Rather, the student can give an anonymous account of what transpired on a website. And in the University of Minnesota’s system, the student is able to return to the website to add details or inquire about the status of the investigation — again, all anonymously.
But for many students, that investigation will never even begin. Criminal investigations with completely anonymous victims are understandably difficult to complete, so the law gives the university discretion over whether to launch an investigation in each case. The school is only legally obligated to look into the incident if a formal report, which isn’t anonymous, is filed.
“The idea was to … reduce some of the fear around reporting,” Yvonne Cournoyer of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, an organization that supports sexual assault prevention and response programs, told the Minnesota Star Tribune about the website. It allows victims to come forward when they’re not ready to be identified, she said.
Additionally, the law requires colleges to release annual statistics on the number of sexual assault complaints they investigate, and how many of the accused they discipline. This allows the public, as well as lawmakers, to get a glimpse at potential problems in the sexual assault adjudication process, which largely occurs behind closed doors.
This goes a step beyond the federal Clery Act, which requires colleges that receive federal funds (that is, almost every not-for-profit university) to disclose the number of reports of sexual assault they receive.
The law also mandates that colleges require their students to complete sexual assault training within 10 days of starting school. School officials who investigate the cases must also receive training on best practices, and must coordinate more closely with law enforcement. The content of each training is not specified in the law except that it should cover rules and laws concerning consent, “preventing and reducing the prevalence of sexual assault; procedures for reporting campus sexual assault; and campus resources on sexual assault, including organizations that support victims of sexual assault.”
These regulations aren’t revolutionary.
Several colleges in Minnesota, including the flagship state school the University of Minnesota, already have anonymous reporting websites. And Connecticut enacted a law requiring them in 2014, a year ahead of Minnesota.
Many schools already have some form of sexual assault training for students, whether online or on campus as part of orientation. Colorado and Illinois, among others, require students to receive sexual assault training. And states including New York and California require school administrators to be trained.
At present, there are two Minnesota colleges under federal investigation for violating Title IX: St. Cloud State University, a medium-size public school, and St. Olaf College, a small private university.
And at the University of Minnesota, reporting sexual assault appears infrequent. According to the school’s police department, two reports of sexual assault were filed each in 2014 and 2015, and none were filed in the first three months of 2016.