Vanderbilt University has taken another step in fostering a culture that encourages reporting incidents of sexual assault on campus. Beginning in the fall of 2016, the Project Safe Center for Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response will become a limited confidential resource for students.
The change will allow students who seek support and services from one of Project Safe’s victim advocates to do so with limited confidentiality, meaning that only statistical, but not identifying, information about what they report will be shared with Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action and Disability Services. EAD is the university office charged with investigating sexual misconduct. The change will be reflected in the university’s sexual misconduct policy in the fall.
“Our primary goal is ending sexual assault on our campus, and we know encouraging victims to come forward is critical in our fight to do so,” said Susan Wente, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Vanderbilt. “When sexual assault does occur, we want anyone who has been a victim to seek help and to benefit from the support and expertise offered at Project Safe.”
Feedback from student leaders and students who participated in the university’s inaugural Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault in spring 2015 played a significant role in the university’s decision.
“This guidance is based on information that suggests more victims will come forward if a victim’s advocacy center, like Project Safe, serves as a confidential resource. While confidential resources do exist currently on campus through the Psychological and Counseling Center and clergy acting in that capacity, Project Safe has specific resources related to sexual assault that these entities do not,” Wente said. “[rquote]With confidentiality as an option, we hope victims may be more likely to explore opportunities for support and to learn about the disciplinary process so that they can move forward with an investigation if they so choose.”[/rquote]
Under current university policy, Project Safe is required to report to EAD information it receives about sexual assaults, including the name of the victim and the accused if they are known. Some students and others in the Vanderbilt community have raised concerns that individuals may not seek support from Project Safe because of the requirement that the information they are reporting be automatically shared with EAD.
Under the updated sexual misconduct policy to take effect at the start of the 2016-17 academic year, Project Safe will share only general information about the nature, date, time and general location of an incident with EAD. This information will be shared to assist EAD in tracking patterns, evaluating the scope of the problem, and formulating appropriate responses.
“In addition to providing critical support for victims, we want to know about these incidents so that we can better understand the extent of the problem on our campus,” Wente said. “It is our hope that Project Safe’s becoming a more confidential space will encourage students to seek help and report what has occurred.”
There will be some limitations to confidentiality in order to allow, for example, for statistical reporting of sexual assaults under the federal Clery Act and addressing immediate threats to the safety of campus and students, among others. The details of the limitations on confidentiality will be determined by university stakeholders and will include input from interested students. Project Safe advocates will discuss these exceptions in detail as needed with those considering using their services.
Victims who wish to file a formal complaint or pursue a law enforcement investigation are still encouraged to contact EAD, Vanderbilt University Police Department or Metro Nashville Police directly. The Project Safe Center advocates also can assist victims with contacting university and police resources.
The number of incidents reported through Project Safe will continue to be included in the university’s crime statistics reported to the U.S. Department of Education and in Vanderbilt’s annual security report in compliance with the Clery Act.