OPINION: Lack of clarity on sexual assault reporting is a disaster waiting to happen

A person stands at the front of a maze, with pathways to "responsible employee", "mandated reporter", "confidential resource", and "private resource".
(Meghan Joyce • The Student Life)

CW: sexual assault, abuse

Private resource. Confidential resource. Mandated reporter. Responsible employee. Campus Security Authority. The list of terms — all with long, murky definitions — seems interminable. It’s also a list one might not think about until after something terrible has happened.

In the wake of constantly shifting laws and policies around sexual violence and illegal activity on campus, students deserve to know what different people on campus are required to report, should they hear of a sexual assault or other crime. Unfortunately, given the spider web of bureaucracy created by seven schools and plenty of auxiliary services, Claremont is in no place to provide that information.

In my three-and-a-half years at Claremont, the only time I have ever been informed of the differences between terms like “confidential resource” vs. “private resource” and “responsible employee” vs. “mandated reporter” is when I went through training as a student worker or when I directly asked someone I expected would know.

But the unfortunate reality was that many of the people I asked didn’t know the distinction between the terms, even if they agreed that my expectation that they know was completely reasonable. Everyone from work supervisors to professors to Title IX officers has given me muddled answers that left me more confused than I started.

The differences between “formal” and “informal” language often don’t help. Legally speaking, “mandated reporter” and “responsible employee” mean two very different things. 

A “mandated reporter” under California law is required to report “known or suspected abuse or neglect relating to children, elders or dependent adults” to law enforcement or the appropriate social services agency, according to a University of Southern California policy bulletin. The abuse does not necessarily have to be sexual.

A “responsible employee,” on the other hand, is required to report incidents of sexual violence or sexual harassment to the Title IX coordinator or the appropriate school designee, according to the United States Department of Education.

Not all mandated reporters are responsible employees, although most responsible employees are mandated reporters. Medical professionals and members of the clergy are generally considered mandated reporters by the state but are considered confidential resources under Title IX, meaning that they are not responsible employees, according to the 7C Violence Prevention and Advocacy website

Yet even the Association of Title IX Administrators uses the terms “mandated reporter” and “responsible employee” interchangeably in many of their publications. One of their publications that mixes the two terms, somewhat ironically, is titled: “Who is a mandated reporter, of what? — getting some clarity.”

Given this lack of clarity (sorry, ATIXA), it would make sense for Claremont to have one standardized and easily accessible policy across all 7Cs as to which employees — and especially which student employees and volunteers — are considered responsible employees or mandated reporters and which ones are truly confidential resources. 

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As it stands, the policies at each college are mostly aligned with each other. But that’s still eight different policies — all seven schools plus The Claremont Colleges Services — listed in eight different, often difficult-to-find places. 

While the 7C Violence Prevention and Advocacy website presents an admirable attempt at organizing and categorizing the vast array of groups and resources, its information is sometimes out-of-date or lacking in details. 

This is unacceptable. Seeking support, guidance, care and further options as a survivor, or as a survivor’s friend or advocate, should not involve a maze of questions and dead-ends. Survivors should be able to have easy and quick access to confidential resources and be able to receive care for their trauma without worrying about unwanted interactions with their school’s Title IX officer. 

The colleges need more confidential resources, yes, but they also need to provide more clear, updated information about the different types of resources on campus and which employees are considered mandated reporters and/or responsible employees.

This can be as simple as requiring all responsible employees, mandated reporters and other authority figures to display graphics on their office doors informing visitors of their designation and what that means. Requiring Title IX information to be included in all class syllabi to discuss the different designations as well is perhaps in order.

Finally, the colleges owe it to their student employees and volunteers (and by extension, all students) to be upfront with us about what our responsibilities are and aren’t. 

I have devoted literal months of my life to on-campus jobs for minimal pay, if I’m paid at all. But I cannot help others properly if the schools don’t tell me what my responsibilities are.

I cannot do my work correctly if I am constantly wondering what my employers expect me to do. I cannot do my work correctly if policy and legal changes are not promptly and succinctly communicated. 

As a survivor, as an advocate, as a peer educator, as a member of the press and as a student, I and all of my peers need the colleges to give us better information on who we can trust not to divulge some of our worst memories and pressing concerns. 

Donnie TC Denome PZ ’20 is a public health major from Sunnyvale, California who can’t quite believe it’s less than six months to graduation.

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