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Campus Sexual Assault: Methods of Mandatory Reporting

Here's how reporting preferences reflect parental versus student priorities.

Key points

  • Generally, mandatory reporting requires “responsible employees” to report incidents of sexual misconduct.
  • When it comes to the preferred method of reporting campus crime, parents prefer universal reporting, while students often prefer more options.
  • Trauma-informed reporting is an integral part of reporting campus sexual assault.
Silvia / Pixabay
Source: Silvia / Pixabay

One of the most challenging aspects of college life is navigating the social scene as a young adult. Friends, study groups, and sporting events are vibrant aspects of campus life. Yet, for some students, the college experience can suddenly change in one day—through sexual victimization. What then? Given the different options, procedures, and mandated reporting policies on different campuses, the answer is: It depends.

Barriers to Disclosure

Many student victims fail to report at all out of fear of retaliation, social stigmatization, or being subjected to scorn, shame, or disbelief. Anticipating adverse consequences, many students are unlikely to utilize campus support. Some opt to disclose their traumatic experience only to friends and family members in confidence; others elect not to disclose at all.

When victims do report campus rape, and a criminal case is filed, of the many cases I have prosecuted over the years, many victims have shared with me (and sometimes the jury) that they feel like they are the ones on trial. Because witness credibility is always an issue, in a sense, they are. This reality underscores the importance of trauma-informed victim care in every campus sexual assault case, every step of the way, beginning with the original report.

Mandated Reporting Methods

Kristen M. Budd and Shelby Frye (2023) examined public perceptions of campus sexual assault in connection with mandatory reporting (MR).[i] Budd and Frye note that, generally, MR requires “responsible employees” to report incidents of sexual misconduct or violence to the designated university official. Citing Title IX, a federal civil rights law “requiring educational institutions to respond to and prevent sex-based discrimination, including sexual misconduct and sexual violence,” as well as the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and other federal guidance, Budd and Frye explain that colleges and universities have implemented three different MR policy approaches—universal, selective, and student-directed—each of which varies according to designated “responsible” employees and the obligations of other employees.

But when it comes to the preferred method of reporting campus crime, there is no one size fits all. Regarding public perception, Budd and Frye found that parents were more likely to favor universal MR over student-directed MR, regardless of the impact on victims, reflecting parental concern about keeping their children safe. Students, on the other hand, who are unaware of their school’s MR policy, may experience “institutional betrayal” if they disclose to someone who, unbeknownst to them, is mandated to report.

Budd and Frye further recognize the potential for revictimization when victim-survivors are questioned by institutional authorities who lack adequate training in trauma-informed interviewing or are subjected to a disciplinary proceeding in which they are cross-examined by the suspect. Because student-directed MR gives victims more control over the process, some victims view it as an attractive alternative, designed to present victims with more options.

Student Safety Is a Campus Priority

In various forms within different institutions, mandatory reporting policies are designed to keep students safe and promote a safe academic environment. As students focus on homework, educators, school administrators, law enforcement, and community partners put in the legwork necessary to promote best practices to protect the young adults they work with, on and off campus.


[i] Budd, Kristen M., and Shelby Frye. 2023. “Public Perceptions of Campus Sexual Assault Mandatory Reporting Policy Approaches: Considering the Consequences on Victim-Survivors.” Journal of School Violence 22 (1): 122–37. doi:10.1080/15388220.2022.2155830.

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