By Kaitlyn Alford
Mandatory reporting gets thrown around regularly in conversations about Title IX. The topic can be controversial, as students are often confused about what exactly mandatory reporting is, who it applies to, and what that means for survivors as they move forward from an incident.
The University’s resources on mandatory reporting state, “The University is deemed to have notice of sexual misconduct in violation of Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 when a responsible employee knew, or should have known about the conduct.” Essentially, disclosing something to a University employee constitutes filing a report with the University.
“If a student could reasonably believe they are speaking to a person from whom they could receive assistance with the matter, that person is a mandated reporter,” further explained Title IX coordinator Dr. Sylvia Gray. Mandatory reporters are required to report any and all information they receive related to a potential crime or Title IX violation. This includes, but is not limited to, names, dates, and locations.
When a report is filed, it is sent to Gray, various deans, and the police. In some cases, it may be deemed necessary to disclose the information to a limited number of additional involved staff members, such as if two students involved in a report both play sports or live in the same dorm.
If a report is filed online, such as through LiveSafe or the Title IX online reporting form, the information is automatically sent to these parties. If a student discloses to a staff member, they file the report through the online Title IX system and the information is sent out automatically. If a report is made via email, that email is forwarded to the relevant parties.
But what does this mean for the survivor moving forward? Making a report does not mean that an investigation must be opened by the Title IX department or by the police department. The student making the report will be contacted, unless information was submitted anonymously, by Gray and by Officer Jody Bray, Investigator with the Sewanee Police Department.
According to Gray and Bray, the student is not required to meet with them, though some students report this is not always made clear. The information reported to the police is for the sake of Clery Reporting, which requires schools to track rates of crime on campus.
An investigation would only be opened without the survivor’s consent if there was reasonable belief that a continued threat is posed to campus. For example, if multiple reports were made about the same person, the University has the responsibility to investigate to prevent future assaults.
The investigative process of a sexual assault is often referred to by experts as “The Second Rape.” Many students reach out for help before they may be ready to proceed with filing charges or a complaint. Students may feel dissuaded from seeking help from the authority figures closest to them at the University because they do not want to endure the stress of navigating the complex bureaucracy of sexual assault investigations.
So who can a student talk to if you want to keep things confidential? “People don’t realize that they can anonymously talk to people at the Wick,” said Tess McDonald (C’21). Reports made to Bairnwick Women’s Center residents are semi-confidential; they submit reports for the sake of tracking statistics, but include only the details of the incident and leave out any names.
Thanks to independent funding, Wick residents are not employees of the University. “I took a friend there last year a few weeks after an incident because she didn’t want to file a report and felt there was no one she could safely talk to about it. It was great to have that option, but I wish there were more people like that available on campus,” said McDonald.
All Wick residents have received extensive and ongoing crisis intervention training. Each night, one resident remains on call to provide assistance to students in need. The on-call schedule is updated weekly on the Wick’s Facebook page.
Second, all Wellness Center employees are bound to confidentiality. If someone reports or mentions an assault to Wellness Center staff, they will only file a report with the Title IX office and/or police if the survivor wishes to do so.
The Wellness Center offers many other forms of support to survivors, including counseling and free STD testing. If a rape kit is conducted, this is sent off to the Tennessee Department of Investigations to be catalogued, but no name is attached to the sample.
Finally, there are many non-University affiliated resources students can access. The Chattanooga Rape Crisis Center hotline number is 423-755-2700. They also offer free counseling services, legal assistance, and some medical care. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network also offers a 24/7 support hotline, 800-656-4673. Through this service and through their website, available services can be found in the local area.