Federal Title IX laws meant to ensure equal educational opportunities are instead blocking universities' efforts to give victims options and confidentiality in sexual assault investigations.
Representatives from the Ashland Police Department recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify about how Title IX sometimes conflicts with its innovative "You Have Options" sexual assault investigation program when cases involve Southern Oregon University students.
For more information on the Ashland Police Department's "You Have Options" program, see www.reportingoptions.org.
Adopted in 1972, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in education and is widely credited with helping expand educational and sports opportunities for girls and women.
APD Detective Carrie Hull said more than 40 universities have contacted the police department wanting to adopt the You Have Options model.
"We have to tell them, 'Sorry,' " Hull said during testimony on a panel convened by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
APD allows victims to report sexual assaults anonymously and choose whether to only provide information or initiate a full criminal investigation.
Police will sit on information and save evidence until a victim chooses to move forward. In most cases, an arrest or referral for prosecution will occur only with the victim's consent.
"We need to figure out a way to make that model Title IX compliant," said McCaskill, who is working on legislation to reform Title IX.
Under campus Title IX investigations, suspects are told of the allegations, confidentiality is not guaranteed for the victim and the process moves swiftly. Administrative punishments for an offender can range from being kicked out of a residence hall where a victim lives to expulsion accompanied by warnings to other universities of the offender's history.
Sen. Blumenthal said sexual assault is chronically under-reported and universities must find ways to get more victims to step forward.
Since adopting its You Have Options program, APD has seen a 109 percent increase in sexual assault reports from 2010 to 2013.
"We are sending a message to offenders that they can no longer keep people silent in the way they did before," Hull said.
To craft the program, APD talked to victims about what law enforcement could do to improve the investigative process and get more people to report assaults.
"One thing they asked for every single time was for confidentiality," Hull said.
Here in the Rogue Valley, she said, APD has a great working relationship with Southern Oregon University.
SOU has spread information about the You Have Options program to its students and offers a variety of programs to educate students about sexual assault prevention and services for victims.
While cooperation between universities and police departments is ideal, Hull said, APD sometimes has to be cautious about information it shares with SOU that could trigger a Title IX investigation.
SOU does not have campus police with full law enforcement capabilities, so APD handles criminal investigations.
Many universities, however, have their own police departments, and those campus police are required to report sexual assaults to Title IX administrators.
Hull said changes need to be made so that campus police officers are not subject to mandatory Title IX reporting.
SOU informs victims that complete anonymity cannot be guaranteed during Title IX sexual assault investigations.
However, in 2013, SOU filled a new case manager position to intervene with at-risk students. That person is exempt from Title IX reporting requirements, according to the university.
Students can speak confidentially to the case manager and choose whether they want to move forward with the Title IX administrative process.
Nancy Chi Cantalupo, a Georgetown University professor and research fellow with the Victim Rights Law Center, said APD's You Have Options model is relatively uncommon.
She said universities need to designate campus personnel who can keep students' reports of sexual assault confidential and not report allegations to Title IX administrators.