Specific training on the dynamics of sexual violence and relationship abuse and the effects on victims/survivors is important due to the historical trend in how sexual violence and relationship abuse cases are handled on college campuses, often with the result of favoring the academic opportunities of the accused. Training should be an effort to balance the equation so that the overriding societal focus on the concern for the accused is supplemented with information on the myths and realities that interrupt justice for our victims/survivors on our campus.

Department of Justice, Office on Violence Against Women

The FY 2007 OVW Campus Program Solicitation requires that all applicants “establish or strengthen programs to train members of campus disciplinary boards to respond effectively to charges of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.” It states that “[A]ll members of campus disciplinary boards, including faculty, staff, students, and administrators should receive expert training on these crimes. Training topics could include:

  • Information about the causes and effects of violence against women
  • Definitions of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking; information on the issue of consent in sexual assault cases
  • How to judge credibility
  • Drug facilitated sexual assault
  • The available range of sanctions should the charged student be found responsible by the disciplinary board
  • A review of the student conduct code

A campus should review the current code of student conduct and ensure that the code addresses the following issues:

  • The code is victim-centered over offender-focused.
  • The code considers offender accountability.
  • The code defines a clear and concise disciplinary process.
  • The code defines uniform and consistent penalties.
  • The code identifies and clearly defines domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
  • The code addresses confidentiality issues.

When developing trainings for disciplinary or judicial boards, OVW instructs campuses to address the following specific topics:

  • Reasons why victims may or may not choose (and/or wait) to report.
  • Ways that the disciplinary system can “re-traumatize” victims.
  • The importance of avoiding victim blaming.
  • Viewing all information without bias.
  • Review of general domestic violence information including issues of power and control.
  • Dating violence as a form of domestic violence, including relevant laws.
  • “Known” perpetrator (those who choose to do harm) sexual assault.
  • Stalking in a “closed” campus environment.

From: Office on Violence Against Women. Minimum Standards of Training for Campus Security Personnel and Campus Disciplinary and Judicial Boards.

National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM)

NCHERM has established a minimum competence of 2 days for training judicial decision makers each semester. Brett Sokolow, JD, of NCHERM, states that comprehensive training will not bias board members, and in fact, will ensure that a judicial board will not be held liable for improper and inadequate training of its members: “Some colleges say they won’t train their hearing boards on sexual misconduct issues because it will bias them in favor of the victim. This is like saying that in criminal cases, the judge should not know the rules of evidence, there should be no expert witness testimony to educate the jury, and the judge should not charge the jury with instructions on the law, because it will bias the outcome. Not training your board will get you sued because your board will not know what it needs to know to make the proper decision, and from that liability is but a misstep away.” NCHERM states that:

  • “A hearing board must be familiar with basic rules of evidence regarding relevance, credibility and rape shield rules.
  • It must be thoroughly versed in an analytical approach to determining if a policy was violated. It must be instructed on questioning and deliberation techniques.
  • It should understand Rape Trauma Syndrome and common rape myths.
  • Hearing board members need to be sensitized to what the alleged victim is experiencing. He or she may be traumatized by recounting the events of the incident.”

Comprehensive sexual misconduct judicial procedures and training for judicial officers on campus are necessary components of a university’s sexual assault risk management strategy. NCHERM states, “Effective sexual assault risk management practices will decrease the likelihood of sexual assault on college campuses, thereby protecting students and helping to insulate colleges from a potential source of litigation. Effective sexual assault risk management practices will decrease the likelihood of lawsuits against colleges by perpetrators (those who choose to do harm), because college adjudications will be less likely to violate their rights. Effective sexual assault risk management practices will decrease the likelihood of lawsuits against colleges by survivors of sexual violence, because the college will be less likely to violate their rights…. Effective sexual assault risk management practices will help colleges to maintain a reputation for safety, and for dealing appropriately with campus crime when it occurs.”

Quotes taken from: Sokolov, Brett, JD (2001). Comprehensive Sexual Misconduct Judicial Procedures.

Office of Civil Rights

The Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, has provided comprehensive guidance to help schools, colleges, and universities better understand their obligations, under federal civil rights laws, to prevent and respond to the problem of campus sexual assault. The guidance (issued on April 4, 2011) makes clear the obligations under Title IX of any educational institution receiving federal aid to respond promptly and effectively to sexual violence. Some obligations include:

  • All persons involved in implementing a recipient’s grievance procedures (e.g., Title IX coordinators, investigators, and adjudicators) must have training or experience in handling complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and in the recipient’s grievance procedures. The training also should include applicable confidentiality requirements.
  • In sexual violence cases, the fact-finder and decision-maker also should have adequate training or knowledge regarding sexual violence.

For more information on the need for reform, see the article, Sexual Assault on Campus: A Frustrating Search for Justice.