July | August 2017







Experts Discuss Policies, Best Practices to Address
Campus Sexual Assault

By Shawntaye Hopkins, CSG communications associate
Colleges and universities, law enforcement agencies, and state policymakers must work together to tackle campus sexual assault, according to the panelists who discussed the problem during a recent eCademy webcast presented by The Council of State Governments West.
“It’s a major problem,” said Paul Francis, executive director of the Washington state Council of Presidents, which represents the presidents of six public, four-year institutions in the state.
“We’re seeing the number of reports increase,” Francis said. “From our point of view, that’s a good thing, which may sound odd. But that’s a good thing to see because it shows us…that more and more individuals feel comfortable coming forward to report an incident of sexual violence.”
Titled “Sexual Assault on College Campuses,” the CSG eCademy webcast highlighted federal and state efforts to prevent sexual assault and best practices for colleges and universities to address the problem.
Caitlin Burks, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, discussed guidance related to Title IX and sexual violence produced by her office. OCR has 12 regional enforcement offices across the nation and enforces civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age or sex.
Burks explained that Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education programs and activities that receive federal funding. Sexual violence—physical acts including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion—is a form of sex discrimination, she said. Title IX protects all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity as well as students with disabilities, international students and undocumented students.
“We know that some students will face unique challenges when dealing with sexual violence, and that some students may require additional assistance and support from a university,” Burks said.
A school is considered notified of sexual violence if a responsible employee knew, or should have known, about the incident, she said. The school must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred.
“A school’s response may be limited in cases where a student requests confidentiality,” Burks said.
If an investigation finds that sexual violence resulted in a hostile environment, the school must take steps to not only end the sexual violence and eliminate the hostile environment but also to keep sexual violence from recurring. The school must also remedy effects.
“If a school delays responding to alleged sexual violence or the school’s response is otherwise inappropriate, the school’s own action or inaction may subject the student to a hostile environment,” Burks said. “If this is the case, the school will then be required to remedy the effects of the sexual violence that could have been prevented if the school had responded promptly and appropriately.”
For example, if a school ignored a student’s complaint about a fellow student and the student was forced to remain in class with the alleged perpetrator, the school would have to allow the student to retake the class if his or her grades suffered because of an inability to concentrate.
In the past, OCR has found that some school administrators were reluctant to investigate because they did not want to interfere with criminal investigations.
“Even if you’re not able to effectively investigate it while that criminal investigation is pending, you have to be in a position to provide some interim measures so that the victim, or the alleged victim at that point in time, is protected,” said Tim Sell, a senior attorney with OCR.
Sell said Title IX coordinators should have a memorandum of understanding with campus police or local law enforcement agencies regarding the roles each organization will take in investigating campus sexual assault.
In Washington state, Francis said, a bill signed into law in 2015 required public, two- and four-year institutions and independent colleges to enter into memorandums of understanding with local law enforcement to clarify roles and responsibilities.
“We see that as being critical, and we’re very happy to see that placed in the bill,” he said.
The law also requires colleges and universities to refrain from establishing different disciplinary processes for different groups of students on the same campus in response to sexual violence.
“This was already true in Washington state, but we had seen some examples from other states where athletes and others had seemed to have a different disciplinary process,” Francis said.
Another bill signed into law in 2015 created a task force in Washington state to develop best practices and recommendations related to prevention and awareness.
Even though the Council of Presidents only represents six universities, Francis said, the council has collaborated with the state’s community and technical colleges and independent colleges in its efforts to address sexual violence.
“If you’re going to move the needle as a state on these issues, you have to have your institutional leaders working together,” he said. 
The full webcast is available in the CSG Knowledge Center.