The Office of Institutional Equity at the University of Missouri has officially added journalists to the list of those who can protect the confidentiality of sexual assault survivors in the Title IX trial.
University officials have not considered journalists as commissioned reporters, said Andy Hayes, assistant vice chancellor and Title IX administrator for the Office of Institutional Equity. But that was never included in the exemptions included for Title IX reporting until last week.
Being a designated reporter means that a university employee must report knowledge of a potential Title IX violation. The university’s Title IX website now officially assures sexual assault survivors and other Title IX protected individuals that they can speak to journalists at campus outlets without being automatically reported. This leaves that decision up to the survivor.
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The UM System Title IX website now lists journalists as exceptions to mandatory reporting requirements, along with healthcare providers, consultants, lawyers and their associated staff. Hayes said journalists were briefed on the policy in 2020.
It’s necessary to write explicitly that journalists are exempt from the mandatory reporting policy, said Lindsie Rank, student press advisor at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.
“An unwritten policy that no one knows about is not very effective,” Rank said. “If [journalists] Read their staff handbook and it says all staff are duty reporters and here is a list of exceptions and journalists are not included how do they know they won’t get in trouble for writing about a Title IX situation and that not reported to the university administration?”
Rank said the policy overhaul will both allow journalists to do their jobs and give survivors control over their own stories. “It’s really a great move, both from a First Amendment standpoint and from a standpoint of respect for survivors’ right to free speech,” Rank added.
The MU Office of Institutional Equity will submit the revision to the Board of Trustees at a later date when other changes are made to the policy.
Experts want other universities to follow MU’s example.
“I’m thrilled this is how it’s supposed to work,” said Genelle Belmas, an associate professor who proposed the same change at the University of Kansas. “Because I don’t want victims or survivors to have no other option. To have their stories suppressed.”
For Rank, the decision in MU will serve as an example to get as many universities as possible to expressly state in their guidelines that journalists are not included as compulsory reporters.
“It will be great to use the University of Missouri as an example of a place that has made this really important step,” Rank said.