Ensuring transparency around how your school addresses gender-based violence can be an important way to change your school. Your school should have:
A Clearly Published Policy on Gender-Based Violence
Your school should have a clear policy on gender-based violence that is easy to access and understand and is available online. Your school is legally required to publish grievance and reporting procedures—if they don’t, they are not in compliance with Title IX (or the Clery Act). The policy should have clearly defined terms and explicitly state that Title IX protects all survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, including male and gender non-conforming survivors.
- Suggested terms to define include: sexual harassment, hostile environment caused by sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual exploitation, stalking, retaliation, intimidation, and consent.
- Your school’s policy should explicitly prohibit both physical and cyber-stalking and harassment.
- The policy should clearly state that your school can investigate sexual and domestic violence complaints when incidents occur off-campus or on a study abroad program, as long as the parties are “affiliates” of your school (i.e., students, faculty, staff, etc) and the conduct is severe or pervasive enough that it creates a hostile learning environment.
Yearly Campus Climate Surveys with Published Results
Since reporting rates are so low, a school’s Clery Act crime statistics aren’t an accurate source of information on the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. Anonymous campus climate surveys, in contrast, can more accurately measure the prevalence of sexual and dating violence (and for this reason, many schools are resistant to their implementation). To maintain consistency amongst schools and to make sure schools ask the right questions, the Department of Justice has developed a standardized survey instrument for schools. Published data from climate surveys can provide valuable information that’s helpful to improve campus safety, including information about: students’ knowledge about reporting procedures and resources for survivors, their beliefs about sexual violence, and the unique ways sexual violence may affect different communities.
While colleges cannot publicly release the sanctions given to a specific, named individual [because sanctions are considered an “educational record” protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)], they can and should publish aggregate statistics so that students, parents, and alums can hold schools accountable for their responses.
Your school should publish aggregate statistics showing, at a minimum:
- how many cases are reported;
- how many survivors were denied accommodations that they requested;
- how long, on average, cases remained open;
- how many students were found responsible; and
- how students found responsible were sanctioned.
Your school might claim that publishing this data is a violation of FERPA, but it’s not. In fact, the Department of Education under the Obama Administration has required many colleges found in violation of Title IX to publish this information.
Under the Campus SaVE provisions of the Clery Act, all schools are legally required to provide prevention education to first-year students and include information on students’ reporting options and resources. But research shows that a single session during orientation isn’t good enough. Your school should require continuous, comprehensive, in-person prevention education for everyone on campus.
That includes first-year students, transfers, graduate students, professors, and staff. Effective consent education must be skills-based and interactive (rather than merely informational), inclusive, and community-based. An effective consent education program should also:
- Highlight the prevalence of sexual violence—and the fact that everyone can and should be a part of creating a positive, consenting sex culture.
- Be tailored to your campus and community and to situations specific to campus life.
- Be inclusive of all identities, including gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, ability, and documentation status.
- Disrupt dangerous myths about who is most likely to experience sexual and dating violence and address unique challenges students holding those identities may face.
- Explain on and off campus resources and reporting options clearly and provide written materials regarding both.
- Be long term. Consent education programs proven to work are those that are administered over the course of several lengthy sessions.
- Give a comprehensive definition of consent, including examples of how consent can be given in practice and what, on its own, does not constitute consent (such as silence and incapacitation).
- Provide skills-based training on using, giving and asking for consent.
- Address the role of alcohol and substances as a tool of perpetrating sexual violence, including a discussion of the definition of “incapacitation” and practical examples of when a student is too drunk to give consent.
- Provide training in recognizing and preventing dating and domestic violence.
- Link sexual violence to broader issues of power: the program should explicitly discuss social norms that encourage gender violence (such as violent constructions of masculinity).
Schools should not publish students’ addresses online (whether they live on or off campus) without students’ affirmative consent. Many survivors live in fear of their abusers or stalkers finding out where they live.
Under the Clery Act universities are legally required to provide bystander intervention education. Bystander intervention is a strategy that teaches students to identify and safely intervene in situations that may lead to sexual violence. There is reliable evidence that these programs can make a student significantly more likely to intervene in a dangerous situation and reduce general risk factors for committing sexual violence. An effective program shares many of the traits discussed above: it should be skills-based, interactive, inclusive and accessible, and well-structured. An effective bystander intervention program should also:
- Discuss why bystander intervention is important, both within the college context and beyond.
- Include detailed examples of unsafe situations and a facilitated discussion in which students learn what behavior requires intervention.
- Identify, discuss, and combat barriers to intervention.
- Include clear examples of intervention methods.
- Avoid graphic content or material that is likely to be triggering. Content warnings should be given at the beginning of the session and peer counselors should be available for students who may need it.
- Contain inclusive material and discuss how gender, sexual, racial, and other identities can impact our assessment of potentially unsafe situations.
- Take place over multiple sessions. Research suggests that effective bystander intervention programs involve—at a minimum—four to six hours of training.
- Be rooted in community organizations. Evidence shows that bystander intervention works best in community settings. Students should be encouraged to attend these sessions within community groups, whether that’s a dorm room floor, Greek Life, a debate team, or a student club.
Bystander intervention can be a critical tool to protect your friends and peers. Schools, however, are often quick to implement bystander programs in response to campus activism—a good step, but not nearly enough. Bystander intervention is an individual tool which can’t, on its own, solve a structural problem; if you get a friend out of a dangerous situation tonight, that doesn’t mean that that the same perpetrator won’t just assault someone else. Bystander intervention is great, but it’s not a substitute for comprehensive consent education, fair disciplinary processes, and support resources for survivors.
In order to ensure survivors can access services confidentially, your school should have:
A Gender-Based Violence Response Office
Your school should have an office with survivor advocates and professional staff dedicated to supporting survivors and helping them access resources and accommodations. This office should be separate from the office that receives student reports of gender-based violence; survivors need to be able to access accommodations and support without fling a formal report. The size of this office should correspond to the size of your school: for a small school, one survivor advocate may be enough, but large schools will likely need more. An advocate should be promptly available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Additionally, some survivors feel more comfortable with a well-trained peer advocate. Consider pushing for a peer advocate program at your school, but keep in mind that peer advocates are a supplement, not a replacement for professional staff.
Your school should have at least one separate staff position for a professional focused on prevention. While administrators may say that hiring additional staff is too expensive, consider letting them know that extra prevention salaries are a small price to pay to reduce sexual and domestic violence.
Schools should make clear where survivors can access confidential support, as opposed to whom they can make a report. We encourage pushing for a policy that balances a variety of options for survivors to disclose confidentially while making sure that a community is aware of the violence occurring on campus.
Schools should establish three classes of employees for confidentiality purposes:
- Licensed counselors or pastoral counselors: If a survivor reports to employees in this group, they are not obligated to report any information to anyone.
- People who commonly advocate for survivors, like health center staff and women’s center staff: this group is not obligated to report survivors’ experiences but must submit non-identifying information about prevalence (i.e., as part of annual Clery Act disclosures) so school officials are informed of the hostile environment that exist on campus.
- “Responsible Employees”: These include faculty, campus police, and other administrators. If members of this group hear a survivor’s report, they must report to the Title IX Coordinator, even against the survivor’s’ wishes. The Title IX Coordinator can proceed with an investigation against a survivors’ will, but should only do so if certain exacerbating factors exist (i.e., the assault was committed by a known serial perpetrator, or with a weapon).
Schools may reasonably designate individuals into the second group and they should be encouraged to do so. The second option was intended to provide survivors with more options to seek help confidentially as opposed to the previous system, which allowed only licensed people or pastoral counselors to receive confidential reports. Unfortunately, many schools have chosen not to create this second group for liability reasons, leaving survivors with fewer options. Because heavy mandatory reporter policies tend to discourage survivors from disclosing to anyone at all, we suggest pushing for RAs, peer mentors, and other peer employees to be in the second category; but, as always, you should advocate for whatever is best for your particular campus community and context.
24/7 Rape Crisis Centers
All schools should have either a confidential, 24/7 rape crisis center on campus or a memorandum of understanding agreement (MOU) with a local rape crisis center and domestic violence service providers that students can access at any point.
Many schools that employ staff during the week to provide services can experience gaps in coverage over the weekend. A large number of survivors suffer violence on the weekend and asking them to wait until Monday to speak with an advocate may deter many from accessing accommodations—at that time or ever. Make sure that survivors at your school have access to crisis services at all times.
Accessing rape crisis centers should not automatically trigger a formal report or otherwise lead to a disciplinary proceeding. Staff should be designated as confidential, with the exception of reporting anonymous, aggregated statistics under the Clery Act.
Your school should either have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE nurse) on campus or provide access to someone nearby. A SANE nurse is specifcally trained to provide evidence collection and immediate support for sexual assault survivors.
Title IX requires schools to provide accommodations to survivors; in order to fulfill this mandate, schools should have:
Under Title IX, colleges and universities should provide survivors reasonable housing, academic, and other accommodations. For example, if a survivor lives in the same dorm building or is in the same discussion section as their assailant, schools should assist them (or their perpetrator) in moving to another building or class. When taking steps to separate the complainant and the accused student, a school should minimize the burden on the complainant. Schools typically should not remove complainants from classes, housing, or extracurriculars while allowing alleged perpetrators to remain.
- Services — Beyond what’s required by law, schools should (at an individual survivor’s request) remove perpetrators from shared spaces like sports teams, dorms, and classes instead of the survivor. Administrators should discreetly assist survivors with other academic accommodations (like securing extensions on papers or ensuring there are no academic penalties for missing class to secure a civil protection order).
- Accessibility — Your policy should include examples of common accommodations and a detailed, explicit explanation of how to access them. Survivors should be able to access accommodations without fling a formal report and survivors should be guaranteed reasonable accommodations at no cost.
- No Contact Orders — No Contact Orders, which state that perpetrators and survivors can’t contact each other directly, online, or via friends, are a common and critical accommodation schools should provide. No Contact Orders often include a distance requirement that requires a perpetrator and a survivor not to be in the same room.
- Transportation — If survivors can’t afford transportation to vital services (for example, to a hospital or to counseling, to get a rape kit, or to get a restraining order,) your school should provide it free of charge.
Emergency Contraception and Prophylaxis
Your school should guarantee access to emergency contraception and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) free of charge to all survivors. Emergency contraception, like Plan B or Ella, can be used to prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected sex, and PEP can be used to protect against HIV. Unfortunately, both treatments are time-sensitive—they become less effective the later you take them—so make sure survivors have access to them as soon as possible. In some states, emergency contraception is available without a prescription, so your school should be able to provide it 24 hours a day. Your school should widely publicize that emergency contraception and PEP is available for free.
Your school should guarantee that survivors have access to counseling and medical attention in a timely manner and without having to file a formal complaint. Medical care, including mental healthcare, should be provided at no cost to the survivor—the high cost of counseling can preclude people from accessing it, with significant psychological and educational consequences. If a survivor requires a remedy in order to access an equitable education, their school should provide that remedy at no cost to the victim.
How well does your school publicize these resources? Students can’t use them if they haven’t heard of them. Likely frst points of contact, like Resident Advisors (RAs) or Teaching Assistants (TAs), should be trained extensively on how to direct survivors to resources—and, if applicable, to disclose any mandatory reporter status they may have prior to a conversation involving information they would have to report.
Ensuring that university disciplinary systems are fair is critically important to survivors and accused students. Schools can promote fair processes by having policies that provide for:
Students should be guaranteed complete amnesty by the college for disclosing in good faith sexual misconduct they suffered or witnessed while under the infuence of alcohol or illegal substances. Many survivors are afraid to come forward because they believe their schools will punish them for conduct code violations like underage drinking. Some schools have used honor codes prohibiting premarital sex, same-sex relationships, or “homosexual behavior” to retaliate against students, especially those who are LGBT, reporting gender violence. Your school shouldn’t have these policies but if they do, they should certainly include amnesty policies to protect these survivors against such codes.
Your school is legally required to designate (at least) one Title IX Coordinator and publish their name, title, office address, telephone number, and email address online. Students should also be able to anonymously report online. Information on how to report in both ways should be widely accessible on campus and online.
- Qualified Investigators — It takes years of specialized training (not just a few hours) to fully understand the complicated dimensions of gender-based violence. Reports must be investigated by impartial individuals with extensive professional expertise in gender-based violence to ensure they are effective, professional, and trauma-informed.
- Case Managers — Schools should provide survivors who report with a qualified case manager, someone they can contact whenever they have questions about the process and who is responsible for keeping them up-to-date about any developments, helping them secure accommodations and interim measures, and preventing retaliation. At many schools, survivors and accused students will be given the same case manager, which can make many survivors (and accused students) uncomfortable, deterring them from coming forward. Your school should guarantee that survivors and perpetrators will never have the same case managers.
- Survivors’ Stories — Investigations (and hearings) should be designed to limit the number of times survivors must re-describe the incident to as few individuals as is practicable.
- Timely Investigations — Schools must conduct the major stages of investigations and grievance procedures in a reasonably prompt timeframe. The ideal timeframe is about 60 days, depending on the complexity of the case.
- All schools should use the preponderance of the evidence (otherwise known as “more likely than not”) standard for adjudicating complaints. The preponderance of the evidence is the standard used to adjudicate civil rights cases in court. Since Title IX is a civil rights law that exists to protect each student’s right to an education free from harassment and violence, the preponderance of the evidence standard is the most equitable and appropriate standard. Schools should not use a different standard, such as “clear and convincing” or “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
- All policies should explicitly state that a survivor’s dress and past sexual history is irrelevant to the investigation and outcome, and will be excluded from evidence.
- A respondent’s past findings of responsibility (whether in civil, criminal, or university disciplinary records) should be included as evidence at sanctioning.
- Your school should guarantee that survivors have equal opportunity to present evidence and witnesses, should develop a clear procedure for both parties to present evidence and witnesses, and shouldn’t deviate from that established procedure without a compelling reason.
- Your school should interview all available witnesses with relevant information. If your school declines or fails to interview a witness suggested by either party, they should provide an explanation to the party in writing.
- Both parties should have equal access to available evidence in their case file and should have sufficient time for them and their attorneys to review it before a hearing.
- Some schools have a history of giving the perpetrator more notice about information that will be presented in the hearing. Your school’s procedures should ensure that both parties have equal notice about the hearing procedure, the information and evidence that will be presented, and about their opportunities to speak.
- Members of the hearing panel should be explicitly trained not to ask victim-blaming questions, including questions regarding the survivor’s irrelevant sexual history.
- During hearings, some universities only put up a thin screen between a survivor and a perpetrator, which is traumatic and could deter survivors from reporting or fling a complaint in the first place. In order to reduce trauma for survivors, schools should install a closed-circuit camera system to allow survivors to participate in the hearing without fear of being in the same room as their perpetrator.
- Survivors who have obtained court-issued protection orders (which often require perpetrators to keep a certain distance away) should not be penalized by these requirements. If a protection order is in effect, schools should make sure that the burden of complying with that order falls on the perpetrator who can then participate via closed-circuit camera.
Both parties should be informed of any outcomes, including findings of (non-)responsibility, sanctions, and appeals outcomes, in writing within 24 hours of the decision being made.
- Any student who is found responsible for gender-based misconduct, but is allowed to remain on or return to campus should be required to participate in a comprehensive, evidence-based consent education program in addition to other sanctions.
- Survivors should have the opportunity (though not the obligation) to state the sanction they would most prefer during the point of the proceeding when the decision-maker is considering appropriate sanctions.
- School administrators should be cognizant that “justice” does not mean the same for everyone and not all survivors want the same outcomes for cases. While schools should strive to apply sanctions consistently, they should have a policy of “standard sanctions”, not mandatory sanctions. Mandatory sanctions often discourage survivors from reporting, especially if they were assaulted or abused by an intimate partner.
Your policy should set clear, equitable guidelines for the grounds on which to make an appeal to a neutral decision-making body at your school. Perpetrators shouldn’t be able to appeal without reasonable grounds to do so, and your policy should guarantee equal rights to appeal the decision (i.e., if perpetrators can appeal the severity of a sanction, a survivor must be able to appeal leniency). Note that, at many schools, students who are found responsible have their sanctions reduced on appeal almost automatically; talk to survivors and fight for the aggregate data we talked about in "Transparency" to find out if this is happening on your campus.
School administrators and campus police should ensure that students who report gender-based misconduct are free from any retaliation, whether from school administrators, staff, faculty, or other students. There should be a clear explanation of how to report retaliation in your policy, and students who retaliate against survivors should face appropriately serious consequences. Retaliation is illegal under Title IX.
All decision-makers, including (but not limited to) members of any adjudication panel (if your school has one), sanctioning officers, appeals officers, and case managers should be impartial individuals with training in sexual and domestic violence. University administrators such as deans of student life or academic advisors generally lack the knowledge necessary to effectively adjudicate these cases and their stake in protecting the school’s public image suggests a conflict of interest; we do not believe they are appropriate decision-makers in this context.
Both parties should have the opportunity to challenge investigators, case managers, and decision-makers involved in the hearings, sanctioning, or appeals process. If anyone in those positions has a relationship with the accused student or victim, they should be removed from roles in the disciplinary process.
Your policy should clearly state that survivors are not prohibited from discussing their complaint and its outcome when seeking support from friends, family, or others who may be at risk of being assaulted by the perpetrator. Survivors should never be afraid to intervene in another potential assault because they could face disciplinary sanctions, and forbidding survivors from talking to friends is isolating and often detrimental to survivors’ mental health. Schools should take reasonable steps to protect the privacy of both parties.
Many schools require survivors to sign nondisclosure agreements or threaten to punish them if they disclose. Survivors may be restricted from discussing what happened specifically in a hearing due to FERPA requirements, but survivors should not restricted from sharing the outcome.
Schools should have written and publicized policies guaranteeing survivors rights under an adjudication process. These should be available online and provided, in writing, to survivors as soon as they make a report. The same document should also have a comprehensive list of the resources available, clear explanations of how to access them, and an explanation of the adjudication process. In particular, the document should notify survivors of their right to the following (as a reminder, not all of these are required under current law):
- The right to an attorney — Survivors should have access to an attorney at any point in the process, including the hearing, any investigatory interviews, and any meetings with case managers. If students can’t afford an attorney, the university should (but is not legally required to) provide one, such as by making an agreement with a local nonprofit which advocates for survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
- The right to a personal supporter — In addition to an attorney, survivors should have a right to a personal supporter (such as a friend, advisor, or parent) present at any meetings or hearings involved in the disciplinary process.
- The right to file a federal Title IX complaint, civil or family court report, or a simultaneous criminal complaint at any time. (This is legally required.)
- The right to be free from retaliation by the school, the accused, and/or their friends, family, and acquaintances. Title IX prohibits retaliation.
- The right to participate, or decline to participate, in the investigative, criminal justice, and/or campus justice process free from any pressure or influence from college officials.
- The right to review all available evidence in the case file with adequate time to consider and respond.
- The right to be treated with dignity, sensitivity, and fairness throughout the process.
- The document should also include all of the resources and procedural protections recommended in other parts of this guide.
- The right to choose to submit evidence during the fact-finding stage demonstrating the impact of the violation, including but not limited to medical and/or counseling records, changes to a student’s grades and other academic performance.
- The right to receive written or electronic notice, provided in advance and reasonable under the circumstances, of any meeting or hearing they are required or are eligible to attend.
- The right to exclude irrelevant mental health history.
Your school should have a working group on gender-based violence that meets regularly and includes students and survivors. Some schools hold these meetings but keep meeting agendas, membership, and minutes secret. They may claim that this is because survivors who are part of the group don’t want to be identified and because private information about cases is discussed. Of course, details about individual cases shouldn’t be made public. However, any specifics and identifying information can be removed from minutes and agendas; students should still have a record of the broader policy discussions and decisions happening in those meetings.
Every student who formally reports gender-based violence, and any respondent in such a case, should be given an online evaluation form where they have the opportunity to provide detailed feedback on the student’s experience with the reporting and adjudication process, as well as accessing necessary resources and accommodations. This evaluation should only be provided after a case has reached its final resolution and responses should be sent to the working group on gender-based violence mentioned above.
Your school should hold a mandatory, regular, and comprehensive review of your harassment policy. As part of this process, your school should solicit broad community feedback from students and survivors on campus through a variety of means, including anonymous methods.