The Implications of Implementation Burdens for Title IX Officers and Students
Part II: Barriers to Student Reporting
By: Elizabeth Bell, University of Texas at Austin; Daniel L. Fay, Florida State University; Emily Boykin, Florida State University; and Jaeyeong Nam, Florida State University
Sexual misconduct on college campuses has become more prevalent as well as severe in the past few decades, with significant social, financial, psychological, and educational costs to survivors and institutions (Nightingale 2021; Wood et al. 2021). Title IX offices exist to provide supportive measures and develop opportunities for justice through investigative processes of sexual misconduct within institutions of higher education. However, many instances of sex-based discrimination and sexual violence continue to go unreported on college campuses. This problem came up time and time again in our conversations with Title IX officials. We asked Title IX officials what the unique barriers to reporting are on their campuses and how they are alleviating these barriers. Three underlying themes emerged from our data collection.
Identified Barriers to Reporting
Perceptions of Fairness and Justice. Respondents indicated that many students hold negative perceptions of Title IX offices for a variety of reasons, which diminishes the likelihood of taking formal action through the office itself. These negative perceptions are derived from nontransparent publishing of sexual misconduct cases (Richards, Gillespie, and Claxton 2021), fear of retaliation by the university or burdensome administrative processes (Lorenz, Hayes, and Jacobsen 2022; Stader and Williams-Cunningham 2017), lack of legitimacy perceived by campuses (Wareham et al. 2023), as well as fear of re-traumatization (Roskin-Frazee 2023). Additionally, Title IX officers mentioned that many complainants do not want the perpetrator to face severe sanctions as a result of the investigation processes (Kitsler, Renzettie, Follingstad, Li, and Chahal, 2023).
Partisan-Driven Policy Environment. Institutional performance does not occur in a vacuum, however, and is influenced by multiple actors, which affect public perception of Title IX administrator effectiveness. For example, Title IX is subject to ongoing policy changes due to its highly divisive subject matter and partisan-driven debates on the proper handling of sexual misconduct on college campuses. Changes to Title IX policy are fast-paced and often parallel presidential administration turnover, which leaves Title IX administrators constantly updating their approach to Title IX.
Quasi-Legal Judicial System Transition. The partisan-driven environment is perhaps best represented in recent changes following the DeVos administration that pushes Title IX compliance toward a “quasi-legal” judicial system. Since 2018, policy makers, federal court systems, and, by design, Title IX administrators have embraced regulations designed to guarantee due process rights for accused individuals under Title IX. However, colleges and universities often lack the administrative and institutional support to address these changes, thereby creating a cycle of barriers to reporting, which ultimately starts from changing the implementation of Title IX restorative justice frameworks (Holland, Bedera, and Webermann 2020).
Holland, Kathryn J., Nicole Bedera, and Aliya R. Webermann. 2020. “The Selective Shield of Due Process: Analysis of the US Department of Education’s 2020 Title IX Regulations on Live Cross‐examination.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 20(1):584–612.
Kistler, L. C., Renzetti, C. M., Follingstad, D. R., Li, C. R., & Chahal, J. K. (2023). Students’ Perceptions of Guilt, Responsibility, and Just Punishment When Accounts of Campus Sexual Assault Conflict. Sex Roles, 1-18.
Lorenz, Katherine, Rebecca Hayes, and Cathrine Jacobsen. 2022. “‘Keeping the Wound Open’: Survivor Experiences with Title IX Investigations.” Women & Criminal Justice 1–21.
Nightingale, Sarah. 2021. “‘It Probably Hurt More than It Helped’: LGBTQ Survivors of Sexual Assault and Their Experience with the College Title IX Reporting Process.” Advances in Social Work 21(4):1280–99.
Richards, Tara N., Lane Kirkland Gillespie, and Taylor Claxton. 2021. “Examining Incidents of Sexual Misconduct Reported to Title IX Coordinators: Results from New York’s Institutions of Higher Education.” Journal of School Violence 20(3):374–87.
Roskin-Frazee, Amelia. 2023. “‘Terrifying and Exhausting’: Secondary Victimization in Title IX Proceedings at US Higher Education Institutions.” Feminist Criminology 18(2):114–32.
Stader, David L., and Jodi L. Williams-Cunningham. 2017. “Campus Sexual Assault, Institutional Betrayal, and Title IX.” The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas 90(5–6):198–202.
Wareham, Jennifer, Denise Paquette Boots, Laura Gulledge, and Timothy Bray. 2023. “An Examination of Title IX Training and Knowledge at a Public University.” Journal of Public Affairs Education 29(2):156–74.
Wood, Leila, Sharon Hoefer, Matt Kammer-Kerwick, José Rubén Parra-Cardona, and Noël Busch-Armendariz. 2021. “Sexual Harassment at Institutions of Higher Education: Prevalence, Risk, and Extent.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 36(9–10):4520–44.
Tune in to the second installment, where the authors explore Title IX coordinators’ perceptions of regulatory changes.