Compelled Disclosure of College Sexual Assault

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Abstract

Sexual assault is a widespread problem on college campuses. In response, many institutions are developing policies mandating that certain employees report any student disclosure of sexual assault to university officials (and, in some cases, to police), with or without the survivor’s consent. These policies, conceptualized here as compelled disclosure, have been prompted and shaped by federal law and guidance, including Title IX and The Clery Act. Proponents of compelled disclosure assert that it will increase reports—enabling universities to investigate and remedy more cases of sexual assault—and will benefit sexual assault survivors, university employees, and the institution. However, many questions remain unanswered. How broad (or narrowly tailored) are contemporary compelled disclosure mandates in higher education? Do any empirical data support assumptions about the benefits of these policies? Are there alternative approaches that should be considered, to provide rapid and appropriate responses to sexual violence while minimizing harm to students? The current article begins with an overview of federal law and guidance around compelled disclosure. Next, a content analysis of a stratified random sample of 150 university policies provides evidence that the great majority require most, if not all, employees to report student sexual assault disclosures. A review of the literature then suggests that these policies have been implemented despite limited evidence to support assumptions regarding their benefits and effectiveness. In fact, some findings suggest negative consequences for survivors, employees, and institutions. The article concludes with a call for survivor-centered reforms in institutional policies and practices surrounding sexual assault.

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