Reporting Requirements

Reporting sexual misconduct and abuse can be both scary and confusing. For a survivor, not only do they have to gather the courage to disclose their experience, but they also have to determine how they want to report. Survivors typically feel a deep sense of shame for their role in what happened. While they may know intuitively that they are not responsible for the abuse, most survivors internalize some sense that they are in some way to blame for what happened. It can also be very difficult for a concerned peer or employee to determine what is the best action to help a survivor. 

At Learning Courage, we believe your school has a responsibility to survivors to create a system for reporting incidents that is simple to follow, straightforward, and as transparent as possible.  In short, anyone in a position to report an incident of abuse needs to trust that the system will work for them rather than deepen their trauma.

We recognize developing effective policies is complicated, especially with differences in state laws concerning reporting sexual abuse. This document outlines our recommended best practices for developing an easy-to-follow reporting policy for sexual misconduct and abuse.

What to Cover in Reporting Misconduct and Abuse Policy:

  • Acknowledgment of how hard this can be emotionally for a student to come forward and report: Be mindful of the language used and make sure it is warm, accepting, and victim/survivor friendly. 
  • Policy purpose: Articulate how this policy will benefit your school community.
  • Determination of how the policy will be managed and kept up-to-date: Make sure to review reporting policies annually to ensure they are updated. 
  • Communication to the school community: Include policy on the school website and in the student and employee handbooks. Your school should ensure that all students are aware of the sexual misconduct and abuse reporting policy by requiring a signature indicating they have read it at the beginning of the academic year. We also encourage all schools to have small group discussions about key elements of the student handbook to ensure understanding, meaningful learning, and community building.
  • Complete list of people and resources a student can go to if they require support or wish to report an incident of misconduct: Include contact information and make sure this list is accessible to students. Make sure this list is updated for contact changes as necessary.  We recommend that the reporting be done by an external organization.  This increases the confidence of those reporting that the incident will remain confidential and eliminates the perception of conflict of interest.
  • Articulation of disciplinary response if a student has violated another school rule while misconduct happened: Define whether your school has immunity provisions. For example, address if and how a reporting student will be disciplined if they were violating another school policy such as a drug and alcohol policy at the time of the incident.
  • A list of resources for students if they need medical attention and/or mental health support: This may include the school wellness center or the local hospital, rape crisis center, and more. This list should be available on the school website as well as in the student and employee handbooks.
  • Protocol for how parents/guardians will be notified: Consider if and how parents/guardians of the reporting party, responding party, and the broader school community will be notified.
  • Distinguish between student and adult (employee) policies: It is important to articulate how different situations will be addressed when the reporting and responding parties are both students versus when one or both parties are adults.
  • Define mandatory reporting and confidentiality
    • A mandated reporter is a person who is obligated to report abuse if they suspect or have knowledge of an incident
    • A conversation with a mandated reporter may be considered private, but not confidential because the mandated reporter may be obligated to share details of the conversation if they suspect abuse. It is important that students understand this distinction as they make their reporting choices. 
    • A conversation with an anonymous external resource is considered confidential because details of the conversation will not be shared under any circumstances.
  • Indication of how the sexual misconduct and abuse reporting policy applies to summer school programs, student travel, study abroad, off-campus trips, and off-campus events 

Interim Support Measures for current students 

  • Sanctuary: This is a non-disciplinary response to situations in which student safety is compromised. For example, a student may be outside the dormitory after curfew and/or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If that student finds themselves in immediate danger and calls for medical attention or campus security, then sanctuary would apply to them. They would not be punished for the curfew violation or substance use. This policy encourages students who are in danger to seek help without fear of discipline.
  • Immunity: Students who may have violated school policies during an incident of sexual misconduct or abuse may be hesitant to report the incident. With immunity policies, students are given immunity for school policy violations when reporting a sexual misconduct or abuse incident. This practice encourages individuals to report sexual misconduct or abuse without fear of formal discipline for school policy violations.
  • Academic: These are measures that can be taken to support the reporting student (i.e.: switching classes if the perpetrator is in the same class)
  • Housing in boarding schools: Adjustments in housing can be made to protect reporting and/or responding students.
  • Non-contact agreement: Depending on the nature of the incident and the impact on the reporting student, a non-contract agreement can be created.
  • Health, counseling, and medical support services: These services must be available for all students when they need them and it is best to outline what is provided.
  • Required leave: Depending on the nature of the incident, a student or students might be required to take a temporary leave. 
  • Leave of absence: Depending on the nature of the incident and the impact on the reporting student(s), a temporary leave of absence can be granted. 

General Best Practices Regarding Reporting Policy 

Different instances of misconduct and abuse will require different modes of reporting. The reporting party may be a student, employee, or alumni. Your school should have reporting options specifically tailored to the needs of each of these three groups. Additionally, your school should offer both internal and external reporting options for reports. 

State and Federal Laws

Title IX is a piece of federal legislation that applies to institutions that receive federal funding. Although Title IX may not apply to your school, the legislation is generally a good example to follow when you are developing a sexual misconduct and abuse policy.  Learning Courage’s “Title IX Information” page summarizes the best practices of Title IX and includes recommendations on how to apply its principles to your school.

Laws regarding reporting sexual misconduct and abuse vary by state. The following resources will help familiarize you with your state’s laws:

  1. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN): A searchable database you can use to identify all of your state’s laws regarding sex crimes, including mandated reporting and confidentiality laws.
  2.  State Laws on Reporting and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect: A compilation of state laws on reporting child abuse provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  3. Child Sexual Abuse National & State Resources: A database containing external reporting and support resources for survivors of child sexual abuse as well as information on mandated reporting laws by state provided by Darkness to Light, a child advocacy group.

 Disclaimer: Learning Courage cannot guarantee that these resources are continually updated, so please make sure to check whether the information provided by these websites are up-to-date with your state.

Establishing a Memorandum of Understanding with Local Police

Your local police department may need to get involved in responding to an incident of sexual abuse or misconduct at your school. If a student or employee chooses to make an external report, that external report may be made to your local law enforcement. Also, when your school is made aware of a report of sexual misconduct or abuse of a child (child being a person under the age of 18) you will be required to file a report with either your local police department, the U.S. Department of Children and Families (DCF), or both. In this case, your school may be limited in how you can respond to a report until the police and/or DCF have completed their investigation. This is why we recommend that your school establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with your local police department. The MOU should outline how your institution and the local police department will respond, either jointly or separately, to reports of sexual misconduct and abuse. This ensures a working relationship, so your school does not have to scramble to communicate with law enforcement when an external report is made from your community.  Establishing a MOU with local law enforcement also demonstrates to the community that you are being proactive in your approach to addressing these issues.

Summer School and Off-Campus Policies

Unfortunately, incidents of sexual misconduct and abuse are not limited to the academic year and on-campus. It is therefore important to have reporting policies in place for students and employees to consult in case they need to report during breaks, summer, or off-campus events. Your school should articulate how the reporting policy pertains to summer school programs, student travel, study abroad, sports, off-campus trips and events, and more. This can be quite intricate, but it is important to spend the time clearly addressing this issue within your policies, to be communicated in your student and employee handbooks and on your website.  Your insurance provider can share appropriate language and identify the specifics that your policy should include.

Online and Distance Learning Policies 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a rise in the utilization of online and distance learning platforms. While it may be true that virtual gatherings and communications come with a decreased risk of physical sexual misconduct and abuse on campus, they also likely come with an increased risk of sexual misconduct or abuse via electronic devices. It is critical that you keep your students and employees accountable for the safety of the community while engaging in online and distance learning. Make sure your community members are aware of appropriate behaviors while engaging with each other on-line. Set strict boundaries, such as no sharing personal phone numbers, emails, and social media between students and teachers. As is the case with in-person student-to-teacher interactions, communication online should be friendly, but professional. For more information regarding boundary violations online, see Learning Courage’s “COVID-19 Implications” and “Signs and Symptoms” pages. 

It is also important to make sure reporting options are still available to your students and employees during the time of on-line and distance learning. While the focus of our work is on school-related abuse and misconduct, it’s important to recognize that increased stress can also mean an increase in abuse for students who live at home. Employees need to be trained and have resources available to assist a student if they recognize signs of abuse or a student discloses the abuse. For example, it may not be an option to offer in-person counseling to students, but your school could still offer counseling via phone call or Zoom/Skype. If your school has a whistleblower hotline during the “normal” school year, we recommend that you keep it active during on-line and distance learning (see “Student Reporting Policy” below).

Student Reporting Policy

Reporting sexual misconduct and abuse can be scary and intimidating. A survivor may be re-traumatized by the event as well as concerned about all of the unknowns and possible implications that arise with reporting. Therefore, your school must make the reporting process as straightforward as possible by providing specific information about who survivors can go to and what resources are available to survivors both on and off-campus.

For example, stating that a student should go to a “trusted adult” assumes that there is an obvious choice for that student. It also assumes that the adult they choose has been trained in how to handle a report. Your school likely already has a school counselor who is trained to notice and respond to abuse. However, we recommend that there be a few other employees on campus who are trained in this as well and that all of the trained contacts are clearly named with contact information in school communications.

Reporting options should be made known in multiple places, including your school’s website and student handbook (Fig. 1). It is best to have supportive, easy-to-follow instructions for students, knowing it may be scary for them to consider reporting. One option is to provide a decision tree for students (Fig. 2). Guidelines on how or when to report to authorities should be included. It may be helpful to provide a whistleblower hotline, like EthicsPoint, which is completely confidential and available 24 hours a day. 

Fig 1. An example of a list of reporting resources your school may provide to students

Fig 2. An example of a reporting decision tree that your school may provide to students

Student Interactions with Mandated Reporters

If a student has been a victim of sexual misconduct or abuse, they may seek out a school employee for counsel. The survivor may choose to confide in this employee but not necessarily intend to submit an official report of the misconduct or abuse. This is an issue when that employee who the student chooses is a mandated reporter (see “Mandated Reporting” below). A survivor of abuse has likely sustained emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma, some of which may be associated with losing control. Often, the only thing a survivor feels like they can control is the story of the experience itself; it can deepen the trauma for a survivor when someone else shares the story without the survivor’s permission. However, a mandated reporter may be obligated to share that story whether it is the survivor’s wish or not. This is why all students must understand that a conversation with a mandated reporter is never confidential. It is good for students to feel comfortable sharing their experiences with certain school employees, but they must understand the potential implications of doing so. Clearly articulate the difference between confidential and private conversations to students through in-person training as well as in the student handbook. 

Immunity Provisions

We recommend that your school have immunity provisions to encourage reporting from students. An immunity provision either partially or entirely protects a reporting student from formal punishment if they were violating another school policy when the misconduct or abuse occurred. These may also be referred to as sanctuary policies or amnesty provisions. It is ultimately up to your school to decide how to discipline any student who violates school policies, but we encourage you to recognize the value in reducing the fear associated with reporting by letting students know that they will not be punished for coming forward with their experiences and being completely honest.

Notifying Parents/Guardians

As a school administrator, you already know how critical your school’s relationship with your students’ parents/guardians is for a successful community. In the case that the reporting and responding parties are both students, your school should develop a protocol for if, how, and when the parents/guardians of either party will be notified of the report. Most states require by law that the parents or legal guardians of a child (child is defined as a person under the age of 18) be notified if the child was involved in a report of sexual abuse. We believe it is your school’s obligation to notify the parents or legal guardians of students under the age of 18 if they are involved in a report of sexual misconduct or abuse. This ensures transparent communication between your school and your students’ parents/guardians that will help to build a trusting relationship. It is up to your school to decide whether this policy extends to parents and legal guardians of students over the age of 18. We recognize that there are different decision points throughout the reporting and investigation process for determining parent/guardian involvement. Some states have laws that also give parents/guardians rights to access to the investigation process following the report. Check with your legal counsel before making any decisions regarding policies for notifying parents/guardians of reports.

Support for Students

Your school should provide interim support measures to both reporting and responding students if needed. These measures may include but are not limited to: academic accommodations, housing accommodations (if a student lives on campus), medical support services, counseling services, and allowing the reporting student a leave of absence. The support measures your school is able to provide to reporting students should be mentioned on your school’s website and in the student handbook. For more information, see Learning Courage’s “Supportive Services” page.

Adult (Employee) Reporting Policy

Mandated Reporting

A mandated reporter is a person who is obligated to report if they know of or suspect abuse. Mandated reporting laws differ based on state (See RAINN policy database). According to new Title IX regulations, all school employees are considered mandated reporters. Even if Title IX does not apply to your school, most employees at your school who work with minors will likely be considered mandated reporters, meaning they are obligated to report when they know of or suspect abuse of a minor. All employees who are considered mandated reporters by law should be made aware of their role. All mandated reporters should also receive proper training on how to identify the signs and symptoms of abuse as well as how to report if they know of or suspect abuse. In addition to in-person training, this information should also be made available in your school’s employee handbook. 

Reporting Adult-on-Adult Sexual Misconduct and Abuse

Your employees are valued community members, which is why it is important for your school to demonstrate commitment to employee safety in addition to the safety of your students. Provide specific internal and external reporting options to your employees and make sure to include this information in the employee handbook. We also recommend that your school provide support options for reporting employees. This may include the option to take a leave of absence and/or getting them in touch with a therapist for mental health support. It is crucial that reporting employees be protected from retaliation, especially if the responding party is their superior. Not only does having non-retaliation policies in place make the workplace safer for all employees, but these protections are required by federal and state laws. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires whistleblower protections for private-sector employees [Whistleblower Complaint Form | Occupational Safety and Health Administration], and Title IX prohibits retaliation for making reports in all schools that receive federal funding (See Learning Courage’s “Title IX Information” page).

Historic Misconduct and Abuse Reporting Policy

Our philosophy regarding what your school’s attitude should be towards addressing historic misconduct and abuse is outlined in Learning Courage’s “Historic Misconduct and Abuse” page:

As a school leader, you may believe the need to confront historic misconduct and abuse does not apply to your institution. The unfortunate reality is that, if your institution has been around for any substantial period of time, there is likely to be a painful history of misconduct and abuse within your community. Some schools may be more affected by this issue than others, but it is unlikely that your school has never been affected. The question is how your school will address that history. 

Therefore, we strongly believe that your school should consider reaching out to all former students to inquire about past instances of sexual misconduct and abuse in your community. This is a difficult task; for our recommended best practices, see Learning Courage’s “Historic Misconduct and Abuse” page.

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info@learningcourage.org

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