state capitol

The Louisiana State Capitol stands tall on North Third Street on March 19, 2017, in downtown Baton Rouge.

Title IX reporting rates have increased considerably following an overhaul of the university’s Title IX office, notable especially because there are fewer enrolled students during the summer, interim Vice President of the office of Title IX and Civil Rights Jane Cassidy said.

Multiple factors are behind the increase in reports: the 18 recommendations in the Husch Blackwell report, the list of 47 action items sponsored by Cassidy at a Board of Supervisors meeting, and most recently, the legislature.

Three sexual assault-related bills passed through the House and Senate during the first session of 2021, the most notable of which is HB 409, now Act No. 472 after being signed off by Gov. John Bel Edwards. The House Bill zeroed in on LSU’s numerous violations of Title IX law and established strict guidelines that were lacking in previous legislation.

Cassidy said the university has been supportive of the bill since it was in the early stages of development.

"We were very supportive of [this bill] all the way through," Cassidy said. "Pretty much everything in there we were either already doing, or were doing it at a lower level but needed to up our game a little. I would say what this is going to do is make our process better."

Rep. Aimee Freeman, one of the 55 sponsors of the bill, told The Reveille that the bill was drafted after meetings with the Senate Select Committee on Women & Children revealed the dismissive treatment many survivors faced from LSU's Title IX office.

Freeman and other elected officials visited LSU’s campus and held meetings with student leaders to learn more about how the Title IX process could better accommodate survivors.

The first portion of HB 409 alters the language used to reference forms of sex and gender-based crimes by switching the legal term to "power-based violence."

"'Power-based violence' means any form of interpersonal violence intended to control or intimidate another person through the assertion of power over the person," the bill reads.

The term encompasses the following crimes: domestic violence, family violence, dating violence, sexual assault, rape, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, stalking and forms of voyeurism.

"The forms of violence included under this term are considered “power-based” because they are typically committed and experienced where there is an interpersonal and/or institutional imbalance of power, meaning where there is unequal access to power," President and CEO of STAR Racheal Hebert explained. "By transitioning to use this more inclusive and descriptive term, it allows for greater understanding of the types of violence, as well as the causes of violence, that we see in Title IX cases."

In terms of reporting, HB 409 establishes non-negotiable standards for when employees must report instances of abuse: always.

"Whether it's faculty or staff, if you know sexual assault has happened, you have to report it," Cassidy said.

The only exception is for confidential advisors, which HB 409 also addresses. Confidential advisors are employees who are exempt from reporting requirements. This designation exists to provide a safe space for students to seek help if they wish to avoid the reporting process.

Previously, an unspecified but large number of employees claimed “confidential advisor” status as a means to evade reporting and scapegoat any potential punishments. Now, only a select few individuals will be designated as confidential advisors -- roughly one in every department, so 12 to 15 advisors. The individuals will be clearly listed and publicized on LSU’s new Title IX website.

Additionally, all confidential advisors will undergo extensive training on how to properly assist survivors, and they will be fully briefed on the resources they can offer, such as STAR, Lighthouse, the Women’s Center, the Student Health Center and the Title IX office.

Cassidy stressed that along with HB 409’s guidelines, the office’s procedures now establish that whenever a complaint is brought to the university’s attention, the first step is always ensuring the survivor’s safety and addressing any of their needs.

"The power should lie with the person who's making the report,” Cassidy said, noting that LSU previously did not live up to that standard. “The survivor’s in the driver’s seat.”

If a faculty or staff member reports a power-based crime, the Title IX office will reach out to the victim to check on them — ask if they need any services, if they are doing well in their classes, if they ever interact with the alleged perpetrator or if they want an investigation to take place either through the Title IX office or LSUPD.

HB 409 added another safeguard to Title IX policy by granting civil and criminal immunity to anyone who reports a power-based crime.

"A person acting in good faith who reports or assists in the investigation of a report of an incident of power-based violence, or who testifies or otherwise participates in a disciplinary process or judicial proceeding arising from a report of such an incident: Shall be immune from civil liability and from criminal liability that might otherwise be incurred or imposed as a result of those actions,” the bill reads.

This is especially important for college campuses, as sexual assaults often occur in situations where alcohol is present or being consumed by individuals under 21. With HB 409’s new provisions, anyone who reports that they were personally victimized or witnessed power-based violence while drinking or around alcohol cannot be held liable for that misdemeanor.

Cassidy mentioned several reports for incidents that occurred in the spring 2021 semester came in recently, and she hoped it was because survivors who were previously scared to approach the Title IX office now felt safe to do so.

HB 409 mandated that universities formally establish cooperative agreements, called memorandums of understanding, with local law enforcement agencies in order to track potentially dangerous members of the community. LSU has officially signed an MOU with LSUPD, and a broader agreement with BRPD, the District Attorney's office, the Sheriff’s office, BRCC, Southern University, and all the other major players in the Baton Rouge area. It has not been signed yet, “but it’s very close,” Cassidy said. “I think they’re on their final draft.”

“The silver lining for us being in all this trouble is that President Galligan committed to shoring up this office so that we could do this right,” Cassidy said. “President Tate is 100% committed to doing this right.”

“It’s unfortunate that the legislature had to kick our butt, but I think it was good that they did.”

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