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What must high schools do in response to reports of sexual violence?

Monday, March 02, 2015

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by Ali Mailen Perrotto of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center

As the NSVRC gears up for our 2015 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) Campaign, lots of questions have been coming in about the obligations that schools have to respond to reports of sexual violence. While this year’s campaign focuses on sexual violence on college and university campuses, high schools must also be accountable to responding to sexual violence responsibly.

Reporting & Response Requirements

Whether sexual violence happens in the school setting or between students outside of school, educational institutions are required to address anything that would likely cause a disruption to a minor’s educational experience. All educational institutions from kindergarten to college are accountable to Title IX requirements.

Beyond Title IX, high schools and colleges have some differences in their reporting and response requirements. College campuses are also required to report instances of sexual violence under the Clery Act, and the SaVE Act provides comprehensive directives related to prevention and response.

High schools face some different kinds of requirements, which are typically guided by state statute. Reports in high school are often complex because the person who experiences abuse may be legally considered a child. Each state has different statutes and procedures, but all teachers and school personnel are mandated reporters of abuse. Minors may also not be considered legally able to consent based on a state’s statutory rape laws.

Similar to college campuses, a student may disclose to a friend, teacher or mentor, but in many cases these individuals will be legally required to make a report. When a report is made it often brings local law enforcement into the picture. While at this point school personnel may have fulfilled their legal obligations, they can still do so much more to help support the student.

Trauma-Informed Responses

School staff can create a more trauma-informed response for students by clearly explaining the process for reporting, next steps they may be able to expect, and their rights during the reporting process. Schools can also offer supportive accommodations, like making sure the student has a person they trust whom they can talk to and providing any helpful changes to class schedule or workload during the process.

To learn more about providing a supportive response to disclosures, consider taking the course Bringing Hope. It looks specifically at disclosures of child sexual abuse, but many of the practices can be adapted for working with teens. You can also check out the resources provided with the Linking the Roads guide, which discusses ways to incorporate a trauma-informed practice with runaway and homeless youth.

Understanding and Supporting Youth

There are many unique factors associated with sexual violence among youth and young people. The Lifespan Project provides information on these common factors and statistics on prevalence. You can also check out the work of organizations like Break the Cycle, which focuses specifically on intimate partner violence among teens. The recently updated Special Collection, Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence, offers resources to support teachers and school-based professionals in responding to teen dating violence including policies, best practices, lesson plans, and curricula.

While this year’s SAAM campaign largely addresses nuances and requirements around reporting sexual violence at a school, last year’s campaign specifically addressed healthy sexuality in youth and young people. Campaign resources focused on providing parents and educators with the tools to support healthy teen development. Creating the space and laying the groundwork for positive, healthy conversations with young people about sex and sexuality sends the message that you can be a supportive person and a resource if that young person experiences a non-consensual sexual experience.

What are you doing to support caring and timely responses to reports of sexual violence in high schools?