Forcing professors to report assault is wrong

By Editorial Board

As the issue of sexual assault on college campuses continues to gain national attention, some institutions are mandating that professors report these crimes to their colleges even if students reveal that information to their professors in confidence, according to a Nov. 6 The Chronicle of Higher Education report.

Forcing professors to report possible assaults puts them in an uncomfortable position and also violates the trust students place in those professors. Some students confide in professors as a therapeutic outlet and do not want them to report the crime. To avoid tarnishing the relationship between professors and students and to protect students’ right to privacy, colleges should not require faculty to report sexual assaults. Instead, professors should be trained to encourage students to report these crimes and to direct them to available resources.

Considering the appalling number of sexual assaults that are reported, it is understandable that colleges would want to mandate professors to report sexual assault to combat the problem. Only 2 percent of rapes are reported to law enforcement while 95 percent of rapes or attempted rapes on college campuses go unreported, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. But the need to be respectful to victims and sensitive to their experience is more important. It is widely recognized that sexual assault can lead to severe depression, anxiety or self-harm, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. By forcing professors to report abuse to college officials, institutions gamble with emotionally damaging students and the possibility of making them feel more unsupported.

If colleges truly want to help students, professors should be trained to encourage them to seek professional help or institutional resources, such as the counseling services offered by many colleges. Professors should also motivate students to report the crime to law enforcement. If a student refuses these services, professors should leave reporting the crime up to the victim. College students are adults, and it is their right to decide to report crimes against them.

There is also the issue of unintentional confessions from students as the result of a class assignment. According to the report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, administrators at one unnamed college suspended a professor’s research because they were concerned students would reveal experiences of sexual assault and the professor would then have to report any revealed cases. In this instance, it seems the policy change is more of a measure to protect the college from lawsuits than a genuine concern for the issue of sexual assault. This example also raises an inevitable aspect of the learning environment in college. Professors could likely read an essay by a student that divulges experiencing a sexual assault. Although the student willingly shared that private information with the professor, it still does not afford the professor the right to report it.

It is also questionable whether forcing professors to report the crime will actually improve the handling of sexual assaults on college campuses considering how awful some colleges are at investigating reported sexual assaults. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz made national headlines in September after she carried her mattress around campus until the college expelled her alleged rapist. Sulkowicz claimed the university did not take her rape allegations seriously. Similar stories at other colleges have also been reported.

Sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses, and it is commendable that universities are trying to make strides to resolve the problem, but this new policy misses the mark. Forcing professors to report a student’s confession of being assaulted will only make the student feel more isolated. The most a professor should be required to do is lend a hand, and it is unfair of universities to ask them to do more than that.