The second time Ian McEntee, a humanities and sociology senior, was sexually assaulted, he didn’t file a Title IX report. He chose not to after he reported his first assault and the Title IX process made him “recall and divulge trauma that was still fresh to a room of strangers who were very cold and mechanical.”
However, survivors cannot always easily avoid their case being reported and opened. Given the system at UT, victims can lose the ability to make decisions after an incident already out of their control. If a student confides in an authoritative figure, be it a professor or a peer in a higher position of power in an organization, this person must tell Title IX. Title IX will then open an investigation, regardless of the survivor’s initial consent.
When someone’s choices are taken from them as a result of sexual assault, the University shouldn’t further strip them of control by forcing them to see their case open. Survivors handle their emotions and trauma differently, and the University needs to support how they decide to heal.
According to Shilpa Bakre, the University communications strategist, people who must report incidents make up a long list, ranging from academic advisers to resident assistants. This creates numerous opportunities for survivors’ cases to be reported to Title IX. It can also restrict the number of people they feel they can confide in, something that is important following trauma.
Survivors, including McEntee, can feel like they can’t turn to mentors for guidance or confide in their advisors for fear that they will be forced into an unwanted Title IX process.
“Mandatory reporting removes all aspects of self-control,” McEntee said. “The survivor is no longer in charge of their own story. I live in this constant fear of, 'Is today the day I slip up and have to go through this process?’”
There are resources on campus that survivors use to speak about their assault with complete confidentiality. These resources also assist in providing victims with academic accommodations. However, a victim may not be inclined to speak about their trauma to a complete stranger. Over 75 percent of victims first confide in a close friend, roommate or family member.
Students are more likely to divulge the highly personal details of sexual assault with someone they are familiar with, like a professor or a mentor, but students shouldn’t lose privacy or unintentionally open a Title IX investigation by confiding in someone they trust.
Survivors of sexual assault need access to resources and accommodations so that they are not left helpless in a great time of need, but right now they cannot access all those resources without losing autonomy.
The University needs to change its system of mandatory reporting to protect the autonomy of survivors. Nobody should be forced into dealing with a Title IX case when they want to leave the trauma behind them. Mandatory reporting, while essential to ensuring the University doesn’t repress reports of sexual assault, can also be incredibly harmful to victims who do not wish to deal with a Title IX case.
If UT redefined mandatory reporters to exclude professors, RAs, TAs, coaches and mentors, survivors of sexual assault could get the help they need without the stress of opening a Title IX investigation. Instead of requiring employees to report to Title IX, UT should allow them to report to a confidential advocate or Student Emergency Services representative. It is great students can open a case through Title IX, but it is wrong to follow a system that forces students to do so if it’s not their intention. Survivors deserve a choice — not further limitations on their autonomy.
Dighe is a Plan II and neuroscience sophomore from Houston.