Nav: Home

Reasoning behind campus sexual assault policies challenged by psychologists

January 30, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. - Jan. 31, 2017 -- A comprehensive analysis of policies related to sexual assaults -- known as mandatory reporting or compelled disclosure -- at 150 universities has raised questions about their effectiveness and their impacts on victims.

In a paper in the journal American Psychologist, UO psychologist Jennifer Freyd of the University of Oregon and two colleagues concluded that some of the reasoning behind the policies is not supported by existing research on sexual assault reporting.

In their paper, the researchers call for survivor-centered reforms and offer four alternative approaches for institutions to consider as they seek to comply with federal laws and guidelines.

"What we show in our study is that we lack evidence that mandatory reporting in safe and effective," said Freyd, a professor in the UO Department of Psychology. "In fact, the data point in the opposite direction -- that many of the policies we that we reviewed are neither safe nor effective."

Psychologists Kathryn J. Holland, a doctoral student at the University of Michigan at the time of the study and now a professor at the University of Nebraska, and Lilia M. Cortina of the University of Michigan are co-authors on the paper.

Many university policies, while still evolving, require employees who've heard a student's report of a sexual assault to notify university officials and, in some cases, the police -- regardless of the wishes of the victim. Interpretations of Title IX and the Clery Act have driven these policies.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs receiving federal dollars and requires prompt and equitable responses by institutions. Under updated federal guidance on this civil rights law, compelled disclosure was introduced for responsible employees, but that designation has been open to interpretation. The Clery Act requires institutions to collect and publish information about the prevalence of sex-related crimes on and near a campus.

For their article, Holland, the study's lead author, led a comprehensive review of the reporting policies randomly selected to represent 50 large, 50 medium and 50 small four-year not-for-profit colleges and universities, none of which were named. Fifty-two percent were public and 48 percent were private.

Of those, 97 percent had policies mandating that certain employees to report sexual assault disclosed to them by a student. The vast majority of the policies require all, or nearly all, employees to report disclosures, while a few had a more specific and selective list of mandatory reporters.

They found limited research supporting rationales for compelled disclosure. "In fact," the researchers wrote in their conclusion, "some evidence suggests that these mandates may carry negative consequences: silencing and disempowering survivors, complicating employees' jobs, and prioritizing legal liability over student welfare."

The researchers also generated four alternative approaches featuring victim-centered goals that could protect everyone, including the institutions, in sexual assault cases and meet Title IX goals of investigating and prosecuting assaults, assisting survivors, deterring future assaults and enhancing campus security.

"It is really important not to harm abuse victims," Freyd said. "One way adult victims can get harmed is by taking away their autonomy. Mandatory reporting policies tend to do exactly that and thus are likely to cause harm. There are alternatives that are more consistent with the evidence we do have."

The UO's Freyd is a leading voice on issues of sexual harassment. In June, she spoke on "Moving from Institutional Betrayal to Institutional Courage" in a workshop held by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. She also was a contributor to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and was present in 2014 when the Obama Administration rolled out proposed guidelines for combating sexual violence.

In one alternative suggested by Freyd and her co-authors, university employees who receive a student's report of sexual assault would be allowed to respect the victim's choice on disclosure, and to whom an incident may be reported. Such an approach would allow for a change in action if a victim's mind later changes.

Freyd initially suggested this alternative in an April 2016 essay for the Huffington Post. The UO revised its reporting policy, effective Sept 15, to reflect this approach.

In a second approach, a student may report an incident and get services, and choose whether an investigation should be launched. A similarly adopted policy by the U.S. Department of Defense, the researchers noted, helped increase reporting and led to more positive experiences by victims.

A third alternative suggests third-party online technologies that allow victims to consider their options for reporting and obtaining services. Such a system, the researchers wrote, would allow for a time-stamped electronic record, including photographic evidence, for use if the student chooses to request an investigation. It also would allow for an automatic trigger for advancing the report if another student later files a report involving the same perpetrator.

The fourth alternative calls for a blended approach of the alternatives, recognizing that institutions may be hesitant to give up compelled disclosure policies in light of federal directives. "The aims could be to decrease involuntary disclosures while increasing voluntary ones," the researchers wrote.
Sources: Jennifer Freyd, professor of psychology, University of Oregon,, and Kathryn Holland, assistant professor of psychology, University of Nebraska,

Note: The UO is equipped with an on-campus television studio with a point-of-origin Vyvx connection, which provides broadcast-quality video to networks worldwide via fiber optic network. There also is video access to satellite uplink and audio access to an ISDN codec for broadcast-quality radio interviews.


DOI: 10.1037/amp0000186

Paper abstract:

About Jennifer Freyd:

Freyd's 2016 Huffington Post essay:

About Freyd's UO lab:

UO Department of Psychology:

About Kathryn Holland:

University of Oregon

Related Employees Articles:

Employees less upset at being replaced by robots than by other people
Generally speaking, most people find the idea of workers being replaced by robots or software worse than if the jobs are taken over by other workers.
Did food labeling help hospital employees make healthier cafeteria choices?
This observational study of nearly 5,700 hospital employees who used the workplace cafeteria reports on whether food placement and traffic light labeling (green for healthy, yellow for less healthy and red for least healthy) was associated with a reduction in calories in the food purchased by employees.
Some LGBT employees feel less supported at federal agencies
Workplace inequality is visible when it involves gender and race, but less so with sexual identity and gender expression.
Workplace interventions may improve sleep habits and duration for employees
Simple workplace interventions, like educating employees about the importance of sleep and providing behavioral sleep strategies, may produce beneficial results, according to a new review.
To keep the creative juices flowing, employees should be receptive to criticism
Though most firms today embrace a culture of criticism, when supervisors and peers dispense negative feedback it can actually stunt the creative process, according to a new study co-authored by Yeun Joon Kim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.
How a positive work environment leads to feelings of inclusion among employees
Fostering an inclusive work environment can lead to higher satisfaction, innovation, trust and retention among employees, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.
How susceptible are hospital employees to phishing attacks?
A multicenter study finds high click rate for simulated phishing emails, potential benefit in phishing awareness training.
Good grief: Victimized employees don't get a break
As if being picked on wasn't bad enough, victims of workplace mistreatment may also be seen as bullies themselves, even if they've never engaged in such behavior.
It pays to be nice to your employees, new study shows
New research from Binghamton University, State University at New York finds that showing compassion to subordinates almost always pays off, especially when combined with the enforcement of clear goals and benchmarks.
PTSD rate among prison employees equals that of war veterans
Prison employees experience PTSD on par with Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, a new study from a Washington State University College of Nursing researcher found.
More Employees News and Employees Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#538 Nobels and Astrophysics
This week we start with this year's physics Nobel Prize awarded to Jim Peebles, Michel Mayor, and Didier Queloz and finish with a discussion of the Nobel Prizes as a way to award and highlight important science. Are they still relevant? When science breakthroughs are built on the backs of hundreds -- and sometimes thousands -- of people's hard work, how do you pick just three to highlight? Join host Rachelle Saunders and astrophysicist, author, and science communicator Ethan Siegel for their chat about astrophysics and Nobel Prizes.