Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part III: Best Practices, Professional Development and Policy
Vol. 6 No. 1
In the early summer, we started a sexual misconduct article series addressing terminology and the importance of background checks. Understanding that it was a heavy topic for the end of the school year when Risk Managers and Business Managers—all private school administrators, in fact—were wrapping up school-year details, it was important that we began the process of clarifying and amplifying the importance of sexual violence risk management.
Over the past decade, public schools have been mandated by state and federal laws to increase their awareness of sex abuse as well as their prevention strategies. Private schools, although not mandated by law, have experienced the same pressure to step up their policies and procedures concerning sexual abuse. Lawsuits revolving around sexual misconduct and media exposure have put schools in jeopardy—some forced to close. Colleges, too, have been highlighted for not taking extra precautions to protect students from sexual violence.
As an organization dedicated to enriching student lives, it’s essential that protection be at the forefront of all school decisions. Updating your school’s policies and procedures to ensure your risks are minimal is vital to the future of your institution. In our final part of our series on addressing sexual misconduct, we'll walk you through the steps for clarifying and communicating your school’s sexual misconduct process.
Educating Faculty and Staff About Sexual Misconduct: Professional Development
Professional development involving sexual misconduct for everyone involved with your school—families, students, faculty, and staff alike—is of the highest importance. Just as our first article in this series illustrated, terminology alone can be confusing; there is a wide spectrum of sexual crimes and no standard profile for a sexual offender. And, as our second article discussed, while we would like to believe that clean background checks secure ourselves from risk, the truth is that they don’t. There is no established age range in which crimes occur. sexual offenses happen to children of all ages, by those of all ages, at any time.
Your entire school staff should be aware of the signs of sexual abuse, your school’s policy on handling sexual crimes, and your state’s laws.
Speaking of which: When it comes to sexual assault, silence is a crime. School employees are mandated by law in 48 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam to report child maltreatment. Failure to report child abuse will result in penalties, which vary according to each state’s laws. Your school and its employees must be aware of your governing state's requirements and fines for failure to report and/or act.
To start, download a copy of Child Welfare Information Gateway’s Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect here. It contains references to 48 states' and U.S. territories' laws, as well as an overview of reporting compliance.
Clarifying and communicating your process:
- Encourage the reporting of concerns. It shouldn't be just "okay" to report suspicions of sexual misconduct, but expected.
- Identify to whom concerns and reports should be given. For instance, can students confide in teachers, or should they report to administrators? Does your school have an HR Manager to whom employees can report concerns? If you don’t have an HR Manager, is there another administrator on your team—aside from the Head and an employee's immediate supervisor—who can receive these reports and be responsible for employee concerns?
- Clearly communicate what confidentially means (and does not mean) in light of your school’s mission and emphasize everyone’s responsibility to uphold it. (Students, parents and faculty and staff alike should understand this term and its implications.)
- Clearly differentiate what concerns are and what is considered toxicity, potentially to the point of sexual harassment. (For example, allowing people to say things like, "You'd look good in a swimsuit" or "Hey, hottie" creates a toxic work environment and makes the school liable to sexual harassment lawsuits.) Employees and students should both understand the difference and take responsibility in preserving your school’s culture.
- Explain the “rights & duties” of all parties.
- Be clear on how the adjudication process will work and what can be expected.
- Clearly explain when and how law enforcement will be involved.
Responding to cases of sexual misconduct:
- Take ALL reports seriously.
- Don’t “take sides.”
- Document and securely file all reports and evidence of claims.
- Have a “script” of responses prepared and practiced (i.e., know what to say and not say) for different situations. When faced with situations to which you’re not prepared to respond, take the time to think before responding. It’s not only what you say, but how you say it, that impacts the situation.
- Be aware of situations in which you should involve witnesses, your attorney, etc. If the situation at hand requires another person to be involved, wait for them to be present before continuing.
- Determine if the student or teacher involved needs to be isolated for his/her physical or physiological safety.
- Communicate what the next steps will be to both the accused and the accuser.
- Don’t involve anyone who does not need to be part of the process.
- You should know how to proceed along a "legal chain of command" once informed of a possible criminal incident, including contacting authorities. Proper or in proper handling of evidence, and how you conduct interviews that can both protect or in fact weaken, any case or investigation.
Additional ISM articles of interest
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 5 No. 8 Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part I: Defining Sexual Misconduct
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 5 No. 10 Sexual Misconduct on Campus Part II: Background Checks
The Source for School Heads Vol. 13 No. 3 Keep Your School Safe From Sexual Assault
The Source for Private School News Vol. 13 No. 8 Body Image in Private Schools: A Selection of International Studies