Support Campus Confidential Advocates: Utah HB 251
Thank you for your time today. My name is Stephanie McClure and I am the Director of the Women’s Center at Weber State University and administer the Safe@Weber Violence Prevention and Advocacy Program. I have a master’s degree in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies specializing in sexual assault and intimate partner violence.
Victims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, domestic or dating violence, and stalking are those who have not given consent, and whose lack of consent was ignored by a perpetrator who was able to exercise power over them in some way. Research has shown that once victimization occurs, the need to regain “autonomy and control over [ones] body, the private details of [ones] life, and the decisions that must be made relative to the assault (including whether and how to assist with a criminal prosecution…), are often essential to recovery“ (Mindlin & Heh Reeves, 2005). In fact, in a 2005 American College Health Association Campus Violence White Paper it was found,
Any policy or procedure that compromises, or worse, eliminates the student’s ability to make his/her own informed choices about proceeding through the reporting and adjudication process…not only reduces reporting rates but may be counterproductive to the victim’s healing process (Carr, p. 307).
Therefore, getting informed consent before sharing a victim’s story aids victims in the healing process and increases reporting rates, as well as increases cooperation with any subsequent prosecution process.
Concerns about confidentiality have been found over and over again to be a top barrier for victims. These concerns may stand in the way of their accessing support services and participating in the university and criminal process (Fisher et al., 2003; Logan et al., 2005; Karjane, Fisher, & Cullen, 2005; Mindlin & Heh Reeves, 2005; Nasta et al., 2005; Sable et al., 2006; Thompson et al., 2007; Guerette & Caron, 2007; Amar, 2008; Walsh et al., 2010; Krivoshey et. al., 2013; Amar et al., 2014; Sabina & Ho, 2014; Strout, Amar & Astwood, 2014; Reingold & Gostin, 2015.) This is consistent with my own experience working with hundreds of victims who are concerned about who is going to find out what happened to them after a disclosure has occurred.
The Department of Justice’s 2016 Campus Climate Survey Validation Study surveyed over 23,000 students and found that just 4 percent of rapes were reported to law enforcement and a mere 7 percent were reported to any school official….More than 20 percent of victims who did not report the assault cited concerns that their report would not be kept confidential, and nearly 30 percent cited fears of retaliation, which is closely connected to concerns about confidentiality (Hanson, 2016).
We see this dynamic of low reporting here in Utah as well, where in one 2007 study, 88.2% of victims did not report to law enforcement (Mitchell & Peterson, 2007, p. 32). In Utah, “most victims were more afraid that someone would find out that they had been assaulted than they were about contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant” (Mitchell & Peterson, 2007, p. 32). This illustrates how important privacy and confidentiality is to Utah victims in particular.
Giving institutions the ability to provide increased levels of confidentiality, and students increased ability to control their situations, will help us reduce barriers to accessing support services and build institutional trust to increase reporting. With a higher level of confidentiality, victims will have increased access to professional support with less fear that something will be done with their stories without their consent. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault's final report concludes: “Providing initial, confidential support encourages victims to come forward, helps them regain a sense of control, and makes it more likely that they will proceed with a formal complaint or participate in an investigation” (p 20).
In 2015, Oregon passed a similar, but even stronger law than HB 251. “Since the implementation of privileged advocates on campuses, [Oregon campuses] have seen a 120% increase in students making formal Title IX reports resulting in an investigation and adjudication” (Sandmeyer, 2017). Additionally, it was found that at Southern Oregon University 76% of advocacy cases ended up being formally reported to local law enforcement (Sandmeyer & Rohner, 2017). This aligns with the research that has found that victims who have confidential advocates to support them are significantly more likely to report to the police (Campbell, 2006).
When we get consent from victims we uphold the values that are necessary to prevent violence and trauma. When survivors consent to share their stories with others, we increase institutional trust, we reduce barriers to their accessing services, we increase chances of their academic success, and we increase the number of formal reports thereby helping us to increase safety on campuses across the state.
HB251 would increase the ability of institutions to provide a greater level of confidentiality and access to support services for victims/survivors on college campuses across the state.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
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