Columns / Discourse / October 7, 2015

The problem with mandatory reporting

Mandatory reporting has become an increasingly hot topic at Knox College. Last year, a petition to relax Knox’s current policies on mandatory reporting garnered approximately 750 signatures, with 200 alumni alone supporting the proposed revisions. Despite the furor, however, two problems remain.

First of all, many students still do not understand the basics of mandatory reporting. Second, students and professors alike express confusion over why the current policies have aroused such anger in the first place.

Federal Title IX policies for mandatory reporting are pretty basic: Anyone who is deemed a “responsible employee” must report incidents of sexual misconduct to the campus Title IX staff, whether or not the survivor of the misconduct wants it to be reported. A responsible employee is anyone who has been given the authority to report any incident of misconduct, whether that be an alcohol violation, illicit substance use, sexual assault, etc.

After a responsible employee reports the misconduct to Title IX staff, a staff member (in our case, Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader) will contact the survivor to meet up and discuss the incident.

Knox’s policies are mostly in line with general public understanding of mandatory reporting, though students and faculty alike have criticized our school policy as being unnecessarily stringent. Not only are all faculty, staff, administrators, TAs, resident assistants and research assistants mandated reporters, but essentially any space is also a mandated space, both on and off campus.

This means that sharing a “reportable offense” with another person, even a person who isn’t a mandated reporter, is technically a risk if you are in a space where someone may overhear you (such as the Gizmo, a dorm common room, etc.), since in some cases mandated reporters have indeed overheard and reported students. We as students need to be extra aware of this — not so that we’re scared, but so we are appropriately informed.

If our school policies are at least reasonably in line with federal policy, why has there been such an uproar, both at our school and across the country?

Well, it turns out, there are a lot of reasons. Most important is the fact that many survivors feel mandatory reporting takes away their agency to decide when, where and how to report a Title IX violation to their school. Many survivors and advocates alike find mandatory reporting to be re-victimizing Ñ a kneejerk administrative response to show surface-level compliance to Title IX policy, rather than a response reflective of survivors’ needs and wishes.

Indeed, a recent article against mandatory reporting titled “Which Matters More: Reporting an Assault or Respecting Survivors’ Wishes?” gives an exceptional breakdown of why these policies are so difficult. A recent post on “Inside Higher Ed” described the negative reactions of faculty around the country who worried that forcing their students to report sexual misconduct would become a serious breach of trust between faculty and the student body.

A recent survey by Know Your IX and National Alliance to End Sexual Violence showed that over 90 percent of sexual assault survivors felt it was inappropriate for others to dictate how survivors report their stories. While the latter survey was geared more toward gauging reactions to survivors being forced to report to the police, I believe its results are also relevant to survivors being forced to report to Title IX staff at universities, as well Ñ and I have 750 signatures to back up that statement!

Even beyond revictimization, forcing survivors to report their stories to Title IX staff is problematic in that it implies that reporting is the “end all, be all” of the recovery process after intimate trauma. Meaning, the implication behind coercing survivors to seek legal recourse after being victimized suggests that reporting victimization is necessary for a survivor to begin the healing process.

Conversely, I have spoken to many survivors who feel that being forced to report their experiences, particularly if those experiences are of sexual assaults, was a step back in their recovery process. This is no doubt not true for every survivor, but the general idea is that survivors know better than policymakers whether it is best for them to report.

So how are colleges dealing with the problem of mandatory reporting? Interestingly enough, there are many loopholes both colleges and policymakers are utilizing.

Some administrators are fighting back about the very definition of mandatory reporting and responsible employees, claiming (for good reason!) that administrators have the ultimate say in who is deemed a mandated reporter. Others are adopting a system proposed by Brett Sokolow, an advocate for Title IX and sexual assault survivor rights, making only certain administrative and faculty members full mandated reporters and leaving the rest to make only anonymous reports (so, reports that don’t identify the survivor at all). Adopting such a system (sometimes called a “John/Jane Doe” system due to its protection of anonymity) may become more popular as more and more advocates, survivors and policymakers speak out against mandatory reporting.

In the end, this issue is controversial for all of us. As a rape crisis advocate who has spoken to countless survivors about this and other issues, I am personally against most mandatory reporting policy. Others feel that relaxing these policies would allow repeat offenders to continue their crimes unscathed, since their continued misconduct would go unreported. In the end, I firmly believe that if we are making policies with the intent to help survivors of sexual violence, it makes the most sense to listen to survivors’ voices in the process.

Editor’s note: Knox’s counseling staff is non-mandated. 

Erica Witzig

Tags:  Knox College mandatory reporting sexual assault title ix

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