North Texas Daily

Mandatory reporting on college campuses may do more harm than good

Mandatory reporting on college campuses may do more harm than good

Mandatory reporting on college campuses may do more harm than good
April 28
14:57 2020

Trigger warning: This story contains content surrounding sexual assault and rape. The content may be very distressing and triggering. The 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline number is 1-800-656-4673. 

This opinion piece is being submitted anonymously. This step was requested by the author due to the personal nature of the content. 

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and this year is the official 19th anniversary of the national campaign. SAAM is a time dedicated to educating the public in hopes of having a better understanding and prevention of sexual assaults. 

College campuses can be a breeding ground for sexual assault. Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). RAINN also reports that only 20 percent of college women will report their assault to law enforcement. 

I am one of the one in five undergraduate women who has experienced sexual assault while attending college. I am also a part of the 80 percent of women who choose not to report in an official capacity. 

UNT has always required its employees to report sexual misconduct under university policy, but as of Sept. 1, 2019, Senate Bill 212 has been in effect across the state of Texas. The bill legally requires employees of public and private higher education institutions to report sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking against a student or employee to the institution’s Title IX Coordinator or a Deputy Title IX Coordinator. Furthermore, the bill mandates that any employee who fails to report the misconduct is to be fired by the university. 

At first glance, and to those who have never been a victim, this bill may look like a helpful step toward limiting sexual assault on campuses. However, this bill and policies like it are dangerous and can cause the re-victimization of victims, and it rips away what little power and trust a victim may have left. While the bill does not automatically mean the police will be involved, it does mean the university will open up an investigation. 

Speaking out about being assaulted is already an incredibly difficult task more often than not. I consider myself to be pretty open about what happened to me to those in my life, but like many other victims, I have chosen not to speak up publicly.

I chose not to report my assault to neither the university nor the police after it happened. I’ve been questioned by more than enough people as to why I made that decision.

I have always answered that question the same way: I know my story, and I know others like mine. I was assaulted in my first week at UNT at my first college party. I’ve seen that story too many times to count and every time it’s ended the same way. The victim is blamed for going to the party in the first place and they are scrutinized for what they were wearing. They are also questioned as to whether they drank and how much so, and they are accused of agreeing to a hookup and simply regretting it after the fact. All too often the victim is blamed. We are blamed for it happening in the first place, and then we are called liars and attention-seeking if we talk to those around us but choose not to go to the police or university officials.

Everybody who chooses not to report does it for their own reasons, but the fear of retaliation when the person who assaulted you is still on campus and has many friends is very real and valid. Shortly after my own assault, I watched a friend be torn down online by her abuser’s friends. The fear of not being believed outweighs most desires to speak out. More often than not, victims are told it is a he-said-she-said situation and it’s likely his word will be believed. The fear of having your college experience further ruined is also prevalent.

So with all of these other fears already weighing in, how am I supposed to advocate for myself and others like me when I can’t speak out without adding the fear of an unwanted investigation?

As an employee of the university, I have discussed with my supervisors and colleagues about the better ways to support victims and advocated about the need for the removal of mandatory reporting. I have been self-advocating for nearly a year and have explained many times that the fear of mandatory reporting is one of the many reasons I did not reach out to my resident assistant after I was assaulted. 

Almost a year and a half after my assault, I received a text from a coworker who voiced their concerns with some discussions that had occurred. At first, the text came across as a concerned coworker who was just checking in. They had also voiced they were worried because they knew they were legally obligated to report the assault. As they were relatively new, I assured them that I was okay and that I had access to the resources I needed. I also reiterated that our supervisors were aware of the situation and that I had explicitly expressed the desire to not have my assault be officially reported and those supervisors had also known I had the resources and support I needed. I thought that was the end of their concerns and I would be able to continue to move forward.

A few days after the text exchange, I was woken up by a call from the Survivors Advocate Office. I was informed that my coworker had placed a report on my behalf. As I was being told about my options and what the next steps were, I felt my heart sink into my stomach and my mind felt numb. I was once again feeling powerless as a result of my assault. I was told an investigation will be opened by the university due to the assault occurring on campus and the respondent being a fellow student. I was told that I can choose to not be contacted again about this case, or I can choose to go through with the investigation. I told the kind-voiced woman that I had absolutely no desire to have an investigation opened right now, and I wished not to be contacted again. 

I received a handful of emails from the Dean of Students detailing what would happen next. Eventually, I was sent an email stating the complaint would be closed without further investigation because I chose not to participate and a respondent’s name was never provided. For a moment as I read that email, I felt relieved. But that relief only lasted for a second as I then began to fear if this would hinder any future investigation or prosecution if I chose to seek it at another time. The notice stated I could reopen the complaint if I wanted to, but no matter what, I was unsure if this would be used against me as yet another way to try and discredit my very real experience. 

I want to note that I feel absolutely no animosity toward that coworker. At first, I was hurt and felt betrayed, but I understand they were doing their duty and were legally obligated to report it. My anger is reserved for those who have created mandatory reporting policies and those who passed Senate Bill 212 in the first place. 

Rape and assault are examples of having your personal power being taken away. Being able to tell your own story, in your own words and in your own time is the single shred of power a victim has left. Why is it okay for someone else to take away what little power they have left?

Being assaulted consumes enough mental energy and space already, and adding unwanted and often lengthy and useless investigations and complaints to the mix will just exacerbate the pain and continue to tear open wounds we try so hard to close. 

Mandatory reporting policies and laws may cause more harm than good among college sexual assault victims. When a victim speaks out, they should be listened to fully and asked what they want. Resources should be offered and options should be presented, but the power of choosing to report the assault to the university or police should be left to the victim.

Featured Illustration: Miranda Thomas

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North Texas Daily

North Texas Daily

The North Texas Daily is the official student newspaper of the University of North Texas, proudly serving UNT and the Denton community since 1916.

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