Examining Support for University‐to‐Police Reporting Policies for Sexual Assault: The Role of Survivors’ Consent

When Diversity is Not Enough: An Intersectional Examination of How Juvenile Legal System Actors of Color Experience the System’s Welfare Mandate for Girls of Color

Descriptive Findings

The vast majority of participants in the general policy condition (90.6% n = 348) agreed that “Colleges and Universities should be required to report all sexual assaults to the police.” However, only 46.2% (n = 153) of participants assigned to the compelled disclosure policy condition agreed with this approach (i.e., reporting regardless of victim consent). Of participants assigned to the consented disclosure condition, 61.4% (n = 202) agreed with this policy (i.e., reporting only if the victim consents). As expected, there was substantially more variability in people’s support for reporting policies when they were given information about the victim’s consent. Thus, the remaining quantitative analyses focus on participants in the compelled and consented disclosure conditions to test predictors of support for these two approaches. Descriptively speaking, 43.8% (n = 284) of those participants had experienced some form of sexual assault in their lifetime. Women were more likely to have experienced sexual assault than men (74.6% of survivors were women, n = 212), χ2(1, N = 648) = 32.59, p < .001. Additional descriptive statistics and bivariate relationships among study variables are presented in Table 1.

Table 1.
Descriptive statistics and correlations for study variables
Variables % or Mean (SD) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1. Sample c 52.0% Sbj pool
2. Age c 28.30 (11.23) −.73***
3. Education c 3.55 (1.40) −.60*** .48***
4. Ciswomen c 61.2% Women .39*** −.24*** −.24***
5. TGD c 1.6% TGD .01 −.04 −.03 −.16***
6. Sexuality c 11.4% Sex min −.03 −.08† .05 −.01 .12***
7. Race/Ethnicity c 25.4% R/E min −.01 −.07† −.04 −.08* −.02 .08†
8. Survivor Status 43.8% Survivor −.04 .02 .07† .22*** .00 .12*** −.05
9. Trust in Police 3.54 (0.73) .01 .02 −.00 −.15*** .02 −.19*** .01 −.22***
Consented Disclosure 61.4% Agree .13* −.14* −.07 .03 .06 .09 −.08 .12* −.14**
Compelled Disclosure 46.2% Agree −.16** .13* .09† −.22*** .08 −.10† −.12* −.13* .29***

Note

  • Note.Consented disclosure (n = 329) coded 1 = agree, 0 = disagree. Compelled disclosure (n = 331) coded 1 = agree, 0 = disagree. SD = standard deviation. c = control variable. Sample coded 1 = MTurk, 2 = subject pool (Sbj Pool). Ciswoman coded 1 = cisgender women, 0 = cisgender men. TGD coded 1 = transgender/gender diverse (TGD), 0 = cisgender men. Sexuality coded 1 = sexual minority (Sex Min), 0 = heterosexual. Race/ethnicity coded 1 = racial/ethnic minority (R/E Min), 0 = White. Survivor status coded 1 = survivor, 0 = non-victim.


  • p < .10. *p < .05. **p < .01. ***< .001.

Quantitative Findings

The full model was significant, χ² (12, N = 603) = 51.76, < .001, which indicates that the model was able to differentiate between those who agreed and disagreed with the policy presented to them. The amount of variance explained ranged from 8.2% (Cox and Snell R-square) to 11.0% (Nagelkerke R-square). Model results are presented in Table 2. Policy condition was a significant predictor of agreement, with participants in the compelled disclosure condition less likely to agree with the policy compared with participants in the consented disclosure condition (b = −4.11, p < .001). Moreover, there were significant interactions between policy condition and trust in the police (b = 1.10, p < .001) and between policy condition and prior experience of sexual victimization (b = −0.74, p = .035), which indicated multiple moderation. In PROCESS, interactions are probed via conditional effects of the independent variables at values of the moderators. The conditional effects are listed in Table 3 and depicted visually in Fig. 1. The probability of agreement was significantly lower in the compelled disclosure condition for non-victims with less trust in the police and significantly higher for non-victims with more trust in the police. Moreover, the probability of agreement was significantly lower in the compelled disclosure condition for survivors with less trust in the police, but the probability of agreement did not increase for survivors with more trust in the police. Together, these findings suggest that non-victims with greater trust in police response to sexual assault reports are more supportive of compelled disclosure, while survivors (especially those who mistrust police) and non-victims who lack trust in the police are more supportive of consented disclosure. Further evidence of survivors’ lack of support for policy approaches that limit that survivor autonomy was evidenced by the descriptive finding that survivors comprised only 37.9% of those who agreed with compelled disclosure and 35.4% of those who disagreed with consented disclosure.

Table 2.
Logistic regressions predicting agreement with mandatory reporting
Predictor b se p 95% CI
Policy Condition −4.11 .94 <.001 [−5.95, −2.26]
Trust in Police −0.38 .17 .029 [−0.72, −0.04]
Condition x Trust 1.10 .25 <.001 [0.61, 1.59]
Survivor Status 0.58 .25 .023 [0.08, 1.07]
Condition x Survivor −0.74 .35 .035 [−1.43, −0.05]
Sample c −0.08 .29 .792 [−0.65, 0.50]
Age c −0.01 .01 .566 [−0.03, 0.02]
Education c −0.03 .08 .691 [−0.18, 0.12]
Ciswomen c −0.33 .20 .100 [−0.73, 0.06]
TGD c 0.39 .85 .641 [−1.26, 2.05]
Sexuality c −0.15 .29 .610 [−0.71, 0.42]
Race/Ethnicity c −0.07 .20 .716 [−0.47, 0.32]

Note

  • Note.Agree = 1, disagree = 0. Policy condition coded 1 = compelled disclosure, 0 = consented disclosure. Survivor status coded 1 = survivor, 0 = non-victim. c = control variable. Sample coded 2 = subject pool, 1 = MTurk. Ciswomen coded 1 = cisgender women, 0 = cisgender men. TGD coded 1 = transgender/gender diverse (TGD), 0 = cisgender men. Sexuality coded sexual minority = 1, heterosexual = 0. Race/ethnicity coded racial/ethnic minority = 1, White = 0.

Table 3.
Conditional effects of policy condition at values of moderators
Trust in police Survivor Effect SE p 95% CI
−1 SD (2.79) 0 −1.05 .31 .001 [−1.66, −0.43]
−1 SD (2.79) 1 −1.79 .31 <.001 [−2.40, −1.18]
M (3.52) 0 −0.24 .23 .290 [−0.69, 0.21]
M (3.52) 1 −0.99 .27 <.001 [−1.51, −0.46]
+1SD (4.26) 0 0.56 .27 .036 [0.04, 1.09]
+1SD (4.26) 1 −0.18 .34 .594 [−0.84, 0.48]

Interactions between policy condition, trust in police, and survivor status predicting probability of policy agreement. Note. = mean. −1SD = one standard deviation below the mean. +1 = one standard deviation above the mean

Qualitative Findings

Our qualitative analysis examined participants’ explanations of their agreement or disagreement with the policy statement they were randomly assigned to read. The four overarching themes are discussed in detail below and are summarized in Table 4. Additionally, Table 4 contains the occurrence of these themes across the three policy conditions.

Table 4.
Summary of qualitative themes and occurrence of themes across policy condition
Theme Definition Example General Compelled Disclosure Consented Disclosure
%(n) of those who agreed %(n) of those who disagreed %(n) of those who agreed %(n) of those who disagreed %(n) of those who agreed %(n) of those who disagreed
Crime The participant focuses their rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy on the criminal nature of sexual assault. “A crime is against the law whether the victim wants to report it or not…It’s pretty black and white.” 68.4% (238) 0% (0) 47.1% (72) 0% (0) 9.4% (19) 53.5% (68)
Greater Good The participant focuses their rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy on the potential benefit or detriment to the community or society as a whole. “I disagree because not reporting a potential sexual assault leaves the possibility of there being other victims from the same assailant.” 23.6% (82) 0% (0) 42.5% (65) 5.0% (9) 8.9% (18) 32.3% (41)
Victim The participant focuses their rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy on whether the policy would serve the best interest of the victim. “It could potentially be more harmful to the victim to take control away from them and force them to report.” 13.5% (14) 91.7% (33) 36.6% (56) 92.7% (165) 82.7% (167) 24.4% (31)
Institution The participant focuses their rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy on the institution of higher education. “Without it being reported colleges and universities will cover up that statistic in order to keep that tuition money coming in.” 14.9% (52) 0% (0) 3.9% (6) 0% (0) 0% (0) 0% (0)

The Crime

In total, 397 participants focused on the crime in their rationale for agreeing or disagreeing with the policy they were assigned. Most of the participants who expressed this theme were those who agreed with the general policy (n = 238, which was 68.4% of those who agreed with the general policy statement), followed by those who agreed with compelled disclosure (n = 72, 47.1% of those who agreed with the compelled disclosure statement) and disagreed with consented disclosure (n = 68, 53.5% of those who disagreed with the consented disclosure statement; see Table 4). In this theme, most participants simply stated that a crime had occurred, and crimes must be reported to the police. For example: “Sexual assault is a crime. Therefore, it should be reported to the authorities” (ID 72, Woman, Straight, Asian, Non-victim, agreed with general policy), and “Because sexual assault is a crime and the police need to know about it” (ID 2, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure). Some participants also expressed that the crime was more important than the victim’s wishes. For example, participants stated, “A crime is a crime, if the victim doesn’t want to report a crime, a crime still happened” (ID 404, Woman, Straight, Asian, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure), and “A crime is against the law whether the victim wants to report it or not…It’s pretty black and white” (ID 388, Woman, Straight, Black, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure), and “Victims might be scared to report, but that doesn’t mean the school don’t have the obligation to report a crime” (ID 151, Man, Straight, Asian, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). For these respondents, they expressed that all sexual assaults must be reported because of the criminal nature of the act.

Relatedly, participants who focused on the crime often discussed how the policy would result in perpetrators being held accountable for their crimes. For example, “This is a felony…and the person who is assaulting should go to jail” (ID 101, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy), and “That way action is taken against the perpetrators” (ID 333, Man, Straight, Black, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). In this theme, participants expressed the belief that reporting would result in appropriate consequences for the perpetrator. Additionally, some participants believed that perpetrators being punished for their crimes are more important than survivors’ wants and needs. For example, one participant stated, “Sexual assault is a very serious matter. I know the victim is scared and embarrassed but that does not mean that the assaulter should get away with his or her actions” (ID 675, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure); another said, “I think these incidents should be reported in any case, because the perpetrator can be punished accordingly. In some cases, the victim tries to protect their attacker by not reporting them to the police” (ID 943, Man, Straight, Black, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). For these participants, the criminal nature of sexual assault necessitated reporting to the police regardless of survivor consent. Crime-focused participants also believed that such a policy would result in just punishments.

The few people who expressed this theme in response to their agreement with consented disclosure conveyed that, while victim consent may be necessary, reporting crime was also imperative. For example, “I think it is important to bring matters as important as this to the police (if the victim wants to)” (ID 771 Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with consented disclosure). These respondents considered the victim’s consent as essential but primarily agreed with the policy due to the perceived importance of reporting sexual assaults.

The Greater Good

The second theme we identified was a focus on the greater good, which included the belief that the policy would benefit society. In total, 215 participants provided a rationale for their agreement/disagreement that focused on the greater good. This theme was most common among participants who agreed with the general policy (n = 82, which was 23.6% of those who agreed with the general policy statement), followed by those who agreed with compelled disclosure (n = 65, 42.5% of those who agreed with the compelled disclosure statement) and those who disagreed with consented disclosure (n = 41, 32.3% of those who disagreed with the consented disclosure statement; see Table 4). Within this theme, there were three primary ways that participants believed policies that require reporting to the police would benefit society.

First, some believed mandatory reporting would help to prevent future assaults, for example, “Reporting any and all sexual assaults to the police would hopefully prevent any future assault” (ID 102, Woman, Straight, Latinx, Survivor, agreed with general policy). Similarly, some participants expressed that reporting against a survivor’s wishes is justifiable if it can prevent future assaults. For example, “I agree with this policy because not reporting a sexual assault gives the suspect/suspects more opportunities to commit the crime again” (ID 212, Man, Straight, Black, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure), and “I disagree because not reporting a potential sexual assault leaves the possibility of there being other victims from the same assailant” (ID 322, Man, Straight, Black, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). For these participants, preventing perpetrators from assaulting others mattered more than one survivor’s wishes about (not) reporting.

Second, there were participants who believed mandated reporting to the police would increase safety for students and communities. For example, “This is imperative for students to feel safe while on campus at their school” (ID 112, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy), and “[Universities] should undertake the responsibility of reporting the incident to the police to protect the rest of the student population” (ID 492, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with compelled disclosure). For these respondents, support for reporting (even against a victim’s will) was based on the assumption that the risk of sexual assault in the community could be mitigated through police reports. Consequently, they believed that the safety of many should be considered before the needs of one victim.

Third, some believed the policy would improve awareness and accuracy of sexual assault statistics. For example, one participant believed reporting to the police would help “to keep track of the amount of sexual assault occurrences on campus” (ID 345, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). Other participants stated, “Although privacy is important, this would help improve accuracy of statistics and possibly allow for better outcomes in the future” (ID 599, Woman, Straight, White, Survivor, agreed with compelled disclosure), and “It’s hiding the problem under the rug and creating misleading statistics on which policies might be based upon” (ID 164, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). For these respondents, improving the accuracy of crime statistics—which would lead to positive social outcomes—was more important than individual survivor’s needs.

Within this theme, the few participants who disagreed with compelled disclosure and agreed with consented disclosure (see Table 4 for ns) believed that real social benefits would come from a reporting policy that considered the victim’s consent. For example, some participants disagreed with compelled disclosure because it would exacerbate the problem of underreporting. As one participant stated, “If the University has to report, it can make victims stay quiet and choose not to say anything. For this reason, I think it’s better for the victim to…not fear that the University will say something without them consenting.” (ID 1034, Woman, Straight, Latinx, Survivor, agreed with consented disclosure). Participants were also concerned that this underreporting would suppress sexual assault statistics, such as “If someone is assaulted and doesn’t wish to have it reported to the police, they will not inform the university that the assault has happened. And any statistics about assault at that university will not be accurate” (ID 96, Woman, Straight, White, Survivor, disagreed with compelled disclosure). If the victim consented to the report, participants believed this would offer the greatest benefit to society.

The Victim

A total of 499 participants focused on the victim in their explanation. Their rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy focused on whether the policy would serve the best interest of the victim. This theme was most common among participants who agreed with the consented disclosure policy (n = 167, which was 82.7% of those who agreed with the consented disclosure statement), disagreed with the compelled disclosure policy (n = 165, 92.7% of those who disagreed with the compelled disclosure statement), and disagreed with the general policy (n = 33, 91.7% of those who disagreed with the general policy statement; see Table 4). Most of the participants who expressed this theme had serious concerns about reporting without survivors’ consent. For example, participants stated that survivors should always retain control over reporting decisions. Two examples include the following: “I think that reporting to authorities should be a decision for the survivor” (ID 866, TGD, Gay, White, Survivor, disagreed with the general policy), and “The victim should be the one to make the decision because the assault happened to him or her” (ID 123, Woman, Straight, White, Survivor, disagreed with compelled disclosure). Several participants stressed the importance of a victim retaining control because the assault already stripped them of control, for instance, “The survivor should choose what to do with their assault, whether that’s reporting it or not. There is no need to disregard what THEY want once again” (ID 909, Woman, Straight, Latinx, Non-victim, agreed with consented disclosure).

Participants also believed reporting against survivors’ wishes may harm their psychological well-being and physical safety. For example, some respondents expressed that survivors need to be psychologically ready to make a report, such as, “As a sexual assault victim, I would be horrified if someone chose to pursue a case that I was not emotionally ready for.” (ID 127, Woman, Straight, White, Survivor, disagreed with compelled disclosure). Additionally, participants believed that being forced to report could threaten survivors’ safety, for example, “I disagree with this policy because if the person were to be threatened by the individual that assaulted them, the university could put the victim in serious danger” (ID 528, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, disagreed with compelled disclosure). Other people noted that reporting sexual assault can cause significant backlash, such as, “Reporting sexual assault has a lot of really unpleasant baggage, and the victim may already know this and want to avoid being harassed, sent death threats, and have their lives torn apart” (ID 483, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with consented disclosure). These participants were concerned about the negative impact that being forced to report could have on survivors’ lives.

Relatedly, participants expressed concern about the problems with police response in explaining why they did not support reporting without victim consent, for instance: “[The victim] should not have to be forced to testify or retell the story one hundred more times (I know from personal experience)” (ID 636, Woman, Bisexual, White, Survivor, disagreed with compelled disclosure) and “Interacting with the police can be very bad for survivors” (ID 283, Woman, Bisexual, Biracial, Survivor, disagreed with compelled disclosure). Additionally, a few respondents noted that police intervention may not actually result in positive outcomes for survivors. For example, one participant stated: “In a system which almost never convicts most rapists and assaulters, it leaves the victim very vulnerable and [reporting] should always be their choice” (ID 339, Woman, Straight, White, Survivor, agreed with consented disclosure). For these participants, the low likelihood of a desirable outcome rendered police reports ineffective and, as such, the victim should be the one to decide if a report would be made.

While the majority of the victim-focused responses prioritized survivors’ needs over mandated reports, the few participants who agreed with the general policy, agreed with compelled disclosure, and disagreed with consented disclosure (see Table 4 for frequencies) believed that reporting was in survivors’ best interests. For instance, some participants believed reporting to the police would provide victims with justice, such as “So that the victim gets the justice they deserve” (ID 516, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). Other participants saw a police report as necessary for victim safety, such as “Sometimes the safety of the victim is more important than how the victim feels about reporting” (ID 1016, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). There were also respondents who thought that survivors who do not want to report are not thinking rationally, so the school should decide what is best for them. For instance, one participant stated, “I think that emotions and fear can play a large role in a victim’s willingness to report, and it is better to take that decision out of their hands. Once a report is filed, they can get the help they may need” (ID 218, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, disagreed with consented disclosure). These participants believed a survivor’s decision to not report is misguided, and, as a result, believed reporting was needed even if the victim does not consent.

The Institution of Higher Education

The final, and least frequent, theme was a focus on the institution of higher education. There were 58 participants whose rationale for supporting or not supporting the policy focused on the institution of higher education. This theme was only expressed among participants who agreed with the general policy and who agreed with the compelled disclosure policy (see Table 4). These participants primarily expressed the belief that universities are not equipped to handle sexual assault. For example, “[sexual assault] is a crime and the college is not set up to deal with crimes” (ID 67, Man, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). Similarly, some felt that sexual assault cases would be more appropriately handled by police, for instance, “Colleges are not equipped to investigate such crimes and should be left to police officers” (ID 179, Man, Straight, Latinx, Survivor, agreed with general policy). Finally, there were participants who believed that reporting to the police would prevent universities from mishandling sexual assault reports. For example, one participant asserted that “If a case isn’t reported to the police, the assaulter might be let off the hook because of their standing with university officials. This is less likely to happen if it is handled by the police department” (ID 563, Woman, Lesbian, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). Some participants believed reporting to the police would stop universities from sweeping sexual assaults under the rug: “I think too many times the schools try to brush things under the rug and act like it never happened” (ID 210, Woman, Straight, White, Non-victim, agreed with general policy). Within this theme, respondents were aware of institutions’ problematic responses to sexual assault and believed that reporting to the police (regardless of victim consent) would ameliorate this issue.

Source: Online Library, Wiley

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