After experiencing violence, many survivors do not know where to turn for support. Schools should use the best available technologies to distribute information to all community members explaining how to report sexual harassment and gender-based violence and confidentially access resources.
Every school should provide all community members with a written copy of its rules and policies regarding gender-based misconduct. Such policies should include a clear, plain language explanation of:
- Definitions of conduct that constitutes sexual misconduct (including harassment, violence, and other forms of discrimination) as well as language indicating that such conduct is prohibited;
- How an individual can report an incident of gender-based violence to the institution;
- The resources and accommodations that the institution can provide to a survivor, and how an individual can access these services;
- The roles and responsibilities of the institution’s Title IX Coordinator;
- The disciplinary process by which the institution will investigate and adjudicate a report of gender-based misconduct;
- A range of sanctions that may be applied to a community member found responsible for gender-based misconduct;
- Which school officials and employees are considered “responsible employees” and an explanation of their responsibilities;
- The names of decisionmakers, where applicable.
In line with federal requirements under the Clery Act, each institution’s written policy should explicitly indicate that survivors have multiple reporting options that can be pursued separately or simultaneously, at the survivor’s discretion. These policies should indicate that a survivor can choose to pursue one or more of the following reporting options:
- Receive confidential resources (such as, but not limited to, medical attention and counseling);
- Report an incident confidentially to college or university officials who are not responsible employees and may maintain confidentiality, and can assist in obtaining campus, local, and state resources and services;
- Anonymously disclose an incident to school officials, including through online mechanisms;
- Make a report to a school employee with the authority to address complaints (such as a Title IX coordinator, student conduct official, or human resources employee) that will be addressed promptly and equitably in a school disciplinary hearing;
- File a family or civil court action;
- Make a report to law enforcement.
Further, each institution should post its policy on the homepage of its website in an easily accessible manner and take reasonable steps to ensure the policy is widely distributed to and understood by students. Schools should be required to make policies accessible to students with disabilities through measures such as, but not limited to, providing braille copies and audio recordings.
The policy should also note that all institutional services and protections afforded to reporting individuals and responding parties are applicable to conduct that has a reasonable connection or “nexus” between the misconduct and the educational institution (such as off-campus events that create a hostile school environment for a survivor or other students). In these cases, the policy should apply regardless of whether the violation occurs on campus, off campus (including online), or while studying abroad.
Although some survivors do not want their school to initiate a formal investigation, they may still want help accessing accommodations. Other survivors may want guidance on the school’s reporting and investigative processes or access resources, such as a Rape Crisis Center, while deciding whether or not to report.
Schools should ensure that their resources are available to all students by designating sexual assault response coordinators to whom survivors can turn to for support and help accessing services without triggering an investigation by the school or law enforcement.
State and federal governments should require schools to designate one or more sexual assault response coordinators at the institution to whom non-employee victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking can report, including anonymously. The advisor should not be an undergraduate student, a full-time graduate student, or the Title IX coordinator. The sexual assault response coordinator should be exempt from the requirements imposed on responsible employees and should not be disciplined for performing the duties outlined in this section. Note: This measure is not intended to bar students from serving as peer counselors or advocates.
Sexual assault response coordinators should:
- Inform survivors of their rights under campus policy and relevant law and reporting options, including the option to notify a responsible employee and local law enforcement. Coordinators should also inform survivors of the potential consequences of reporting, if reasonably known. At a survivor’s request, sexual assault response coordinators should facilitate reporting to a responsible employee or law enforcement.
- As appropriate, serve as a liaison between a survivor and a school employee or law enforcement official when directed to do so by a survivor who has been fully and accurately informed about what procedures will be triggered once the school and/or law enforcement are notified.
- Be authorized by the institution to liaise with appropriate school staff to arrange reasonable accommodations through the institution on behalf of the survivor. Requests for accommodations made by a sexual assault response coordinator should not prompt an investigation by the institution, even if the sexual assault response coordinator deals only with matters relating to gender-based violence.
- Be authorized to accompany a survivor, upon the survivor’s request, to interviews and other proceedings of a campus investigation and institutional disciplinary proceedings.
- Advise survivors of their rights and the institution’s responsibilities regarding orders of protection, no contact orders, restraining orders, or similar lawful orders issued by the institution or a criminal, civil, or tribal court. The sexual assault response coordinator should also provide this information to a victim in writing.
Resources like crisis counseling and medical attention must be available to all survivors, including survivors who are not yet ready to report an assault. To ensure that all survivors can seek help, the sexual assault response coordinator should not be obligated to report crimes to law enforcement, or to the institution in a way that identifies a victim or an accused individual, unless otherwise required to do so by law. The school should designate an individual who has protection under State law to provide privileged communication as a sexual assault response coordinator.
- The Campus Accountability and Safety Act — legislation proposed at the federal level – contains a strong mandate for a sexual assault response coordinator.
- Illinois’ ‘Preventing Sexual Violence in Education’ law requires all higher education institutions to designate a trained advisor who can assist survivors in accessing resources and accommodations and reporting gender-based violence.
In more than half of states, “advocate privilege” ensures that select direct service providers, such as rape crisis counselors, cannot be compelled to testify about a survivor’s care. However, it is often unclear whether this privilege extends to school-based “confidential employees” or other school-designated advisors who provide confidential support for survivors of gender-based violence. If survivors have reason to fear that highly sensitive information about their abuse could become public, some may opt not to seek help at all.
States should protect survivors’ privacy by expanding advocate privilege to school-based confidential employees who commonly receive disclosures of gender-based harassment and violence. By ensuring that qualified school service providers are covered by advocate privilege, states can ensure that survivors’ privacy is protected without unduly limiting the number of individuals who can serve as confidential supporters.
State governments should create or expand advocate privilege under state law to include conversations between certified school-based advocates and survivors in the course of safety planning, counseling, support, or advocacy services. This privilege should also extend to records that are created or maintained in the course of providing such services to survivors, consistent with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and existing state laws. A staff member should be considered a certified advocate if, and only if, they have completed at least 40 hours of a state agency-approved training in advocacy for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
To help schools gain accurate and complete information about gender-based violence and potential hostile environments on campus, sexual assault response coordinators should be permitted to disclose aggregate, non-identifying data to the Title IX Coordinator and the institution more broadly.
Although underage students are at the highest risk of sexual assault on campus, many do not report because they fear their schools will punish them for drinking or using drugs at the time of the assault. Some schools have retaliated against survivors who have reported by charging them with violations of honor codes. In order to reduce barriers to reporting, states should require all institutions to adopt “amnesty” policies to ensure survivors and witnesses who come forward to report gender-based violence are not punished for doing so.
States should require all institutions to adopt an explicit amnesty policy as part of its code of conduct. This amnesty policy must state, in plain language, that:
- The school will not take disciplinary action against individuals reporting in good faith (including witnesses) for non-violent code-of-conduct offenses that are related to the assault, including the use of intoxicating substances occurring at or around the time of a reported incident;
- If a school’s code-of-conduct prohibits sexual activity (or certain forms of sexual activity), the school will not take disciplinary action against individuals reporting in good faith (including witnesses) on the basis of the reported incident, non-harassing sexual activity related to the reported incident, or other non-harassing sexual activity discovered during an investigation into the reported incident. These protections should explicitly apply to students who report violence within the context of a same-sex relationship or same-sex sexual activity.