You have to be prepared to act quickly and thoughtfully when you receive a report of sexual misconduct or abuse. Taking immediate action requires that you have a plan in place that includes an emergency response protocol. Your plan should identify specific members of the crisis team that convenes after an incident has been reported. Your crisis team should include an individual with a mental health background and a specific understanding of sexual trauma. If that is not possible, a mental health professional should be involved in creating the plan and training those involved in the response. Your plan should be documented and revisited on an annual basis to ensure that they remain relevant and that your team is familiar with the protocols and how to execute them.
The crisis plan should include training for all individuals involved with the reporting and responding parties to ensure that the committee understands the importance of using a trauma-informed and survivor-centered approach. Operating with these practices can reduce unintentional harm and prevent re-traumatizing the reporting party, which both impacts how they heal over the long-term and affects the safety and reporting climate and culture at your school.
The following details for process and protocols should be included in your emergency response guide:
When there has been a report of sexual misconduct or abuse, individuals may require medical attention. It’s critical to assess the well-being of the student(s) involved and determine whether immediate medical attention is needed.
Your school should be prepared with a plan on how it will provide medical care to the responding and reporting parties. This includes identifying the following:
As previously mentioned, the individual responsible for accompanying a student needing medical attention must have trauma-informed training to avoid unintentional harm or retraumatizing the reporting party.
Maintaining the privacy of the individuals involved is essential, both because they are typically minors and because of health care legal requirements (HIPPA laws).
In addition to the emergency medical services, your school should be prepared to provide immediate emotional support for the reporting party, responding party, and other student(s) involved. Note that each time the reporting party has to disclose details of their abuse can deepen their trauma. The ideal scenario is that the reporting party only has to recount their experience once. While this isn’t always practical, especially if law enforcement is involved or there is an investigation, be mindful of how your process can minimize the number of disclosures the reporting party must make. The individuals responsible for providing emergency emotional support must be trained to reduce the likelihood of re-traumatizing the reporting party.
Ideally, this emotional support provider is an employee of your school. If that's not the case, they must be well informed about your school's policies, procedures, legal requirements, and investigation process and needs to ensure that these protocols are followed. Providing this help supports the reporting party while also protecting the institution.
In addition to ensuring that mental health care is offered to the reporting party, the support person may, with appropriate permission from the student, be able to provide important context during the investigation. This information can be critical for the committee as they review and interpret the fact patterns and consider the findings. See Learning Courage’s section on “Supportive Services” for more information on how to support students.
Beyond initial emotional support services, your school should identify and ensure access is available for ongoing therapeutic and other options to care for reporting and responding parties.
For those who may not feel comfortable seeking emotional support within the school's therapeutic directly to school personnel, you should include information on outside emergency emotional resources for students, such as the phone number for a local rape crisis center or the police department. This information should be included on your school website as well as in your student handbook to make it as easy as possible to access. See Learning Courage’s section on “Supportive Services” for more information.
Lastly, recognize the emotional impact that these cases have on all those involved. Consider how your school will provide emotional support to faculty, staff and families. This should include easy to access options for off-campus care. Bringing outside expertise can be useful when there is an event that has a big impact on a school like 9/11, school shootings, or student suicides, for example. These are incredibly challenging situations for any school, and getting outside help enables everyone in the school community to access the support they need.
When there has been a report of sexual misconduct or abuse involving a minor, you need to adhere to all reporting obligations. Mandatory reporting laws vary by state, so make sure to be familiar with the laws in your state. Click here to check laws in your state using RAINN's database. Additionally, if your school receives federal funding for any purpose, you need to conform to all Title IX requirements and confirm you meet those criteria in your reporting and investigation procedures. See “Title IX Information” for more information. Establishing strong working relationships with local law enforcement and/or state agencies and outlining specific roles and responsibilities in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) provides a roadmap for establishing a consistent response.
We recommend that your school designate a mandated reporter who is responsible for disclosing allegations of abuse on behalf of the school. This person can fill different roles at your school. The important thing is that this person’s role as reporter is universally known and their contact information is accessible to all employees. Faculty and staff should also be regularly reminded of this individual’s role and how to contact them if they suspect or know of misconduct or abuse. While this individual will be making reports on behalf of the school, it is still important to recognize that many states consider all adults (and therefore all employees) mandated reporters. In these cases, your school should create a protocol for how an individual employee will ensure that the information has been reported to the authorities as well as informing the institution.
There are other considerations your school will have to take into account as you conduct a risk assessment. Your school should be ready to answer and respond to these questions, and more, after receiving a report of sexual misconduct or abuse:
Some schools have off-campus programs, such as study abroad programs. In the event that there has been a report of sexual misconduct on an off-campus trip, your response protocol for these circumstances should be included in your emergency response guide. You will have to decide what resources and accommodations (medical, emotional, etc.) will be available to students off-campus. Make sure to designate an individual for all off-campus activities sponsored or endorsed by the school, such as the director of that program, who will be responsible for overseeing emergency services to student(s). This individual must be familiar with the emergency response protocol, which should also include notification to the school and law enforcement as soon as feasible and according to local law.
In addition to response practices, review your insurance coverage to confirm that any off-campus activities and trips are included in your current policy. And keep in mind that your policy is specific to the time period of any incident. If you did not have coverage at the time assault is alleged, that incident is not likely covered by your policy. Understand where your risk is, and discuss this with your current provider.
When there has been a report of sexual misconduct or abuse, your school will face the question of what, if anything, is appropriate and necessary to communicate to members of the school community or other groups and how this information should be communicated. These kinds of communications can be complex and delicate. And communicating about these incidents requires skill, knowledge, timeliness, and care.
Privacy and confidentiality rights of minors and employees will have to be considered in all communications. See Learning Courage’s section on “Communications Guidelines” for more information on how to prepare a communications plan.
Sometimes sexual assault includes physical violence. If anyone in the school community is in physical danger, you will need to act immediately to ensure their safety. This requires having a plan and following it. Once you have a plan, make sure that you are regularly reviewing and updating these details to ensure the safety of the school community. See Learning Courage’s section on “Commitment to Student Safety” for more information.
Learning Courage membership gives your school timely, relevant and vital information about how to reduce sexual misconduct and respond appropriately to incidents when they do occur.