Students, or parents of minor students, reporting incidents of sexual violence sometimes ask that the students’ names not be disclosed to the alleged perpetrators or that no investigation or disciplinary action be pursued to address the alleged sexual violence. OCR strongly supports a student’s interest in confidentiality in cases involving sexual violence. There are situations in which a school must override a student’s request for confidentiality in order to meet its Title IX obligations; however, these instances will be limited and the information should only be shared with individuals who are responsible for handling the school’s response to incidents of sexual violence.
Given the sensitive nature of reports of sexual violence, a school should ensure that the information is maintained in a secure manner. A school should be aware that disregarding requests for confidentiality can have a chilling effect and discourage other students from reporting sexual violence. In the case of minors, state mandatory reporting laws may require disclosure, but can generally be followed without disclosing information to school personnel who are not responsible for handling the school’s response to incidents of sexual violence. Even if a student does not specifically ask for confidentiality, to the extent possible, a school should only disclose information regarding alleged incidents of sexual violence to individuals who are responsible for handling the school’s response.
To improve trust in the process for investigating sexual violence complaints, a school should notify students of the information that will be disclosed, to whom it will be disclosed, and why. Regardless of whether a student complainant requests confidentiality, a school must take steps to protect the complainant as necessary, including taking interim measures before the final outcome of an investigation. For Title IX purposes, if a student requests that his or her name not be revealed to the alleged perpetrator or asks that the school not investigate or seek action against the alleged perpetrator, the school should inform the student that honoring the request may limit its ability to respond fully to the incident, including pursuing disciplinary action against the alleged perpetrator.
The school should also explain that Title IX includes protections against retaliation, and that school officials will not only take steps to prevent retaliation but also take strong responsive action if it occurs. This includes retaliatory actions taken by the school and school officials. When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible retaliation by other students or third parties, including threats, intimidation, coercion, or discrimination (including harassment), it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. Title IX requires the school to protect the complainant and ensure his or her safety as necessary. If the student still requests that his or her name not be disclosed to the alleged perpetrator or that the school not investigate or seek action against the alleged perpetrator, the school will need to determine whether or not it can honor such a request while still providing a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for a the student who reported the sexual violence. Because schools vary widely in size and administrative structure, OCR recognizes that a school may reasonably determine that an employee other than the Title IX coordinator, such as a sexual assault response coordinator, dean, or other school official, is better suited to evaluate such requests. Addressing the needs of a student reporting sexual violence while determining an appropriate institutional response requires expertise and attention, and a school should ensure that it assigns these responsibilities to employees with the capability and training to fulfill them. For example, if a school has a sexual assault response coordinator, that person should be consulted in evaluating requests for confidentiality. The school should identify in its Title IX policies and procedures the employee or employees responsible for making such determinations. If the school determines that it can respect the student’s request not to disclose his or her identity to the alleged perpetrator, it should take all reasonable steps to respond to the complaint consistent with the request. Although a student’s request to have his or her name withheld may limit the school’s ability to respond fully to an individual allegation of sexual violence, other means may be available to address the sexual violence. There are steps a school can take to limit the effects of the alleged sexual violence and prevent its recurrence without initiating formal action against the alleged perpetrator or revealing the identity of the student complainant . Examples include providing increased monitoring, supervision, or security at locations or activities where the misconduct occurred; providing training and education materials for students and employees; changing and publicizing the school’s policies on sexual violence; and conducting climate surveys regarding sexual violence In instances affecting many students, an alleged perpetrator can be put on notice of allegations of harassing behavior and be counseled appropriately without revealing, even indirectly, the identity of the student complainant. A school must also take immediate action as necessary to protect the student while keeping the identity of the student confidential. These actions may include providing support services to the student and changing living arrangements or course schedules, assignments, or tests.
The Federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, make it unlawful to retaliate against an individual for the purpose of interfering with any right or privilege secured by these laws. This means that if an individual brings concerns about possible civil rights problems to a school’s attention, including publicly opposing sexual violence or filing a sexual violence complaint with the school or any State or Federal agency, it is unlawful for the school to retaliate against that individual for doing so. It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual because he or she testified, or participated in any manner in an OCR or school’s investigation or proceeding. Therefore, if a student, parent, teacher, coach, or other individual complains formally or informally about sexual violence or participates in an OCR or school’s investigation or proceedings related to sexual violence, the school is prohibited from retaliating (including intimidating, threatening, coercing, or in any way discriminating against the individual) because of the individual’s complaint or participation. A school should take steps to prevent retaliation against a student who filed a complaint either on his or her own behalf or on behalf of another student, or against those who provided information as witnesses. Schools should be aware that complaints of sexual violence maybe followed by retaliation against the complainant or witnesses by the alleged perpetrator or his or her associates. When a school knows or reasonably should know of possible retaliation by other students or third parties, it must take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred. Title IX requires the school to protect the complainant and witnesses and ensure their safety as necessary. At a minimum, this includes the complainant and his or her parents. If the complainant is in elementary or secondary school, and witnesses know how to report retaliation by school officials, other students, or third parties by making follow-up inquiries to see if there have been any new incidents or acts of retaliation, and by responding promptly and appropriately to address continuing or new problems. A school should also tell complainants and witnesses that Title IX prohibits retaliation, and that school officials will not only take steps to prevent retaliation, but will also take strong responsive action if it occurs.