Mandatory Reporting

Jared Eno spearheaded the effort to collect and code student-facing webpages on sexual assault for our nationally-representative sample of 381 schools in 2017, after Trump’s election but before DeVos rescinded the Obama-era Title IX guidance that September.  

Based on this data, the team – led by Katelyn Kennon and Jared Eno – is developing a paper investigating the quality of university website communication to students about their options for resources and reporting. 

How people and institutions respond to survivor disclosures of sexual assault can mitigate or exacerbate the harms of that assault. Research shows that when a survivor discloses what happened to them, an effective response: 

  1. Supports the survivor’s agency, seeking to give them control over what happens next; 
  1. Provides confidentiality, allowing survivors to process and plan in a safe space; and 
  1. Validates the survivor’s experience, which survivors may narrative, label, and respond to in a variety of ways. 

In the higher education context, responses to disclosures of sexual assault are shaped by policies that require at least some school personnel to report all such disclosures to the school’s Title IX coordinator. Proponents of compelled disclosure policies argue that ensuring that the school knows about sexual assaults will enable (and potentially force) it to respond. However, such policies can undermine survivors’ agency by triggering institutional responses that the survivor may not have wanted; violate survivors’ expectations of confidentiality; and invalidate experiences that survivors do not see as helpfully addressed with formal school responses such as reporting, investigation, adjudication, and sanctions. 

Whatever stance one takes on these policies, their existence creates a responsibility for schools to clearly explain them to students. In particular, websites are a key place that schools can communicate policies to students. Therefore, we wanted to know: How do schools communicate to survivors about options for resources and reporting on their websites?  

In general, we have found that student-facing information provided on schools’ websites about compelled disclosure policies did not provide survivors with information that could have enabled them to take control over the aftermath of an assault. Some schools provided inaccurate or inconsistent information. Some websites did not reveal that compelled disclosure policies existed. Others that did mention compelled disclosure policies but failed to indicate which employees were implicated, or the circumstances under which these employees had to disclose, to whom, and with what consequences. Schools also often failed to clearly describe the types of confidentiality available, as well as the limits on the confidentiality particular school employees could provide. In addition, information was rarely communicated in ways that validated student experiences—that is, written for students in compassionate everyday language (rather than legalese) that avoided victim blaming and encouraged students to approach university adults to discuss problematic experiences, even those that students might not label it as “rape,” “violence,” or “assault.” 

Presentations:

  • Katelyn Kennon, Jared Eno, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, and Sandra R. Levitsky. (29 May 2020). “Organizational Barriers to Reporting of Sexual Assault: Communication Practices of College and University Websites.” Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association. 
  • Katelyn Kennon, Jared Eno, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, and Sandra R. Levitsky. (19 October 2020). “Organizational Barriers to Reporting of Sexual Assault: Communication Practices of College and University Websites.” National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Assault in Higher Education: 2020 Public Summit, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. 

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