A married couple, Maggie and Rob, are both enrolled in the same graduate program. They matriculated two years ago after moving here from Canada with their two children (ages 3 and 5).
Maggie, who uses a wheelchair, was able to obtain wheelchair accessible, on-campus housing. After a successful first year, Maggie starts to show up late to classes and fails to turn in much of her work.
Another graduate student who lives next door to the couple in student housing witnesses an altercation in which Rob kicks and punches Maggie in the stomach and screams at and pushes their older child. When Rob angrily drives off, the neighbor knocks on their door and encourages Maggie, who is doubled over and sobbing, to take the kids and go to the local emergency department.
At the ED, a formal report is made to campus law enforcement and to the Department of Social Services. The university, which does not currently employ a licensed counselor who can respond comprehensively to an incident of IPV, learns that the abuse is ongoing and that Rob has hidden the family’s passports and visas so that Maggie and their children are unable to leave the country. Maggie states that “everything is fine” and that she does not wish to press charges.
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.
Physical violence has occurred and therefore there is a higher risk of danger and lethality. Maggie should be immediately offered the opportunity to connect with an IPV professional to participate in the process of safety planning.
Maggie should be made aware of the option for a university no-contact order, even though at this time she is declining to participate in any investigation or adjudication process through the school.
Maggie should be offered all reasonable accommodations as an IPV victim/survivor whether or not she chooses to pursue the police report or an institutional investigation process.
If needed, free wheelchair-accommodating transportation to access off campus services should be provided to her by the institution.
Once Maggie has received the needed medical care, she should be informed of her rights under Title IX and the Clery Act, and referred to an IPV professional on campus or in the community who can provide her ongoing emotional support.
Maggie's declining grades and class participation have been influenced by the abuse she has suffered. Various professionals in academic affairs should meet with Maggie (and her advocate, if Maggie wishes) as soon as possible to come up with a plan to provide her with the accommodations needed for her to remain fully involved in her studies.
#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.
Since Maggie is married to the alleged perpetrator and has strong financial ties to him (especially since they are both graduate students), it might be hard for her to leave and care for the children on her own, or to afford supportive services. To the extent possible, services offered to Maggie should be free of charge.
Maggie and Rob have moved to a new place for both partners to attend school. Many victims/survivors feel isolated from their personal support networks and unable to access help because they are so far away from home. This is especially true if the student is also from a different state or country. International students in IPV relationships are trapped if the abuser takes their visa/passports and/or those of their children. Assistance from Visa Services/International student services should be offered to Maggie. See Section B-4 of the Office for Civil Rights Guidance Q&A on Title IX and Sexual Violence - April 2014 for more information on responding to international students.
Victims/survivors often fear losing significant logistical, emotional and/or financial support from a partner – even if the partner is, at times, abusive.
Maggie should receive a referral to Disability Services to assist her with her ability status as it relates to her education. See Section B-3 of the Office for Civil Rights Guidance Q&A on Title IX and Sexual Violence - April 2014 for more information on responding to students with disabilities.
Because she has children and wheelchair accessible housing, Maggie should be able to stay in the family's home, if desired. The university should assist her with lock changes for her safety, if she desires them.
#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.
ImplicationsMediation and/or couples’ counseling are NEVER appropriate in situations of IPV.
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. For more suggestions, see Support Students Who Request No Action.
Student Conduct, once they have notice of a report of IPV from the police or hospital, must take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the students involved. Both students should be made aware of a no contact order, if Maggie chooses to ask for one, and information on how to report any retaliation by the other party.
While the school might see fit to begin an investigation, Maggie has the right to opt out of the process, or to participate only to the extent that she feels comfortable. Maggie 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.
Appropriate referrals for Maggie might include: Disability Services, Visa Services, Residence Life, Academic Affairs/Deans, her professors, Student Conduct, law enforcement, local IPV agency, local court advocate, Student Health Services, etc.
Professionals involved in assisting with accommodations for Maggie (professors, Disability Services, Visa Services, etc.) should only be told as much as they need to know to assist her adequately - even staff members who have a ‘need to know’ do not need every detail of the family's situation.
- 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.
Maggie should be offered counseling on campus or in the community to address her need for emotional support. If the university has an MOU with a local agency that works with IPV victim/survivors, Maggie can be referred to receive free services from that agency.
Both reporting and responding students should be offered separate advocates if there is an investigation by the institution at any point.
Policies and processes should not reinforce existing oppression/mistreatment (pertinent to Maggie’s ability status or visa status) or reinforce existing privilege/protection (marital status, parental status, students in the same graduate program, etc).