Late on a Thursday night, a first year student named Stephanie comes into her RA’s dorm room in tears. First, the RA reminds Stephanie about the RA’s responsibility to notify the college of IPV as an employee of the college. Stephanie then chooses to disclose that that night, at an on-campus party, she had been violently confronted by her ex-boyfriend who is a recent graduate of the institution.
He was “drunk and angry about being dumped”and grabbed her arms, slamming her against a wall outside the party. When she tried to get away, other students noticed the commotion and two guys approached the offender. He threatened them too, stating that he had a gun in his car and was “not afraid to use it.”
The RA immediately pages the Student Affairs Dean who is on call. The RA enlists Stephanie’s assistance with the wording of the paperwork to be filed with the Title IX office. The Dean pages an on-call advocate from the local crisis center, who talks with Stephanie on the phone and sets up an in-person appointment for the next morning. The same night, one of the male students who attempted to intervene at the party reports independently to campus police that he had felt “threatened” and “scared for himself and for her.” He had initially hesitated to report the incident because he and his other underage friends had been drinking alcohol.
Early the next morning, the Title IX Coordinator reads the paperwork from both the RA and campus police regarding the incident. She recognizes the alleged perpetrator as having once been suspended for a semester for having a collection of hunting knives in his dorm room on campus. When she reaches out to Stephanie in collaboration with law enforcement, Stephanie states she has decided not to participate any longer and does not want anyone else to pursue the matter either. Stephanie declines to meet in person with both the Title IX Coordinator and the campus police.
The Guiding Principles and Their Implications
#1 — Victims/survivors have the right to confidential support and to know what will happen with their information. Faculty and staff have a responsibility to inform victims/survivors about confidentiality limitations and options - before victims/survivors choose to share - and to maintain the highest level of confidentiality possible given legislation and institutional policy.
The RA acted responsibly and respectfully by stating up front her duty to notify the college of IPV. The RA could go on to explain that the Title IX/disciplinary staff will be reaching out privately to Stephanie immediately following the RA’s submission of required paperwork.
The Dean connected the victim/survivor quickly to a confidential counseling/advocacy professional. Timely emotional support can assist in the victim’s/survivor’s healing process and increase the chances that they will utilize available resources. The staff members involved should follow up with Stephanie in the coming days to see if she needs further support.
All involved parties - RA, Dean, police and Title IX Coordinator - should make a good faith effort to inform and consult with the victim/survivor before taking any action.
#2 — Identify the WHO, HOW, and WHEN of protecting victim/survivor confidentiality. Who can protect the confidentiality of victims/survivors? How will the institution protect their confidentiality? When might confidentiality be limited?
Both the RA and the Dean have an obligation to share everything they know about the victim’s/survivor’s experience with the school in a timely manner. All staff involved in the case should protect Stephanie’s privacy to the best of their ability.
When managing requests for no action, Title IX Coordinators should honor victims’/survivors’ request for confidentiality and/or no action whenever possible. Overriding such requests can negatively impact victims/survivors and discourage future reporting throughout the institution. Title IX coordinators should only override requests when the potential threat to overall community safety outweighs the negative impact on the victim/survivor. (Per the Office for Civil Rights, potential threats generally involve an increased risk of the 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.)
In this case, there might be sufficient reason to ban the offender from campus and issue a Timely Warning, if it has not already been issued, as the crime occurred on campus/within Clery geography. A Timely Warning should not include the identity of the victim/survivor or details of the assault that could compromise victim/survivor confidentiality. The purpose of the Timely Warning is to provide only the information needed to protect the campus community from further harm.
If the entity(s) on campus that write and issue Timely Warnings (e.g. campus law enforcement, Title IX Coordinator, Communications, etc.) decide to issue one, they should let Stephanie know ahead of its release. If she is willing, Stephanie can collaborate with law enforcement to compose the Timely Warning. For an example Timely Warning, see Appendix B of the NCCADV Model Policy. More information on issuing a Timely Warning is available on pages 145-150 of The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (2016) from the Federal Department of Education.
#3 — Inform all students of their options for notifying the institution and/or reporting abuse to law enforcement. This should include anonymous options, and may increase the likelihood that students will disclose and/or report IPV.
Visit the section entitled ‘Inform Students of Reporting Options’ in this document for more information on each option.
Stephanie should receive notification of her option to report to campus police at any time (with or without the assistance of campus authorities), or to decline to notify law enforcement altogether.
Stephanie should be offered the opportunity to decline further participation in any resulting investigation that follows her disclosure to the RA. Her disclosure should initiate some level of investigation or inquiry on the part of the Title IX office to ensure safety in the community. It must also be tallied in the data collection for the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crimes Statistics Act, and may be significant in identifying patterns or systemic issues.
Having Good Samaritan and Responsible Action (Amnesty) policies in place can encourage students such as the one in this scenario who are hesitant to come forward because of underage drinking. If the school decides they must hold this reporting party responsible in some way, it’s most appropriate to make the sanction educational and not punitive, as punishment can discourage bystander intervention and reporting across the university.
#4 — Seek input and collaboration from reporting students and their advocates. Work together to solicit and incorporate victims'/survivors' and advocates' input about the school's actions related to IPV prevention and response, with respect for the confidentiality of all parties involved.
Stephanie’s feedback on her participation in the process should be voluntary and de-identified, and should not affect her access to services and involvement in her education.
Staff members responding to Stephanie’s case should offer safety planning and take all available steps to minimize negative impacts on her.
Title IX/disciplinary staff, and advocates should outline Stephanie’s rights and processes for obtaining a criminal order of protection, a civil restraining order, and an institution-issued, no-contact order.
In banning the alleged perpetrator from campus, law enforcement should attempt to enlist Stephanie’s input and ask for a recent photo of the offender. Campus police officers should be informed about the seriousness of the incident and any trespass sanction that is adopted.
Law enforcement should offer Stephanie an escort on campus if she is worried her ex-boyfriend might target her again. A longer term plan for safety on and off campus should be created in coordination with an IPV advocate.
To the extent possible, the Title IX coordinator and campus police should gather information from others at the party and warn the campus community without revealing Stephanie’s identity. Bystanders interviewed should be informed of the school’s policy against retaliation and informed about how to report retaliation if it should occur.