College Students: Sexual Misconduct Reporting Under Title IX Is Confusing, Untrustworthy

Lack of awareness about Title IX processes — plus institutional mistrust and ineffective training programs — dissuade students from reporting sexual misconduct. Student organizations are trying to bridge the gap.
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Chloe Appleby
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Chloe Appleby is an associate writer for BestColleges. She contributes to both the News and Data teams, writing both higher education news stories and data reports for the site. She graduated from Davidson College with a BA in English and communicati...
Published on June 6, 2023
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Editor & Writer

Cameren Boatner is a diversity, equity, and inclusion editor at BestColleges. She's a Society of Professional Journalists award winner for her coverage of race, minorities, and Title IX. You can find her work in South Florida Gay News, MSN Money, Deb...
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  • The Biden Administration at the end of May delayed a long-awaited overhaul of Title IX that would reverse Trump-era rules for reporting sexual assault and harassment cases.
  • Student advocacy groups want a faster release and greater protections for sexual misconduct survivors.
  • A recent study found that students are largely unaware of their campuses' Title IX proceedings, lack trust in their institutions, and aren't engaging with prevention programs.

Advocates for survivors of sexual misconduct on college campuses are demanding that the Biden administration move faster to change Title IX rules that are confusing and not trusted by many college students.

The Biden Administration at the end of May delayed a long-awaited overhaul of Title IX that would reverse Trump-era rules for reporting sexual assault and harassment cases.

President Barack Obama's Title IX rules had required colleges to investigate Title IX complaints within 60 days. Victims who dropped out or transferred could still file a complaint, and schools could find respondents guilty if the evidence showed they were more likely guilty than not.

The Trump administration rolled back many of these provisions.

Biden's proposed overhaul – announced in June 2022 on the 50th anniversary of the landmark legislation – would establish new rules more in line with those under the Obama administration.

Tanaya Kollipara –– a recently graduated senior from the University of California, Berkeley and student engagement organizer for Know Your IX, a survivor and youth-led program from Advocates for Youth –– is pushing for the Biden administration to finalize their ruling as soon as possible to help survivors on college campuses.

Kollipara and other critics of the current Title IX legislation believe that the existing rules expand the rights of the accused and minimize the accuser's rights.

For example, under the current Title IX rule, institutions have no set time frame to respond to sexual misconduct incidents. Kollipara advocates for a required 60-day window for schools to resolve Title IX complaints.

"It cannot be overstated how much student survivors on college campuses need these Title IX rule changes," Kollipara told Best Colleges. "That's how we ensure fair grievance processes and guarantee… the safe space that a college campus is supposed to be stays that way and [is] not further interrupted by the impacts of sexual violence."

Student Activists Protest the Confusing Rules

On March 25, Know Your IX representatives and students gathered at the White House to demand the Biden administration implement the new Title IX rules. Students hung posters in the form of white T-shirts from a clothesline.

One student from Bucknell University wrote, "I need Title IX because I had to sit in a ten person class with my abuser for a whole semester."

Another student from Dickinson College wrote, "I shouldn't be more traumatized by the way my school handled my sexual assault than the assault itself."

Kollipara said school is supposed to be a safe space where students can learn and feel protected if they go through a sexual violence incident.

Students Aren't Informed of Their Schools' Title IX Processes

Know Your IX is also worried about another pressing issue facing students: a lack of awareness about Title IX and how the rule protects them. To make matters worse, students aren't always aware of their school's policies and procedures on reporting sexual misconduct.

"The most confusing part of the reporting policy for students is just the fact that they often don't know what the processes and policies even are," Kollipara said.

"It's often described in very technical, legal jargon, which gets confusing. It becomes an entire journey for students to even understand what their rights are, where they can go, and what the reporting process involves. So, the entire process is just confusing, overwhelming, and intensely isolating."

Confusion about these processes impacts both survivors and non-survivors alike.

It's On Us, a national sexual assault prevention group, surveyed 710 male athletes across nine different college campuses, ranging from Division I programs to club sports teams, about the effectiveness of current prevention programs and their institutions' reporting processes.

Of the 710 athletes, just over 40% said someone had disclosed an incident of sexual assault or domestic abuse to them (41%). In every instance of disclosure (100%), the male athletes believed the survivors without question, however, participants were largely unaware of what to do next.

According to the study, of the students who received disclosures, none of them responded by referring the survivor to their institution's Title IX or victim services coordinator. Many respondents did not even know who the Title IX coordinator at their institution was.

"This lack of awareness of the resources available was a barrier for athletes who desired more direction and tangible actions they could take in response to a disclosure," the study says.

Students Don't Trust Their Schools Enough to Report

The It's On Us study respondents were also largely untrustworthy of law enforcement and their colleges or universities after witnessing institutional betrayal to other survivors. Participants were also concerned that "money or status of the accused student would affect how the report of sexual assault would be handled."

In fact, only two participants –– less than .5% –– mentioned trying to locate resources to help the survivor report the incident. Instead, the participants supported in different ways, such as by checking in on the survivor and asking what they could do to make the survivor feel safer.

Existing prevention tactics are also, according to the study, mostly unhelpful. Education programs, which are mostly provided online and easy to click through, are "boring, not reflective of campus culture, and unengaging."

So what is there to do? It's On Us recommends redesigning prevention education to help students know what to do instead of what not to do.

For Kollipara, it's all about community in times of uncertainty.

"Providing support to each other and just really creating that community of care and love is very, very important, especially in a space like this," she said.