Gavin, a rising masculine-identified junior, matriculated as a feminine-identified student two years ago. He has since come out as transgender and now openly expresses his gender identity by living as a man. On a school-sponsored, study-away trip in California, Gavin is sexually harassed and groped on the chest and genitals by two drunk fellow students in a nightclub.
Gavin, acting on the advice of his close friends and in accordance with study-away policy, contacts Dr. Spencer, the faculty member who is accompanying the students in California. Dr. Spencer tells Gavin that because he is male, the school’s sexual misconduct policy does not apply to him, and the university "can’t really help." Dr. Spencer states that Gavin can go to the counseling center when he returns to campus to see if he can "find a counselor who might understand his reaction to the situation better." Discouraged, Gavin relies on his close friends for help but begins to have panic attacks that interfere with his studies. A few months after returning to campus, Gavin seeks support from a counselor, who appropriately refers him to the campus gender violence advocate and to the Title IX Coordinator. Gavin requests that the Title IX Coordinator not formally investigate the matter, but instead assist Gavin in mediating the incident with the two students who groped him.
The Guiding Principles and Their Implications
#1 — Preserve the federally-protected civil rights of victims/survivors. Policies and procedures should reflect best practices for protecting civil rights, both in letter and spirit of the law. Policies should be inclusive enough to reflect all students’ identities and experiences.
Gavin’s experience, regardless of his gender identity, is an example of fondling, which is defined as: The touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, forcibly and/or against that person’s will.
Policies should clearly and prominently state that students of all genders and gender identities are protected under Title IX and the Clery Act, including female, male, transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming victims/survivors.
The University/college is put ‘on notice’ the moment it “knows or reasonably should have known” of an incident of harassment or abuse against a current student. In this case, because Dr. Spencer is in charge of the students while they are in the program, he should have reported the incident to the school in a timely fashion so Gavin would get the support and resources he needed. This is the case even when a student is studying away and/or engaged in a school-sponsored activity off campus. Learn More: Outline Statistical Reporting Requirements and Confidentiality
Since students are covered under Title IX even when they are on study-away trips sponsored by the school, campus officials responsible for writing policies about off-campus learning experiences should clarify and reinforce correct messages about safety planning, reporting options, and support for victims/survivors.
Schools should not wait to explore available resources and/or investigate until the victim/survivor who has been studying away returns to campus. Victim/survivors can be/feel especially vulnerable in another location. A victim’s/survivor’s emotional and physical safety is paramount in these situations.
Mediation between reporting and responding parties shall never be an option in cases of sexual violence. Placing an alleged perpetrator and victim/survivor in the same space to address the abuse can put the victim/survivor at risk for future abuse, and precludes free expression of thoughts and feelings on the part of the abused person. Mediation may also imply that both parties are responsible for the abuse, when in fact only the perpetrator is responsible for the abusive behavior(s).
The Title IX Coordinator should take Gavin’s request for no formal investigation into consideration, but a school must move forward with an investigation when there is a likelihood of re-occurrence and/or a significant threat to the campus community.
The Title IX Coordinator must explore Gavin’s request for no investigation to see if it reflects fear of retaliation.
#2 — Policies should be clearly written and easily accessible. Information on the institution’s policies should also be presented to community members multiple times in a variety of formats.
Make clear to staff/faculty as well as students in trainings and all print materials that students of all genders and gender identities are protected under Title IX and the Clery Act.
Study-away policies should clearly state the processes for victims/survivors to report their abuse to police and/or notify the school, and for responding staff/faculty to support the affected student(s) while studying off campus.
#3 — Creating and updating IPV policies should be a collaborative and inclusive process. Institutions should seek meaningful input and feedback from students, staff/faculty, and community stakeholders, especially those who might be marginalized because of gender identity, race, age, ability, immigration status, and/or ethnicity.
Policies should be written so as to be inclusive of all victim’s/survivor’s gender identities, relationship statuses, etc. When creating and revising policies, it is critical to have input from students whose voices are often marginalized. Special care should be taken to invite marginalized students to share their experiences and to influence policy, as well as to affirm and support them during the feedback process.
First responders (Campus Security Advisors). responsible employees, counselors, advocates, Title IX staff, law enforcement, Resident Advisors, medical staff) should receive specific training on not assuming a victim’s/survivor’s gender identity, sexual orientation, relationship status, ability, immigration status, etc.
The experience and input of first responders is important in policy creation and revision, as first responders can easily identify gaps in services and reflect accurate experiences of student victims/survivors.
Conducting an annual or biannual case review amongst interested parties can assist in adequately evaluating gaps in services and policies.