Monday, December 26, 2011

Thoughts on Third Party Reporting

Katy Mattingly, University of Michigan
Author of Self-Defense: Steps to Survival

In April 2011 the Department of Education (DOE) issued new guidance to institutions of higher education noting that sexual violence of any kind is a form of sexual harassment, and therefore is illegal under Title IX. (That’s the same Title IX that prohibits discrimination in funding of women's athletics!) The DOE told schools that they are required to investigate any sexual violence that they know about "or should know about" to protect the survivor and the community. It's pretty radical guidance, actually. So many schools, for so many years have actively refused to investigate any complaint of sexual assault, harassment, stalking or intimate partner violence against students. Which means many perpetrators have faced ZERO consequences. Some of us are really happy the federal government is requiring more action!

At the same time, many advocates for survivors are afraid that mandatory investigations (whether or not the survivor wants an investigation) could have a number of negative consequences, including
*Loss of survivor agency, sense of control
*Lack of criminal or civil sanctions against perpetrators, thus dragging survivors through cases with no good outcomes
*Driving reporting underground if survivors fear they'll lose control of an investigation

At the University of Michigan, advocates have been organizing for months now to insure compliance with the new regulations. Some offices and staff on campus remain confidential for survivors (therefore, not required to launch an investigation against a survivor’s wishes). One of the many issues institutions are struggling with is how to adequately inform students about where they may report confidentially and where they can't. For example, disclosures to University Housing staff automatically launch a Title IX investigation under the University of Michigan’s interim plan.

I can see a number of comparisons to mandatory arrest laws passed regarding intimate partner violence - there I think most advocates and survivors would agree there are both pros and cons to those laws. I personally really like the idea that violence against women is a Crime Against The Community which the community takes seriously, whether the survivor feels ready to launch a personal lawsuit or not.

But I also take very seriously the idea that survivors are the experts in their lives, and that the ramifications of being required to investigate could be negative (no survivor at the University of Michigan will be required to participate in an investigation against his or her will... but they also can’t stop the institution from investigating.)

Finally, the Title IX guidance doesn't apply in cases of intimate partner violence. Which raises yet another issue - when does IPV begin? If the assailant was on a first date with the survivor? Second? If it was a hook-up but they weren't strangers?

It's complicated! Advocates and survivors across the country will be watching for the full ramifications of this new federal guidance.

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