Critic’s Pick: Reporting Options and Instructions

It’s time to examine a new aspect of sexual assault policies: reporting options and instructions.

Reporting a sexual assault is often overwhelming, confusing, intimidating, nerve-racking and a whole host of other things. There are plenty of barriers, both physical and emotional, that a survivor may face when considering reporting. Unfortunately, college campuses frequently contribute to the confusion by not providing clear reporting options and instructions. It is important that schools explicitly lay out all the options a student has (whatever those options may be) while empowering students to make their own choices about how to proceed after an assault.

First, it’s important to establish some basic ideas and definitions. Students who have been sexually assaulted often have the choice to file anonymously so as to not reveal their identities. This can consist of filling out a form, either on paper or online, to give the student the chance to be heard and time to decide what course of action to take. All submissions will be kept confidential, but this type of reporting allows for the crime to be counted in the campus crime statistics. Some universities state that in the event that specific information is disclosed in this report (like names or locations that reveal the identity of the involved parties), the school has an obligation to investigate if it threatens the safety of the campus community. Anonymous reporting, however, can limit the school’s ability to conduct an effective investigation. The good thing for survivors is that an anonymous report does not limit the option to pursue judicial or legal action at a future date.

Confidential reporting is a bit trickier in that it can consist of those communications that legally cannot be disclosed to anybody else with the consent of the survivor (barring imminent threat of danger to self or others). An example of this would be talking to the school counseling staff (psychiatrists, psychologists) or health service staff. This isn’t the only kind of confidential reporting—sometimes, it includes communications that will not be disclosed except on a need-to-know basis. This type of reporting balances the desires of the student bringing forward the report with the safety of the campus. Necessary steps and disciplinary measures can be taken in order to protect the community in the most confidential way possible. Examples of confidential sources would be university police, faculty or staff.

There’s a lot of different models out there of how schools give students access to reporting options, so it seems most productive to just go through some examples. Let’s start with Bowdoin College. In its policy, under procedural options, it discusses confidentiality:

The College will investigate and attempt to resolve a report of Sexual Assault and/or Sexual Misconduct.  The College recognizes that a Complainant may desire confidentiality and may request that the College not investigate or pursue resolution of a report.  In such cases the request must be in writing and include a waiver of investigation, and the College will maintain confidentiality to the extent permitted by law.  However, the College reserves the right to investigate and pursue resolution of a report when it is deemed necessary to protect the interests of the College community.

The best part about this statement is the understanding that a student may not want to pursue further action with a report—it recognizes the individual choices a survivor can make. Bowdoin does a pretty decent job of laying out a student’s options but fails to mention anything about anonymous reporting. When I googled “Bowdoin anonymous report,” however, the first thing that comes up is a document titled, “Safe Space Form for the Anonymous Report of Sexual Assault and Harassment.” It’s quite a detailed form, full of on and off-campus resources and assistance for survivors, so it’s a real shame that a student looking at the policy would have no idea that such a form exists. The really confusing thing is that apparently Bowdoin has two (!) anonymous reporting forms. The next document that comes up on Google is titled, “Anonymous Report Form for Sexual Assault and Misconduct.” This form also seems to include relationship violence because it has a section where students can mark the offender’s relationship to the survivor. In addition, for this form, the reporter does not have to be the same as the survivor, so someone could fill out this form on behalf of another person. While I truly appreciate the fact that Bowdoin has so many resources in place, the way they give students access to these resources is extremely confusing. These forms need to be linked to their policy so a student would not have to Google “anonymous report” to find them, and having two forms further obscures the whole process!

Similar to Bowdoin, the College of St. Scholastica states the reporting options and even goes into detail about each. Students have three reporting options: making an anonymous report, making a formal report within the College, or reporting to the police. Somehow, the details do not link to the anonymous report form that can be submitted online (which is right here!) The form is good—it defines confidential and anonymous right at the top after stating the purpose of the filling out the form and also asks explicitly if offender is or was a partner of the survivor. It just doesn’t make sense that St. Scholastica would not have their students be able to access the form from the policy.

A couple other good examples of schools that do a good job of explaining options are Occidental College, which has a section labeled “File a Sexual Assault Report,” and Case Western Reserve University, which also has a “Reporting” section. What is great is that both of these schools link to their anonymous reporting forms so students have easy access. Take a look at Case Western’s reporting map for students:

Looking at another example, I’m a bit confused by Union College, which seems to have a lot of resources and options but is not streamlined. I’ve found probably 10 different webpages where reporting options are listed, some are detailed, others are very vague. There is a Reporting Options page, which looks promising. One good thing is that it allows the survivor to feel in control by saying, “Union’s Administrations believe you as victim should be in charge of how you proceed.” You would think by the title that this page would list all options available to students, but it makes no mention of anonymous reports. I know for a fact, however, that Union does have anonymous reporting because on one of those 10 pages, it talks about it! It says:

Union College permits victims or witnesses to report crimes to CSAs on a voluntary, anonymous basis (and includes such anonymous reports in reported crime totals) but encourages individuals who report crime to provide identifying information. The purpose of this type of report is to comply with the reporting party’s wish to keep the matter anonymous while taking steps to contribute to future campus safety. With such data, the College expects to gather more accurate records of the number of incidents and determine if there is a pattern of crime with regard to a particular location, method, or offender and, as appropriate, alert the community to potential danger. The Campus Safety Department, unless otherwise prescribed by law, does not take anonymous police reports.

There is the form people can download for anonymous reporting, but at the top of the form, it says “Confidential Sexual Assault Report Form.” Very confusing. Also, the form is poorly laid out, giving people just about no space to write anything! There are some instructions at the bottom, which are good, except that they say this form is to be filled out by a third party, not in the presence of a survivor. I can’t find any other form for anonymous reporting, so I’m at a loss when it comes to how a survivor can fill out an anonymous report (which, according to the above paragraph, is encouraged). There seems to be a whole lot of overlooked holes here. Imagine if you were recently assaulted and trying to figure out how to navigate the system at this school.

Albion College provides us with an example of a bad anonymous reporting form. First, there are only 4 boxes for someone to fill out, which gives very little information to the school and very little guidance for someone filling out the form. In addition, it says, “No record of this report will be created or stored.” So what happens to it? What’s the point of filling out the form if it goes into the depths of cyberspace where apparently no one will read it because the information was never sent anywhere? If Albion wants its students to fill out this form, it has to at least give them a good reason.

From everything we’ve seen so far, it’s evident that every school has different reporting options and different ways of presenting those options, but a few things are quite clear. Schools must empower students to make their own choices about what course of action to pursue. Survivors should feel that they have knowledge of and access to all the resources available to them so they can remain in control of any process. These options should be laid out clearly and in one place to minimize confusion. When students disclose information about the incident, they should know who is bound by law to keep it confidential and what can initiate a campus or police investigation. While it’s true that colleges and universities have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their campuses, they must do that while respecting the desires of the reporting individual. Since most schools claim that they want to help students as much as possible in dealing with sexual assault, every school needs to take the initiative to make its sexual assault reporting policy transparent and comprehensive as part of their responsibility to survivors.

Critic’s Pick: Definitions of Consent

If you missed last week’s post on Drug and Alcohol Amnesty Policies, one of our goals here at SAFER is to use the Campus Accountability Project to gather the best and worst practices of campus sexual assault policies. This week, we’re investigating Definitions of Consent.

As far as policies go right now, nearly every school has a different definition of sexual assault. Most agree, however, that sexual assault occurs when there is an incident of “non-consensual” sexual conduct. Unfortunately, many schools stop there. Students are somehow supposed to know what non-consensual sexual conduct is when the word consent isn’t defined anywhere! Definitions of consent are integral to sexual assault policies because they are the key to determining when sexual assault or misconduct has occurred.

A surprising number of universities’ policies never define consent. Some attempt to briefly discuss what consent is not but can’t seem to make it to what consent actually is. A concrete, clear, and well-defined definition of consent allows students to assess their own behavior and lends support to survivors who choose to file reports and take action.

Let’s start by looking at what some regard as the classic example: Antioch College. The Sexual Offense Prevention Policy aims to foster positive, consensual sexuality that emphasizes respect and ongoing communication. Directly following the preface, the policy states:

Consent is defined as the act of willingly and verbally agreeing to engage in specific sexual conduct.

A number of clarifying points follow this definition, stating, among other things, that “consent is required each and every time there is sexual activity,” that the person initiating is responsible for getting consent, that silence is not consent, and that all parties must have “unimpaired judgment.” The nearly 15 clarifying points are extremely important in making this definition of consent concrete and understandable.

Reed College also offers a good example of a definition. It divides its definition into two parts: effective consent and ineffective consent. The policy makes clear that unless consent is clear and effective, it cannot be considered consent. The great thing about Reed’s definition is how it gets across the message that victim blaming is not accepted. Take a look at some of what it says about effective consent:

Effective consent is informed; freely and actively given; mutually understandable words or actions; which indicate a willingness to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other…Students are strongly encouraged to talk with each other before engaging in sexual behavior, and to communicate as clearly and verbally as possible with each other…it is the responsibility of the initiator, or the person who wants to engage in the specific sexual activity to make sure that he or she has consent. Consent to some form of sexual activity does not necessarily imply consent to other forms of sexual activity…Mutually understandable consent is almost always an objective standard…

Reed begins with what consent is in detail and then encourages communication in a sex-positive manner, while acknowledging that not all situations are identical. This definition also provides an exception (the only exception!): long-term relationships. The ineffective consent portion recognizes that there are many scenarios in which a person is unable to consent while putting the responsibility on the initiators of the act. It emphasizes that victims cannot be blamed for what they experience. All in all, Reed’s definition of consent is detailed and comprehensive while providing numerous examples to reinforce clarity.

Let’s give a few more shout-outs to schools with better-than-average definitions of consent: Case Western Reserve University, Emory University, Duke University, and Hamilton College. While these definitions may not necessarily be quite as comprehensive as the two discussed above, they give a pretty clear idea of what the schools define consent to be.

There is a long list of schools, including Cornell University, College of William & Mary and Bethany College, that do not say what consent is but manage to define what consent is not. While this is not ideal, at least these schools are one step ahead of those who do not even come close to clearly defining consent. Boston University, Brown University, and Haverford College all fall under this entirely unfortunate category. Sadly, this last list of schools is by far the longest.

It’s about time that campus policies included a clear and detailed definition of consent. It is not enough to say that the college or university does not tolerate “non-consensual” sexual conduct. There is no way for students to truly understand what that means and evaluate their own and others’ behaviors unless consent is defined. How can students be expected to only engage in consensual acts if they don’t know what those are?

One highly controversial aspect of policies that I didn’t address today in the consent definitions is the statement about “mentally incapacitated” or “mentally disabled” persons. Tune in next time to get a rundown of which schools are doing it well and which ones can’t quite get it right.

And remember: consent is sexy!

Critic’s Pick: Drug & Alcohol Amnesty Policies

Hi readers: this is my blogging debut! I just joined the SAFER team as the Policy and Research Intern and am currently a senior at Columbia University.

Hopefully by now you’re familiar with the Campus Accountability Project—SAFER’s national initiative with V-Day to build a comprehensive public database of student-submitted sexual assault policies. Essentially, student activists can call out their schools on what’s being done well but also what could use some improving. One of the aims of the project is to gather the best and the worst practices. When it comes to what really makes a good policy, which campuses are excelling and which ones are lagging behind? This week, we’ll examine Drug and Alcohol Amnesty Policies.

To start, an amnesty policy offers immunity from campus discipline for victims who were in violation of other school policies when assaulted (for example, for consuming alcohol or drugs). Students should not be discouraged from reporting a sexual assault because he/she had been consuming alcohol or drugs at the time. As Southern Arkansas University’s “Good Samaritan Provision“ states:

It is in the best interests of this community that as many victims as possible choose to report to University officials. To encourage reporting incidents of sexual misconduct, SAU pursues a procedure of offering victims of sexual misconduct limited immunity from being charged for policy violations related to the sexual misconduct incident.

Sadly, a mere 7% of the schools in our CAP Database currently have amnesty policies! With so many barriers to reporting already present, colleges and universities must encourage students to report in any way they can. It is absolutely necessary that campuses include an amnesty clause.

So whom can we look to for ideas? Drake University certainly encourages the reporting of assault and sexual misconduct. The Understanding Sexual Assault brochure devotes a whole paragraph to Victim and Witness Immunity, acknowledging that victims are often hesitant to report out of fear of getting charged with policy violations:

To encourage reporting, Drake offers immunity from University disciplinary action for lesser policy violations that students reporting the assault/sexual assault may have committed. The University will provide referrals to counseling and may require educational options, rather than disciplinary sanctions, in such cases. Excluded from this grant of immunity are all students accused of encouraging or voluntarily participating in the assault/sexual assault.

Drake isn’t the only University that includes this kind of immunity. Case Western Reserve also makes their amnesty policy easy to locate within the Sexual Assault Policy. It strongly encourages people who have been sexually assaulted to report, stating:

When conducting the investigation, the university’s primary focus will be on addressing the sexual assault and not on other university policy violations that may be discovered or disclosed.

University of Mississippi, University of Oregon, and Colgate University do not elaborate a whole lot but manage to make clear that victims should not let his or her use of alcohol or drugs be a deterrent to reporting the incident.

To give a few more examples, Bucknell University, Emory University, and University of Colorado Boulder all have immunity/amnesty clauses that are not sexual assault specific. They are not particularly emphasized with regards to their sexual assault policies, but the clauses are clearly stated and important nonetheless.

It is not hard to see why having an amnesty policy is essential in encouraging students to report sexual assaults, but the sad reality is that the majority of schools do not have one. This is a call to students everywhere: use these examples to start a movement. Your school too can have a drug and alcohol amnesty policy—it just takes activists like you to get it started!

Student Success: Case Western Reserve University

Josh Gohlike graduated last year from Case Western Reserve University. Case Western is a private research university in Cleveland, Ohio. Over 4,000 undergrads and an equal amount of graduate students attend CWRU in its seven schools.

I am currently in DC working with the Educational Network for Global and Grassroots Exchange. ENGAGE is a coalition or returned study abroad students that transforms the study abroad experience into lifelong connections and cooperative action between peoples and social movements working towards a just and sustainable world. My primary role is as an organizer working to bring an NGO from Thailand who has been working with urban issues for the past 14 years to the US to learn and exchange organizing techniques from various NGOs in the hopes of sharing his experience here, and taking what he learns and applying it to his organizing back in Thailand.

How did you get involved in challenging how your school handles sexual assault?

I was actually a student staff member for the center for women on campus and the initiative came from there. The full time staff knew the policy was messed up but they also knew that it needed to come from the students or the administration wouldn’t listen.

I was in the feminist group and involved with other activists and changing the policy was very much a tangible goal.

How did you get other students involved?

There were already 4-6 students involved because we had the resources of the center. We were able to maintain that level of investment and get more students by advertising on campus. Consistently we had about 6 people working on the issue and others would shift in and out. We would advertise around campus and talk to people about policy and why it had to change.

We also tapped in and used the resources we already had, like listservs.

What were the biggest concerns about your school and sexual assault among students on your
campus?

Out problem was the policy itself was vague and unclear. It was only one page long. So our concern was that survivors need to be in control, which means that they need to be informed and know what their options are.

What did you demand of your administration?

It was a process. I don’t know exactly what happened at the beginning. We demanded they review the policy and see what our concerns were. There was a sexual assault misconduct task force that took on the policy.

It was a collaboration between the adult and student task forces. We basically sifted through a bunch of policies from other universities we thought were good. We pretty much drew all the new provisions out from other policies—the rights of survivors, the rights of both people to a fair hearing, etc.

How did they respond?

They were in general very positive and very supportive, but just stuck in the bureaucratic system of it all. A couple of the students definitely had good relationships with people in power.

How did you pressure them into meeting your demands?

Our pressure really came from when we made personal appointments. We would go talk to the Provost and Student Affairs on a regular basis. It was really all about the persistent pestering

It would have been difficult to get the entire campus motivated about it, it was more of a small dedicated group working on the issue.

Describe your successes.

Our biggest success was the fact that we were consistent. We always had at least a few core members working on it. There was one point where we had volunteer committees and there was a student chairing the student sexual misconduct taskforce so there was a nice support structure.

Another thing that was one of our success was that when the we put forward a draft policy of our own, the administration said “we can do this.” A lot of the final policy was taken directly from our draft.

What resources (on- and off-campus) were most useful to you in your campaign?

Definitely we got hold of the SAFER manual at some point, as well as the other sexual assault polices we looked through. The Flora Stone Mather Center for Women on campus was a big source of support.

We had great contacts with the rape crisis center and the domestic violence center and we would meet with them every once and awhile.

Even Student Affairs was really helpful sometimes. Not that they were always easy to work with but they were definitely supportive of the fact that we wanted to make positive change. I think the main reason behind that was the personal relationships students had with them.

What advice would you give to other students who want to change their campuses?

Definitely be a participant. Hold your ground, because it is a bureaucratic system and you have to deal with that. Get appointments and utilize any connections that you have. Be prepared to be frustrated by the process, but don’t lose hope. Try and make it sustainable—it isn’t always going to happen quickly. The people who started our process graduated two years before the policy change.

What, if anything, would you have done differently?

I would have like to have gotten more investment from more students. We had a pretty good variety of students, but it would have nice to get Greek life involved and more student organizations. We did after the fact go to student government, so we did reach out, but we could have done more.

The hard thing was to maintain a balance between doing that outreach and our other efforts, and every thing else you have to do at a rigorous college.

I’m only one person, this interview is only my perspective, but I can say that it was such a nice feeling to finally know that our President was signing the policy, that emails that were going out announcing the new policy. It was a really empowering process.

New sexual assault policy at Case Western!

Good news from Case Western Reserve. A student I had contact with a few months ago has reported that “thanks to the work of motivated students and supportive administrators at the university” they’ve instituted a new sexual assault policy. I’ve included the text of the old policy after the jump, and here is the new one. I’d love to hear what people think about the changes!
Congratulations to the students who worked hard to make this happen! Continue reading