What Do We Mean By a Trauma-Informed Title IX Investigation?

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What does a trauma-informed Title IX investigation look like? How do you investigate cases of alleged sexual misconduct on your campus in ways that are sensitive to the fact that the student issuing the complaint may be experiencing trauma?

The following is an excerpt from the Academic Impressions recorded webcast “Conducting Trauma-Informed Investigations for Sexual Misconduct Cases,” which you can purchase here, presented by Cheryl Wayne, M.Ed., JD, Title IX Investigator, DePaul University. This webcast is free to our members.

Keys to a Trauma-Informed Investigation

Check your biases

“…When you do a trauma-informed investigation, you are looking first to check your biases. Now, if I could see all of you, I would ask, “How many people have biases?” And I am sure everyone in the room would raise their hand, because we all have them. What’s important is that we check the biases we have and make sure they don’t come into play when we are interviewing. It is natural to do that.

Avoid appearing impatient

“One of the things you will find when dealing with a complainant who has an experience of sexual misconduct is that they may not always get their story out as quickly as you would normally think. You don’t want to appear as impatient. You want to be very, very patient.”

Points to emphasize

“You want to have a safe place, you want to establish personal rapport, you want to discuss your institution’s available services for the complainant (and for the respondent), and you want to remain neutral on the facts of the case. For example, let’s suppose you have a complainant who is a student who says they were walking in the middle of the night, about 2:30 in the morning, coming from a party, and someone grabbed them and sexually assaulted them. Now, you do not want to be thinking in your mind, What were they doing out at 2:30 in the morning? That is not your role. Your role is to gather the facts as to what happened to that complainant and why that complainant is in your office.

“You want to have trust and transparency with both the complainant and the respondent; that helps move along the difficult conversations you need to have in a case of alleged sexual misconduct.

Steps to take

  1. Build rapport immediately.
  2. Provide information to the party about services available.
  3. Acknowledge the difficult situation.
  4. Provide as many options as possible–what the institution has to offer the complainant in terms of counseling, support, and resources.
  5. Explain the process.

“Explaining the process to the complainant is very important. They need to know what your role is (emphasize that you are to be impartial, a neutral fact finder), they need to know your institution’s policy for response to cases of alleged sexual misconduct or sexual violence. Explain how you will handle communication both during the interview and after. Will you correspond via email or by phone? How will you be following up? Will you have the complainant or the respondent coming in?

“I will give an example from my own experience: One complainant did not want to have follow-up via email about particular clarifying questions because it was difficult for them to read the questions I had for them: Did the other person touch you? Did they touch you in ways that made you uncomfortable? They did not want to have to read those questions in an email. I had to have them come in; they preferred to have that conversation verbally. Some students would prefer having the conversation via email. Some of the time–no, I would say all of the time–you need to be attentive to how both the complainant and the respondent feel.

“When either the complainant or the respondent is speaking, you want to listen very closely to them, not interrupt, and not appear to judge. Watch the nonverbal cues. Sit as straight up as you can while you’re listening and talking with them. They are watching you, even as you are watching them.”

For Cheryl Wayne’s full training on trauma-informed investigations, get the recorded webcast.

More Resources for Title IX Coordinators & Their Colleagues

At Academic Impressions, we provide a full suite of trainings and certification for Title IX coordinators and for their colleagues, including:

As well as these online trainings:

As well as these complimentary reads:

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