, the report announces a new website — www.notalone.gov — which provides data and resources for schools, victims, and survivors. For victims and survivors, the website explains how to file a complaint with the OCR and the DOJ against schools for Title IX violations. For schools, the website explains the reporting requirements of the Clery Act and Title IX in sexual assault cases, and how FERPA applies to those obligations. There is also a school-by-school enforcement map, providing links to resolution agreements and court filings addressing Title IX and Clery Act compliance investigations.

If that wasn’t enough information to process, in future posts we’ll help you understand the OCR’s new guidelines and how to put together a prevention program that addresses both the requirements of the Task Force’s best practices and the OCR’s guidelines.

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