This page represents some of the lessons we learned after working at a university on this topic for 6 years. This is a sample of recommendations based on problems identified at a specific university as of June 2014. Some of these problems may have been addressed at your university already. However, these are common problems, so we hope this will be useful as a guideline for recommendations for any university.
A university institution must, above all, work to ensure the safety of all of its students. The role of its legal department is to advise the sexual violence/relationship abuse policy experts on how their recommendations for safety measures can be implemented into federal, state or local legal structures; it is not the role of the legal department to dictate to the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse office or other sexual violence experts to compromise the safety protocols that they are entitled to put in place. In practical terms, a university’s legal office should be equally concerned with potential lawsuits from victims as from perpetrators (those who choose to do harm).
Stay away orders (order of protection) and stay away letters must be one-sided, not mutual; this prevents the assailant from manipulating the sanction to further harm the victim. (see article on Mutual Restraining Orders).
Confidential resources must exist for survivors on campus. The Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office should be a confidential office; a university can still meet its Title IX obligations with a confidential office.
The survivor and assailant must not be interviewed by the same person. Separate administrators must interview the survivor and alleged assailant during an evidentiary fact-finding process to avoid retaliation. A perpetrator will use the knowledge of a shared investigator as a tool for manipulation even if the shared investigator promises not to disclose the contents of interviews.
Ensure that the university’s threat assessment consultant is trained on relationship abuse and sexual assault and that a proper threat assessment is conducted. Currently, many threat assessment consultants do not have training on perpetrators, which differ from the “random acts of violence” they are looking for in a campus danger assessment.
Ensure that all policies and programs address both sexual violence AND relationship abuse; many universities neglect to include relationship abuse.
Too often, the reality on college campuses is as follows:
- A survivor pursues judicial action against the assailant and the assailant either receives no sanction at all or a very light sanction that fails to protect the survivor’s safety (or the community) and deliver justice.
- A survivor prefers not to pursue judicial action, but the university pursues it anyway which can put the survivor at risk; in the interim review period and if sanctions are handed down (which are almost always insubstantial), the survivor is placed at risk of retaliation.
When universities seek to protect the community, they must remember that survivors are part of that community and plan for survivor safety.
- Universities must consider the safety of survivors. If the university is not careful, their processes could put the survivor at greater risk. Research indicates that perpetrators (those who choose to do harm) escalate violence and retaliation during the first two years of separation. If the university’s process aggravates perpetrators without also taking steps to hold them accountable and keep the survivors safe, perpetrators may retaliate against survivors later.
- Survivors know their own situation better than anyone else. University policies should not make a survivor move forward if she doesn’t want to do so.
- If the university proceeds against the survivor’s wishes in order to “protect the community,” it must take all possible precautions against retaliation against the survivor and this should be considered in all policy development. We must not forget that the survivor is also a member of the community, and the most likely of all individuals to suffer further harm.
The administration must consider three “backfire tests” to examine unintended consequences for any policy change:
- Does this policy serve the survivor who wants to take judicial action against the perpetrator?
- Does this policy serve the survivor who does not want to take judicial action against the perpetrator, but just wants to request access to counseling or safety resources?
- Does this policy force the university to pursue judicial action against a perpetrator against the will of the survivor? This should not be the case—a university can meet the “quick and effective response” standard required of it by law by offering sufficient resources/options to the survivor in the form of written notification. “Protecting the community” should include the survivor. The university must consider whether the community is actually safer when proper sanctions are not implemented (i.e. when the perpetrator only gets community service).
Find a solution to serve survivors who want to take action, but are scared of retaliation if investigation occurs. What other options are there? Be clear to students when you are unable to do this because of due process. Explain why you cannot move forward. Try to find an alternative.
The Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse and Title IX offices should create a consolidated, easy-to-read document that explains all available resources to survivors and explains the various judicial process options moving forward. This document should be disseminated throughout campus and readily available online. In place of requiring a student to start an investigation, this resource document should be handed to the survivor by the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse office or residence dean.
Director of Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office must report directly to the President or Provost in order to have the authority to implement reforms.
- If this is not possible at your University, the director’s reporting structure should be taken outside of the student affairs chain and should be at the level of Vice Provost (or above the directors of departments that require new processes regarding sexual assault and relationship abuse, such as residential affairs, judicial affairs, health services, etc); if even this is not possible, the office should report to a different Vice Provost than VP of Student Affairs, so that a different department controls the director’s employment status and compensation.
- The Title IX Coordinator/Director must also report directly to the President or Provost in order to mandate changes.
The Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse office must minimally be staffed by:
- One full-time director focused on policy and staff/administrative/panelist training
- Two full-time advocates/case managers
- One full-time student educator
- Ideally a second full-time trainer for staff, law enforcement, etc.
- In addition, the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse office should offer counseling/hotline services with specially trained advocates, who have documented sexual assault/dating violence advocacy training.
- Students need a highly trained advocate on campus who they can be assured will not report their story against their wishes up through the chain of command, potentially leading to judicial action (and potential retaliation) against their wishes. Therefore, one of the counselors operating within the Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse office must be a confidential resource. This counselor would engage in third party reporting in order to ensure the accuracy of the University’s public data reports.
Investigations/Community Standards/Judicial Affairs
- Two additional investigators should be hired under the any type of Judicial Affairs process for sexual assault and relationship abuse cases and Tite IX investigations
- It will be the responsibility of the Title IX officer to ensure that all phases of the judicial process comply with Title IX and that the process is prompt and equitable.
Every individual who is a decision-maker in any capacity in cases involving sexual assault, sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, dating violence, stalking must receive evidence-based, comprehensive training on sexual assault and dating violence. This training should meet the standards outlined by the White House Office of Violence Against Women. This includes:
- Title IX Coordinator
- Any private investigators (i.e., from Pilsbury or otherwise) hired to conduct such investigations
- All administrators who decide appeals, members of the Office of General Counsel, the Provost, and the President, if they make decisions in such cases
- All members of campus disciplinary boards
- All other pertinent administrators must receive comprehensive training, including residence deans and resident fellows
- As mentioned above, administrators who decide appeals must receive extensive (minimum 8 hours) training according to standards outlined by the Office of Violence Against Women on domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. This training must include the importance of avoiding victim blaming.
The National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) recommends two days for judicial board training on sexual assault and dating violence. A university must meet this basic standard of training in order to uphold a fair and just judicial process; moreover, this will also allow the university to avoid lawsuits from victims, whose rights would potentially otherwise by violated through institutional negligence.
All administrators who deal with these issues must be transparent around the training they have received and meet adequate victim-centered training standards. This includes the Title IX Coordinator.
A dominant aggressor analysis should be included in training. LERC provides an 8 hour training (can be purchased online here) that should be given to all decision makers (particularly before 8 hour in person trainings can be coordinated).
Comprehensive, evidence-based training and education in the form of mandatory training for all staff (including all Residence Deans, Resident Fellows, and RAs) and students. This training should meet the standards of the White House Office of Violence Against Women.
Institute a set of default sanctions for each gender-violence offense (Expulsion should be the default sanction for sexual assault and relationship abuse). These defaults may only be deviated downward on clear and convincing evidence of specified mitigating factors to be listed in policy. Such mitigating factors may not include being drunk; mistaken consent; or prior sexual history with the victim.
Implementation of sanctions must occur on the day of sanction imposition, all occurring within 60 calendar days. Students found responsible shall no longer be permitted to request a deferral of sanctioning to the panel. Sanctioning begins the quarter in which it is found. Any sanctions through appeals are retroactive to the day of the initial finding.
The enforcement of interim means of protection for the victim and sanctions must be improved, including campus bans, stay away letters and orders of protection. Too often, an assailant is able to violate an order of protection, jeopardizing the safety and mental well-being of the survivor, without further punishment. The University must develop a set of policies to be clearly presented to each party that explain the further action taken by the university in the event of the violation of any order of protection/stay away letter. The enforcement of these sanctions must be directly overseen by the Title IX Coordinator, working in conjunction with Chief of Police.
Activities That May Compromise Victim Safety and Recovery
The following activities have been found to jeopardize victim safety, deter or prevent physical and emotional healing for victims, or allow offenders to escape responsibility for their actions. This should not be happening at the university:
- The university should not implement policies and procedures that fail to honor and maintain a victim’s confidentiality.
- The university should not implement policies that require the victim to report the sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking to law enforcement.
- The university should not implement and sustain procedures that would force victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking to testify against their abusers or impose other sanctions on them.
- The university should not fail to provide victims the option of making the final decision on their class schedule and/or living arrangement or fail to provide reasonable academic & housing accommodations.
- The university should not inflict restrictive conditions to be met by victims in order to receive services (e.g. requiring victims to seek protection orders or to seek counseling; these options need to be a choice made by the victim and not a condition(s) imposed upon them prior to the delivery of services).
- The university should not be encouraging perpetrators (those who choose to do harm) to enter into pre-trial diversion programs.
- The university should not encourage mediation or counseling for couples as a response to domestic violence.
- The university should not have prevention programs that focus primarily on victim behavior because they reinforce the myth that victims somehow provoke or cause the violence they experience.
- The university should not have programs that focus primarily on alcohol and substance abuse. [OR letters to parents and students that link these two concepts].
- The university should not be supporting batterer intervention programs that do not use the coercive power of the criminal justice system to hold batterers accountable for their behavior.
The purpose of this section is to provide some of the actual details necessary for change in responses to sexual assault and relationship abuse. Many of the broad-stroke recommendations cannot be fully realized unless the nuts and bolts details are addressed. This list is not comprehensive; it represents some of the key points often overlooked in implementation strategies for campus sexual assault and relationship abuse. Sexual Assault and Relationship Abuse Office refers to whatever office exists at your university in this capacity.