Making Title IX Work

At meeting of college law enforcement administrators, police officials say that federal law, while sometimes inconsistent with their own regulations, can be used to crack down on sexual assaults.

July 6, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The intersection of campus police investigations and college disciplinary investigations into sexual assault is still a confusing mix at many institutions, but Susan Riseling, the chief of police and associate vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, has a few ideas about how make the relationship work.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the International Association of College Law Enforcement Administrators here on Wednesday, Riseling offered a number of suggestions to not only help campus police better meet the requirements of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Clery Act, but to use those requirements to help inform their own investigations.

Her presentation was based on two recent white papers about the topic, which were the result of two summits she helped organize over the last year studying the issue.

A common theme at the institutions the summits studied was a lack of communication between the various parties that are required by law to handle allegations of campus sexual assault. Not everyone on campus is required to report a sexual assault to police if a student comes to them for help, and colleges are required by the U.S. Department of Education to do their own investigation, separate from that of the police. Campus police officers -- who are in some cases both sworn law enforcement officers and members of a college's staff -- can find themselves straddling both kinds of investigations at once.

In states like Wisconsin, state laws and federal laws over who must report cases of sexual assault differ, creating more confusion. At the University of Wisconsin, there are 5 detectives with the campus police department, 20 counselors with health services and 10 staff members with the dean of students' office, all of whom are meant to be potential points of contact for students who have been sexually assaulted.

“We have to figure out how we’re all going to tell each other,” Riseling said. “We’re all chasing our tails.”

The channels available to students for reporting an assault should be easily found on a college’s website -- no more than four clicks from the home page, the summits' working group concluded -- and every faculty and staff member on campus should be aware of whom they should report a sexual assault to. While staff members should help students learn about all the resources available to them, Riseling said, they should always encourage students to talk to the police.

Both campus police and Title IX investigators should all be familiar with research on how to interview trauma victims, Riseling said, getting basic details at first, but then returning to the specific questions over the next couple of days.

“All of us who have been in officer-involved shootings know that an officer is given one if not two cycles of sleeping before being interviewed,” Riseling said. “We do that for cops. It’s the same type of psychology for sexual ­assault victims.”

Police must do a better job of interacting with victims of sexual assault in other ways, too, she said, and campuses should find ways to build up trust between students and police officers.­ She told the police chiefs in the audience to buy a copy of Jon Krakauer’s book Missoula, and to require their officers to read it so that they can understand why sexual assault victims often distrust the legal system. The book details how the University of Montana and the city's prosecutors mishandled cases of sexual assault on campus.

­“You could have cropped out Missoula, Montana, and put Madison, Wisconsin, in there,” Riseling said.

The University of Wisconsin's police department has indeed made some missteps when interacting with students regarding sexual assault prevention. In October, a list of safety tips published on the department's blog was widely criticized for appearing to blame victims of campus crimes, especially victims of sexual assault. The post, renamed "Tools You Can Use," was originally titled "Shedding the Victim Persona: Staying Safe on Campus." That title, as well as a passage telling students to "make yourself a hard target" prompted a harsh backlash on blogs and social media.

Last year, the university launched a campaign designed to encourage more students to turn to police when they have been sexually assaulted. Called “You Can Tell Us,” the campaign included a series of posters and a website telling students what resources were available to them and explaining th­at victims are never to blame and that they are “in control of the investigation.”

About 70 cases received hearings last year, she said. By patiently interviewing victims in a way that acknowledged their trauma, she added, police were able to identify the attackers in a large number of those cases. The district attorney moved forward with all but two of the cases.

Convincing district attorneys to prosecute more cases of campus sexual assault is crucial, Riseling said, and that can only be done if the cases are being investigated fully by trained police officers, not just Title IX investigators, who have to meet a much lower standard of evidence than a prosecutor would.

That doesn’t mean detectives and Title IX investigators can’t work together, however, she said, and it may be more comfortable for the victim if the two kinds of investigations are happening in tandem. Rather than interviewing the victim twice, Riseling said a Title IX investigator should watch the police’s interview through a television feed, and prompt the detective to ask any additional questions.

She also described a case at Wisconsin, in which the Title IX investigation was the only reason police were able to arrest a student accused of raping his roommate’s girlfriend.

The accused student denied the charges when interviewed by police, Riseling said. In his disciplinary hearing, however, he changed his story in an apparent attempt to receive a lesser punishment by admitting he regretted what had occurred. That version of events was “in direct conflict with what he told police,” Riseling said. Police subpoenaed the Title IX records of the hearing and were able to use that as evidence against the student.

“It’s Title IX, not Miranda,” Riseling said. “Use what you can.”


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