White House Task Force Pressures Colleges to Improve Handling of Sexual Assaults

Report also urges campuses to offer bystander intervention programs and conduct campus climate surveys.
Published: April 29, 2014

The White House released guidelines Monday designed to stem sexual assaults on campus and assist victims of these crimes.

The report says schools should conduct campus climate surveys, implement bystander intervention programs and more effectively respond when a student reports an incident. Additionally, the Obama Administration has launched a new website, NotAlone.gov, which is designed to assist victims who want to file a complaint.

The report also says that Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is changing its enforcement procedures.

The specific guidelines for schools are:

——Article Continues Below——

Get the latest industry news and research delivered directly to your inbox.

Conduct campus climate surveys: “The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it – and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that. We are providing schools with a toolkit to conduct a survey – and we urge schools to show they’re serious about the problem by conducting the survey next year. The Justice Department, too, will partner with Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children to pilot, evaluate and further refine the survey – and at the end of this trial period, we will explore legislative or administrative options to require schools to conduct a survey in 2016.

Engage men in sexual assault prevention efforts: “…one thing we know for sure: we need to engage men as allies in this cause. Most men are not perpetrators – and when we empower men to step in when someone’s in trouble, they become an important part of the solution. …if you see it happening, help her, don’t blame her, speak up. We are also providing schools with links and information about how they can implement their own bystander intervention programs on campus.”

Effectively respond when a student is sexually assaulted:
When a student reports an incident, “a school needs to have all the pieces of a plan in place, and that should include”:

  • Having someone a survivor can talk to in confidence:  “Today, we are providing schools with a model reporting and confidentiality protocol – which, at its heart, aims to give survivors more control over the process. Victims who want their school to fully investigate an incident must be taken seriously – and know where to report. But for those who aren’t quite ready, they need to have – and know about – places to go for confidential advice and support. That means a school should make it clear, up front, who on campus can maintain a victim’s confidence and who can’t – so a victim can make an informed decision about where best to turn. A school’s policy should also explain when it may need to override a confidentiality request (and pursue an alleged perpetrator) in order to help provide a safe campus for everyone.”
  • Having a comprehensive sexual misconduct policy
  • Training school officials on the effects of trauma on victims
  • Having better disciplinary systems:  “Many sexual assault survivors are wary of their school’s adjudication process – which can sometimes subject them to harsh and hurtful questioning (like about their prior sexual history) by students or staff unschooled in the dynamics of these crimes… The Justice Department will begin assessing different models for investigating and adjudicating campus sexual assault cases with an eye toward identifying best practices… Questions about the survivor’s sexual history with anyone other than the alleged perpetrator should not be permitted; adjudicators should know that the mere fact of a previous consensual sexual relationship does not itself imply consent or preclude a finding of sexual violence; and the parties should not be allowed to personally cross-examine each other.”
  • Having partnership with the community.  These include making emergency services available 24 hours per day; providing long-term therapies and advocates. Schools that can’t provide these services themselves should partner with resources in the community. Additionally, when the college and police are investigating an allegation, they should coordinate their efforts.

Increase transparency and information:
The government will post enforcement data on its new website, NotAlone.gov and provide students a roadmap for filing a complaint. Survivors can also locate services by typing in their zip codes, learn about their legal rights, and see which colleges have had enforcement actions taken against them. Schools and advocates can access federal guidance and learn about relevant legislation.

OCR has also released a 52-point guidance document that answers many frequently asked questions about a student’s rights and school’s obligations under Title IX. OCR is also changing its enforcement procedures, such as instituting time limits on negotiating voluntary resolution agreements and making clear that schools should provide survivors with interim relief (like changing housing or class schedules) pending the outcome of an OCR investigation. Additionally, OCR will be more visible on campus during its investigations so students can be more involved.

The report received praise from Brett Sokolow, executive director of ATIXA.

“The Task Force Report is very well done, and much more comprehensive than expected with the short 90 day timeline the President set out for the Task Force,” he said in a statement. “One of the most positive notes was the embrace of the civil rights investigation-led model of resolution as a replacement for the adversarial hearing model. If there was one false note, it is encouraging research on campus-based offender treatment programs. This will backfire, as it feeds campus tendencies to minimize the severity of perpetration or think that rapists can be educated into docility. Campuses are not good at such programs, and in fact, society really isn’t either, if you crunch the metadata on sex offender rehabilitation. Simply, this is not a business colleges should be in. What will happen from a liability perspective if a college-reformed offender re-offends?”

Read the full report.

Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series