Sharon has been experiencing stalking, harassment and sexual violence from her recent ex for over six months. Fed up with trying to convince Sharon to report the abuse, her roommate Delia goes against Sharon’s wishes and reports the ongoing IPV to the Student Conduct office.
Sharon, the victim/survivor, reluctantly agrees to come in to talk to the Dean in the Student Conduct office. Sharon requests that the university not investigate the report, as the perpetrator is a well-known and well-liked athlete, and Sharon is very afraid of physical and/or social retaliation from her ex's teammates. Sharon reluctantly shares that she "knows for a fact that (her ex) used to do the same terrible things to a previous girlfriend (who is also a current student)."
The Guiding Principles and Their Implications
#1 — Response should be timely, appropriate, sensitive, and respectful. Incorporating these principles at every level of response will increase the likelihood that students will report intimate partner violence and other forms of gender based violence.
The Dean and other frontline staff responding to the initial report of IPV should validate Sharon's and Delia's feelings, normalize their concerns and explain the conduct proceedings, the no-retaliation policy, the Amnesty Policy and the Responsible Action policy.
Clear, transparent communication is integral to victims’/survivors’ trust in the system, is a cornerstone of a trauma-informed approach, ensures survivors are more likely to participate in the process, and helps to minimize feelings of anger and betrayal related to the process.
Thoughtful response should happen without delay in order to maximize safety for all involved. A no-contact order should be offered to Sharon, even if she decides not to file a police report or participate in the Student Conduct office's potential investigation.
Sharon should not be pressured into filing formal reports with the university and/or law enforcement, but should be fully informed of all her Title IX-related options for reporting and support. She should also be informed that the institution may have to move forward with an investigation if the responding party’s actions constitute a significant threat to the campus community, but that all reporting parties can choose their level of participation throughout the process.
Title IX coordinators should only override requests for no action when the potential threat to overall community safety outweighs the negative impact on the survivor. Per the Office of Civil Rights, in situations in which a student requests no action and the Title IX Coordinator overrides that request, the decision should generally involve:
- An increased risk of the alleged perpetrator committing additional acts of violence,
- An increased risk of future violence in a similar circumstance, or
- An increased level of danger such as the presence of a weapon.
Confidentiality and privacy should be thoroughly explained throughout the process and honored in every interaction, both in person and in writing. The reporting party should be informed about what specific information must be released, to whom, and why.
If Sharon shares the name of the other victim/survivor, a Title IX investigator should reach out to her and invite her to come in, while protecting Sharon’s privacy.
Responding staff, such as advocates, Title IX staff, investigators and law enforcement, should utilize trauma-informed response skills with Sharon while remaining a neutral party in the investigation.
Reporting and responding parties should receive written notification of their rights as well as information on the conduct proceedings and appellate procedures (if applicable).
The responding party should be offered the option of a Mutual Agreement in lieu of an investigation and hearing.
- Be ongoing, research-based, and up-to-date
- Include information on trauma-informed and culturally sensitive response
- Be developed and facilitated in coordination with gender violence experts
All staff involved in investigating and resolving Sharon’s case need to have received extensive and appropriate training on IPV and other forms of gender based violence.
From The Violence Against Women Act: "Proceedings must be conducted by officials who receive annual training on all forms of interpersonal violence (which includes IPV, stalking, and sexual violence), including on how to conduct an investigation, protect the safety of victims/survivors, and promote accountability."
Adjudication and investigation professionals need not reinvent the wheel when it comes to annual training. Campus gender violence experts can offer research-based and trauma-informed guidance and training that reflects the actual experiences of student victims/survivors. Staff of local domestic violence service providers and family justice centers often have expertise in such training as well.
Campuses should carefully coordinate and plan training sessions for campus security personnel as well as Student Conduct employees (for more information, visit the Prevention and Education section) and should design all trainings in close collaboration with experts on gender-based violence issues. Additionally, training coordinators can ease competition for time by working with other campus police “trainers” to infuse gender-based violence issues in other areas of ongoing and pre-scheduled routine training.
For more information on trauma-informed staff training, visit Minimum Standards of Training for Campus Disciplinary and Judicial Boards.
#4 — Increase safety for and reduce retaliation toward reporting parties. Campuses should expend great efforts to protect the safety of victim/survivors by training employees in safety planning, adjudicating claims of retaliation in a timely fashion, and highlighting retaliation prohibitions in IPV-related policies.
Like many victims/survivors, Sharon fears retaliation from her alleged perpetrator and others. Victims/survivors often fear other consequences related to marginalized or oppressed identities; consequences such as being rejected by their community or being mistreated during a resulting investigation and adjudication process.
All parties should be informed that retaliation is prohibited and that the university will take steps to prevent and respond to retaliation by and toward any involved party. Sharon and all other involved parties should be told how to report retaliation of any kind, and what the sanctions are for violating the policy. The information should include examples and definitions of what constitutes retaliation, so that Sharon and all other involved parties can identify behaviors that qualify.
From the Office on Civil Rights: "When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible retaliation by other students or third parties, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. Title IX requires the school to protect the complainant and witnesses and ensure their safety as necessary. This includes.....making follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or acts of retaliation, and by responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems."