James is a first generation, African American sophomore who is attending your institution on a full, merit-based scholarship. No one in his close-knit fraternity knows that James is gay except one close friend, a fraternity brother named Trey, who is a senior.
At first, James felt relieved when he told Trey he was gay, but soon Trey began sending him lots of unwanted and unreciprocated texts, emails and gifts with notes that indicated his sexual interest in James. When James pushed back on Trey’s behavior, Trey started threatening to harm James and to “out” him to his very religious parents, to his ex-girlfriend, and to their fraternity.
James knows from his fraternity’s training on gender-based violence that Trey’s behavior constitutes stalking and is a violation of Title IX, even though James is male, but he is afraid to report the abuse because he fears losing his scholarship, his friends, and getting Trey in trouble with the law. Eventually, James feels so threatened that he goes to talk confidentially with his campus pastor but states up front that he refuses to report to the police.
The pastor offers to go with James tonotify the Student Conduct Office of the abuse. James agrees to discuss the stalking with Student Conduct – on the condition that he does not have to participate in a formal investigation and hearing.
The Guiding Principles and Their Implications
#1 — Provide robust accommodations to victims/survivors. Accommodations following experiences of intimate partner and other forms of violence should minimize the victims'/survivors' burden of continuing their education by addressing safety, They should address safety, Title IX rights, academic needs, privacy, and resulting financial burden.
James should be offered all reasonable accommodations as an IPV victim/survivor whether or not he chooses to notify the institution and/or law enforcement.
James’s safety is the primary concern. James should be offered the opportunity to receive free assistance from a trained advocate/counselor who can assist him in creating a safety plan as soon as possible, and provide ongoing support, including seeking a civil order of protection, if he so chooses.
James, upon notifying the Student Conduct officer, should be presented with a written notice of his rights and a comprehensive list of resources so that he can avoid further victimization and decrease the negative impact of the hostile campus environment.
If needed, free transportation to access off campus services should be provided to the students by the institution.
A no-contact order should be offered to James in order to increase his feeling of safety. Before a no-contact order is put into place, it should be communicated to James that a no-contact order would alert Trey that James spoke with university officials about the abuse. The creation of a no-contact orders should always be accompanied by an explanation to both/all parties that retaliation in any form is prohibited.
Considering that the two are in the same fraternity, staff should take into consideration James' level of fear and intimidation in discerning how restrictive a possible no-contact order should be (i.e., whether Trey should be disallowed from attending fraternity meetings and events).
Decisions should be made with the goal of reducing Trey's proximity to James. Every effort should be made to reduce the burden on James of having to move out of classes or change his living situation, as James is the one feeling threatened in this situation.
If James is willing, his Dean and perhaps his scholarship manager should meet to discuss ways to support James academically so his success in school is not further interrupted by the abuse. If possible, any classes James misses due to seeking counseling or a protective order should be excused absences.
#2 — Consider a victim’s/survivor’s relevant circumstances. Accommodations should be provided with attention to ability status, religion/faith, cultural identity, racial identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, financial situation, etc.
James' experience is protected under Title IX, even though he is male-identified, because the harassment is sexual in nature.
Victims/survivors may have a small or limited social network on campus once they leave home. This can be especially impactful in “closed communities” such as Greek Life, ROTC, Athletics, Student Government Association, etc.
James' preferences about not telling his parents or his fraternity should be strictly honored by any staff member with a 'need to know' that becomes involved in the process. Just because a staff member has a ‘need to know’, like a professor for whose class James is receiving an excused absence, that person does not need to know personal details or even the nature of the situation. A request from Student Conduct and/or the students’ deans should be enough to acquire the needed accommodations.
Victims/survivors and other students of color, particularly African American students, may fear exposing a member of their community to the judicial system as African American men in particular are already disproportionately represented throughout the entire judicial system.
#3 — Take interim measures promptly and prevent retaliation. As soon as it has notice of an allegation of intimate partner violence, the school should take interim measures to protect students and investigate what happened. The school should also provide the victim/survivor with periodic updates on the status of the investigation and work to prevent and address any retaliation.
While any request made by a victim/survivor that a matter not be investigated should be taken into account, appropriate steps should be taken to respond to the matter in cases of serious and imminent threat to the community. James should be informed of this caveat in his first meeting with Student Conduct officials.
Student Conduct, once they have notice of IPV, must take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the students involved. Both students should be made aware of a no-contact order (if James wants one) and information on how to report retaliation, should it occur.
While the school might see fit to begin an investigation, James has the right to opt out of the process, or to participate to the extent that he feels comfortable. James should be periodically updated on the status of the investigation, if the school moves forward with one.
#4 — Provide private, trauma-informed support. This support for victims/survivors should come from all parts of campus.
James' preferences about not telling his parents or his fraternity should be strictly honored by any staff member with a 'need to know' that becomes involved in the case. Professionals involved in assisting with accommodations for James should only be told as much as they need to know to assist him adequately - all involved staff do not need every detail of the situation.
In addition to counseling and academic accommodations, James might benefit from assistance with housing changes from Residence Life, transportation and security escorts via campus or local police, and changes to his work situation. All assistance should be provided without cost to James, wherever possible.
Staff should have access to training on trauma-informed approaches to improve responses to victims/survivors.
- Response systems can be trauma-informed without being biased toward survivors.
- The policies and processes of these systems should be designed to put all students on the same level and be applied fairly and consistently.
James should be offered free counseling on campus or the in the community to address his need for emotional support.
Both reporting and responding students should be offered separate advocates if Student Conduct conducts a formal investigation.
Response systems should not reinforce existing oppression/mistreatment (James’ minority status as an African American person, a gay person, a male victim) or reinforce existing privilege/protection (fraternity membership, scholarship status).