ATIXA Research Award Grant Recipient Four-Part Blog Series: Part I

Part I of IV: Why Care about Faculty and Staff Experiences and Perceptions of Mandated Reporting (MR)?

Mandated Reporters (MRs) and Responsible Employees (REs)

By: Christina Mancini, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University, and Sarah Koon-Magnin, Ph.D., University of South Alabama

A majority of colleges and universities have adopted some form of “mandated reporting (MR)” or “compelled disclosure” policy that requires all or nearly all faculty and staff—“responsible employees” (REs)—to share knowledge of sexual misconduct involving students or fellow staff with the institution, typically the Title IX Office (Holland et al., 2018). While MR is not new, it has historically applied to minors or those in vulnerable situations who may not be able to report abuses committed against them, such as elderly people living in nursing homes (Mancini, 2020).

Thus, the actions of REs, such as the trusted professor or staff member to whom students will likely disclose an incident of sexual victimization, are central to the logic of MR policies (Weiner, 2017). Understanding the experiences and attitudes of university employees concerning MR and Title IX more broadly is important for a few reasons.

Lack of input generally. Since the emergence of MR policies in 2015 (Bidwell, 2015), university employees have not had much influence in their development (Weiner, 2017). MR can be enacted at the institutional-level (i.e., specific college implements MR procedures) or MR may be adopted to comport with a state law, like in Virginia and California, for example (Brubaker & Mancini, 2017). Advisors, college faculty, and other employees have thus had little input in the design of compelled disclosure policies. This is problematic as MR, while primarily geared to protect students at risk of experiencing sexual assault, affects the duties and daily activities of university employees.

Consequences of non-compliance. Moreover, should employees not dislose when obligated to do so, adverse outcomes are likely. Non-compliant employees could face termination or other sanctions by the university (Weiner, 2017). They may also experience guilt if a victim or survivor is harmed further or the alleged perpetrator victimizes someone else.

Role conflict. At the same time, compliant employees, that is those who fulfill their contractual obligations to report, may face role conflict, in which they feel guilt or that they have betrayed a student or colleague (Holland & Cortina, 2017). For all of these reasons then, there is a need understand the RE perspective and their experiences on the ground.

What Do We Know?

Strikingly, the field knows little about the perspective of responsible employees (REs) or those now required to report any knowledge of sexual misconduct to their respective post-secondary institutions, save a few pioneering studies. Research conducted at an unidentified college indicates that most faculty and staff stated that they would comply with their Title IX duties regarding reporting (Newins et al., 2018; Newins & White, 2018) and that employees were most willing to report disclosures involving student victims and faculty perpetrators (Newins & White, 2018). Having said that, at least 15% of faculty and staff were unsure of their reporting duties or unwilling to fulfill them (Newins & White, 2018).

The hesitancy to comply may be linked to “role conflict.” For example, Holland and Cortina (2017) studied resident assistants (RAs) who while students, function as MRs on many campuses, in that they must disclose knowledge of sexual assault to their institutions, even if victims ask them to hold the disclosure in confidence. In that study, RAs who had greater knowledge of their specific Title IX mandates were more likely to say they would disclose knowledge of an assault to the institution. Alternatively, RAs who felt their institutional response would be insufficient and were conflicted about their MR role were significantly less likely to say they would disclose (Holland & Cortina, 2017).

One other examination of “counselor educators” (or faculty/instructors who teach courses related to counseling studies) is relevant to discussions and debates about MR (Welfare et al., 2017). Counselor educators are not automatically exempt from reporting duties. If undertaking a teaching role, they have similar reporting responsibilities as any other instructor who may be subject to a MR policy (Welfare et al., 2017). In the Welfare and colleagues’ study, close to 80% of the sample had received a student disclosure of sexual misconduct but only 5% felt they had sufficient knowledge of their Title IX reporting duties. The study also underscores the need for effective training and education of reporters—while most of the educators correctly identified incidents where reporting was mandated, one-quarter incorrectly stated they did not have to report a sexual hazing incident, when in fact, they would be mandated to do so (Welfare et al., 2017).

Collectively, this body of scholarship provides some context for assessing the impact of MR in practice. However, there are still many open questions about the reporter experience. In particular, the authors see a need to explore employee attitudes toward MR, particularly concerning under what circumstances they believe MR should occur. Notably, most institutions with MR procedures in place practice “wide-net” reporting—requiring responsible employees (REs) to report instances of alleged sexual misconduct even if the victim does not consent (Holland et al., 2018). Additionally, given the “role conflict,” identified as a potential drawback of MR in earlier studies (Holland & Cortina, 2017), there is a need to understand how the reporting experience impacts those who have made a disclosure.

How Can the Field Learn More?

For these reasons, with funding support from ATIXA in early 2021, the authors deployed a survey targeting current faculty and staff working at universities and colleges nationwide that would address the research gaps in previous literature. Specifically, the survey explored perceptions and experiences with MR among faculty and staff employees in the U.S.

Tune in for the next installment where the authors discuss the design, recruiting, and undertaking of this survey during the height of COVID-19.

References

Bidwell, A. (February 19, 2015). Mandatory report hinders fight against sexual assault, critics say. U.S. News. https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/02/19/mandatory-reporting-bills-hinder-fight-against-sexual-assault-critics-say

Brubaker, S. J., Keegan, B., Guadalupe‐Diaz, X. L., & Beasley, B. A. (2017). Measuring and reporting campus sexual assault: Privilege and exclusion in what we know and what we do. Sociology Compass,11(12), e12543. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12543

Brubaker, S. J., & Mancini, C. (2017). The impact of increased state regulation of campus sexual assault practices: Perspectives of campus personnel. Journal of School Violence, 16(3), 286-301. https://doi.org/10.1080/15388220.2017.1318577

Holland, K. J., & Cortina, L. M. (2017). The evolving landscape of Title IX: Predicting mandatory reporters’ responses to sexual assault disclosures. Law and Human Behavior, 41(5), 429-439. https://doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000253

Holland, K. J., Cortina, L. M., & Freyd, J. J. (2018). Compelled disclosure of college sexual assault. American Psychologist, 73(3), 256-268. https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000186

Mancini, C. (2020). Mandatory reporting in context: Development, concerns, and best practices. In C. M. Renzetti & D. R. Follingstad (Eds.), Adjudicating campus sexual misconduct and assault controversies and challenges (pp. 51-68). Cognella Press.

Newins, A. R., Bernstein, E., Peterson, R., Waldron, J. C., & White, S. W. (2018). Title IX mandated reporting: The views of university employees and students. Behavioral Sciences, 8(11), 106. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs8110106

Newins, A. R., & White, S. W. (2018). Title IX sexual violence reporting requirements: Knowledge and opinions of responsible employees and students. Journal of Aggression, Conflict, and Peace Research, 8(2), 106. https://doi.org/10.1108/JACPR-04-2017-0282

Richards, T. N. (2019). No evidence of “weaponized Title IX” here: An empirical assessment of sexual misconduct reporting, case processing, and outcomes. Law and Human Behavior, 43(2), 180-192. https://doi.org/10.1037/lhb0000316

Weiner, M. H. (2017). A principled and legal approach to Title IX reporting. Tennessee Law Review, 85(1), 71-188. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3133270

Welfare, L. E., Wagstaff, J., & Haynes, J. R. (2017). Counselor education and Title IX: Current perceptions and questions. Counselor Education and Supervision, 56(3), 193-207. https://doi.org/10.1002/CEAS.12072

View Part II of the blog series

Apply to ATIXA’s 2022 Research Grant