Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination of any kind under education programs or activities that are receiving Federal financial assistance. This civil right bans sex-based discrimination, which includes sexual harassment and sexual violence. As Title IX is a federal civil right, it automatically protects any individual who reports sexual harassment or sexual violence against retaliation from other students, school administrators, or faculty.
When a student has experienced any of these situations and reports them to the school, the school must stop the discrimination, prevent it from happening again, and address the effects it has caused. Under Title IX, all colleges, universities, and school districts are required to provide the victim with a prompt and unbiased investigation. While most institutions produce adequate and impartial investigations, sometimes they violate Title IX. There are several mistakes that Title IX investigators commonly make when performing investigations. These are:
- Failing to use trauma-informed questioning
- Only gathering part of the evidence
- Wrongly interpreting the evidence
- Failing to articulate the full analysis
1. Failing to use trauma-informed questioning
One of the first mistakes that Title IX investigators make is that they are not trauma-informed during interviews with the reporting individual. What this means is that the investigator is not aware of how trauma can impact the interviewee and how this might affect the nature of the investigation.
A trauma-informed response includes:
- Understanding the impact of the trauma on an emotional, physical, and neurobiological level
- Promoting an attitude of safety and support
- Knowing the proper ways to respond to avoid retraumatization
- Providing choices that allow empowerment
It is vital that Title IX investigators receive the proper training on how trauma can affect an individual and be able to respond accordingly.
2. Only gathering part of the evidence
Many investigators have a tendency to let witnesses or parties only partially answer questions due to discomfort about a difficult subject, not wanting to feel confrontational, or focusing on their next question before the individual finishes. Also, sometimes Title IX investigators don’t view some facts as essential or it doesn’t occur to them to ask certain questions during the interview. This is why it is vital to review notes after interviews take place to ensure the gaps are accounted for and can be clarified in a following interview.
3. Wrongly interpreting the evidence
Although Title IX investigators are professionals, they are also humans. Sometimes, they have a tendency to jump to a conclusion too quickly or allow their biases or assumptions to inaccurately skew the investigation. A lot of times this happens due to the investigator’s first impression bias, which is when they make a conclusion based on an early hunch or the initial evidence that is presented. Even if this only happens subconsciously, it is vital that investigators are aware of this potential.
4. Failing to articulate the full analysis
This mistake often goes along with wrongly interpreting evidence as investigators sometimes fail to fully analyze all of the facts based on feelings or experience rather than the evidence. Fortunately, most cases can no longer simply state the conclusion, but they must articulate the finding as well as the information in which that finding was based. This helps eliminate the potential for inaccurate or negligent process.
Title IX investigators have an important job that is full of challenges and difficulties. While there are mistakes that can be made, the first step to fixing them is to be aware of poor practices and evaluate how to improve. Victims of these cases deserve to have a fair and impartial investigation, and by having the proper training, that is exactly what investigators can give to them.