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Title IX data indicates reduced barriers to reporting

Title IX (Claire Strother)

Title IX Coordinator Kari Hohn released data on intakes, investigations and investigation outcomes from the fall of 2016 to the summer of 2019 in an email to the student body on Nov. 5, fulfilling the final recommendation of the 2016 Title IX Working Group.
The data includes the number of intakes and reports, filed every time a student or mandatory reporter alerts Hohn to a potential Title IX policy violation, the number of reports that led to a formal investigation process, the number of responsible findings and information regarding sanctions, suspensions and expulsions for violations of the College’s Title IX policy.

The intent behind releasing Title IX data every three years is to increase transparency between the College and students while also protecting the privacy of those involved in the process, according to the Nov. 5 email.

There can be too much transparency with information regarding Title IX violations, said Sexual Assault Resource Network (SARN) Co-Chair Sydnie Peterson ’20. Hohn and SARN understood that “mail blasts,” or campus-wide email announcements every time a student came forward, were actually barriers to reporting and an example of “bad transparency.” The three year data release can protect any one individual from being identified through the data, Hohn said.

The data release shows that in the past three years, there have been 145 intakes and reports. Peterson and Hohn believe the high number is actually a reflection of reduced barriers to reporting, not an increase in the number of Title IX violations.

“I think the fact that our reporting numbers continue to go up demonstrates trust in that process and that students are comfortable coming forward,” Hohn said. “It’s the schools that are saying they only have one or two reports a year that I would be more concerned about.”

“We can’t help or respond to something that we don’t know about,” Hohn said.
According to the data released in the email, 77 percent of the 145 intakes and reports did not result in an investigation.

“When I meet with a student and do an intake, 99 percent of the time it’s up to them about how they want to proceed, and that includes whether or not they want to move forward with an investigation,” Hohn said.

Those who did not participate in a formal process may have participated in the informal process, obtained a non-contact directive or made connections to resources which Hohn facilitates.

Hohn said there are a variety of reasons why students may not want to move forward with a formal investigation and that it is different for every person. Students can also choose to pursue an investigation after the initial report. Not automatically investigating every report fits with Hohn’s philosophy that if you force people to move forward with processes they don’t want or aren’t ready for, they will stop coming forward.
“I want decisions to be at [the reporting student’s] pace,” Hohn said.

The informal process can involve not interacting, not having classes together and not living in the same residence hall, SARN Co-Chair Jamie Farley ’20 said.

The 77 percent of students who do not formally investigate incidents explains the gap in collected data, with many students choosing to utilize the informal resolution process, Peterson said.

Of the 23 percent of cases that do pursue a formal investigation, only 58 percent result in responsible findings.

“It’s a hard number to see, but we have to trust our process,” Peterson said.
An external investigator uses a “preponderance of evidence” standard to assess if it is more likely than not that the College’s Title IX policy was violated. If there is not enough evidence to reach that bar, the investigator uses a phrase such as “there is insufficient evidence to find this student responsible” when adjudicating, Hohn said.

“It’s not really an exoneration,” Hohn said. “It’s saying given all the information that was available, that I was able to collect, there’s not enough to reach that tipping point. That’s what I try to explain to reporting students who didn’t get that outcome they were looking for.”

The data release also reveals that only four students have been expelled for Title IX violations in the past three years. Additionally, nine students have been suspended and six have received a combination of sanctions including limited campus involvement, required counseling, required training and/or disciplinary probation.

“I think our school takes expulsion really, really seriously,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t say I’m terribly surprised that the number is that low.”

A two person panel decides on the sanctions by using a three pronged approach of stopping the misconduct, preventing it from happening again and remedying the impact, Hohn said.

Sanctions, suspension and expulsion are decided based on several factors which may include severity, persistence and prior misconduct according to the data released in the email.

Hohn said that she hopes to continue to see an increase in the percentage of intakes because it indicates to her that people feel comfortable enough to seek assistance while at the same time bolstering Title IX’s education and prevention work.
Hohn, Peterson and Farley want to remind the St. Olaf Community that while it is important to review the statistics, ultimately the numbers represent real people in our community and that no instance of sexual or interpersonal violence is ever acceptable.