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August 15, 2016

Lynn Mahaffie, Esq.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy, Planning, and Innovation

Office of Postsecondary Education

Department of Education Building

400 Maryland Ave, SW

Washington, DC 20202

Re: Campus Victim Advocates Serving as Campus Security Authorities

Dear Ms. Mahaffie:

The Campus Advocates and Prevention Professionals Association (CAPPA) is a professional association dedicated to providing a community of practice for campus-based and campus-serving advocates and prevention specialists who work to end all forms of interpersonal and gender-based violence, including dating and domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and stalking on campus. We are writing on behalf of our nearly 400 members due to concerns about new language in the Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (2016 Edition) related to campus victim advocates* serving as Campus Security Authorities (CSAs) and their obligation to report.

New language in the 2016 Handbook (page 4-3) instructs campuses to consider victim advocates as those who "generally meet the criteria" as Campus Security Authorities (CSAs). This change is a significant departure from the previous Clery handbook, which indicated that victim advocates were not CSAs unless the campus designated them as officials to whom victims should report crimes. For victim advocates who are designated as confidential resources, the change poses significant concern.

Further, victim advocates who are designated as confidential resources do not fall within any of the "four groups of individuals and organizations associated with an institution" as outlined in the Handbook (page 4-2). The fourth of these groups includes a wide variety of individuals, including, "An official of an institution who has significant responsibility for student and campus activities, including, but not limited to, student housing, student discipline and campus judicial proceedings." Victim advocates generally do not have responsibilities for housing, administering judicial proceedings, or student discipline. Ostensibly, a student's decision to seek care from a victim advocate after experiencing sexual assault or dating violence is not a "campus activity."

The language following this statement indicates that those who are identified as confidential should report non-identifying information in an effort to protect the confidentiality of the victim. Our members have indicated that this new language has been interpreted in widely different ways from institution to institution. Many campus victim advocates are concerned that the interpretation of this reporting requirement by colleges and universities could undermine confidentiality. There are critical context considerations that must be a part of the reporting equation. For example, while reports are designed to eliminate personally identifiable information, this does not consider the ecology of a campus. A date, time, and location might not identify a victim to the general public, but this information could easily identify that person to other students, particularly on smaller campuses or when the location is tied to a residence hall or student group location, such as a fraternity house.

CAPPA members have also voiced concerns that this language will cause their universities to take action based on information victim advocates would be required to share, including issuing timely warning notifications to the campus community and publishing information in the daily crime log. In most cases when a victim seeks a confidential advocate, the victim is seeking to explore options confidentially and has no intention of sharing such information with reporting authorities and much less the campus community. A requirement for advocates to serve as CSAs and provide any information about the victim would undermine the confidential space created by advocates. Victim advocacy programs provide a much-needed venue for members of the university community to learn about available options and rights and receive support without any actions beyond those they desire.

In addition, if these reports would be subject to open records requests or inquiries from the media, victims could see one of their last on-campus spaces for confidential, self-determined support eroded after the fact by seeing their story in media without their consent. It is not safer for victims nor the campus community to fear retaliation from their peer groups and perpetrator after an email is distributed to the entire campus community. These notifications often provide enough information to make reasonable assumptions about the identity of the victim. Given that Clery requires third-party information to be reported via CSAs, victim advocates could find themselves reporting information that not only the victim does not want shared but also information that a victim may not know is being shared about them. 

We request a revision to the aforementioned Clery guideline language, so that it explicitly states that campus victim advocates who are designated as confidential not be designated as CSAs. We recommend that the guidance instead ensures that victim advocates provide victims with the option to report their information in the Annual Security Report (ASR) and for review for timely warning, after the victim advocate is able to provide them with the benefits and limitations to confidentiality of those next steps. We ask as well that providing aggregate statistics be at the discretion of the victim advocate in accordance with professional licensure, state statute, and safety considerations for victims. We share your hope that incidents of campus interpersonal violence are counted, while balancing the need for these vital confidential spaces.

As campuses become more and more responsive to interpersonal violence, we do not want to lose track of the needs of those most directly affected by this violence and the importance that they have consistent access to confidential spaces. To do this, the professionals who serve these victims need clear expectations and guidelines that allow them to protect the confidentiality with which they are entrusted. We share your hope that campuses are not able to hide incidents of interpersonal violence, but we also know that many victims and loved ones of victims need confidential spaces. Research has shown us that these spaces increase the likelihood that victims and their loved ones will seek help and consider active participation in campus and legal processes.

We would love to engage in further conversation about this critical issue. You can reach us at


The Leadership Council of the Campus Advocates & Prevention Professionals Association (CAPPA):

Katie Vance & Marianne Frapwell, Co-Facilitators

Lee Helmken & Shannon Collins, Membership Co-Chairs

Connie Adams & Drew Rizzo, Networking Co- Chairs

LB Klein & Shana Ware, Professional Standards Co-Chairs

Wanda Swan & Kelly Wilt, Communications Co-Chairs

Meg Bossong & Casey Malsam, Training Co-Chairs

Jill Dunlap & Marina Wood, Research & Practice Co-Chairs

Ellen Hartman, Legislative Advocacy Chair

We are using the terms “victim” and “victim advocate” for consistency with terminology utilized in the Clery guidance, recognizing that many members of our field use the term “survivor,” “survivor advocate,” “victim/survivor advocate,” and other terminology. 

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