Fred Lara is a licensed Mental Health Professional certified in trauma informed care and a former instructor of Psychology and Behavioral Health
As we head into another school year with the changing landscape of guidelines, the area of campus sexual assault and harassment still proves to be a cloudy subject for universities, faculty and students. Being that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to spend some time covering this difficult but important subject.
Facts about sexual assault on campus
Before discussing helpful tips and resources, let’s look at some statistics to better understand the importance of this topic. While statistics vary slightly from study to study, we generally see the following trends:
- College campuses report a 13% annual rate of nonconsensual sexual contact. (Association of American Universities)
- Female college students between 18 and 24 years old are three times more likely to experience sexual violence than all women. (RAINN)
- Roughly one in five women will experience sexual assault while attending college. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- Individuals that identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual are more likely to experience sexual assault than those who identify as heterosexual. (The Atlantic)
- Statistics vary on reporting rates, but research concludes that many sexual assaults go underreported due to shame, embarrassment and not knowing who to report to. (RAINN)
- In roughly 80% of cases, the perpetrator is someone the victim knows, like an intimate partner or acquaintance. (RAINN)
How does Title IX require schools to address these issues?
Given the prevalence and gravity of this issue, it can be a difficult one for instructors to navigate when they hear reports from their students. However, given the emergence and revision of Title IX guidelines at college campuses across the country, there now exist better procedures for awareness and reporting. Title IX is a Federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and federally funded activities. It is often referenced when discussing women’s participation in athletics, but the scope is much larger. Title IX also gives schools the legal responsibility to respond immediately and adequately to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. It requires schools to have policies and procedures in place for students and faculty to report these incidents, and for the institution to investigate them.
- Every school must have and distribute a policy against sex discrimination (including sexual harassment and violence)
- Every school must have a dedicated Title IX coordinator to oversee complaints and ensure the school is always acting in compliance with the law
- Every school must have and make known procedures for students to file sex discrimination claims (including sexual harassment and violence)
Steps for faculty
Under Title IX, faculty are mandated reporters with a legal requirement to handle these situations appropriately. The question now becomes: If I am a faculty member, what do I do if I am approached by a student who reports sexual assault? The guidelines below will help in assisting with this:
- Refer to your institution’s guidelines for reporting and who to contact. This is paramount, as each institution will have different reporting procedures. Colleges and Universities put out yearly trainings and guidelines that adhere to Title IX Policy.
- Treat every story as a credible one. At times, victims will not report right away due to shame, fear of retaliation and/or PTSD symptoms. Due to the high probability that the victim knows the perpetrator, this can also make them hesitant to report. Your job is to validate the student, make them feel safe and then follow the College/University guidelines for reporting.
- Be calm and make the student feel safe. Again, listen and validate their concerns. Make the student feel like this is a safe environment by reassuring them this is not their fault.
- Let the student know you have a duty to report this. You MUST follow institution and campus guidelines but also encourage the student, if comfortable, to report it to the school themselves.
- Document, document, document! A very simple way to think about documenting things of a sensitive nature is to record this information: What did you know? When did you know it? What did you do about it?
- Consult with your immediate supervisor ASAP.
- Have a list of resources in your office where students can get help or seek assistance. The institution’s counseling center will have these as well—but giving students resources right away can be very helpful during this traumatic process.
- Build a culture of psychological safety so that people will feel comfortable enough to report issues.
More resources on sexual harassment and sexual assault
Once you are clear on Title IX requirements and the expectations of your institution, you can use the following resources to stay current on the latest data and feel more prepared to handle situations involving sexual assault on campus.
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE): https://www.rainn.org/about-national-sexual-assault-telephone-hotline
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/
- National Organization for Victim Assistance: https://www.trynova.org/who-we-are/
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: https://vawnet.org/
- National Sexual Assault Online Chat: https://hotline.rainn.org/online
- Summary of Major Provisions of the Department of Education’s Title IX Final Rule: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/titleix-summary.pdf
- Title IX (RAINN): https://www.rainn.org/articles/title-ix