Not Alone

not-aloneThe White House Task Force “Not Alone” Report

The White House Task Force “Not Alone” Report

The guidance in about twenty words or less: There’s a lot of sexual assault occurring on the nation’s college campuses that is not being appropriately handled. Let us (the White House Task Force) provide even additional guidance (in the vein of the “Dear Colleague Letter”) on how the nation can deal with this crisis best.

More In depth Information: The White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault was established on January 22, 2014, with a mandate to strengthen federal enforcement efforts and provide schools with additional tools to help combat sexual

assault on their campuses.   

In April of 2014, the “Not Alone” report was  issued, and in that report, more guidance was developed that extended far beyond the  sort of specific regulatory guidance provided in the Dear Colleague Letter, which focused narrowly and primarily on  a school’s appropriate response to complaints of sexual and intimate violence.

In the executive summary of the Not Alone report, four core areas of focus were:

1. Identification of the problem;

2. Prevention of Sexual Assault on Campus;

3. Effective School Response to Sexual Assault

4. Increased Transparency and Improved Federal Enforcement

Identifying the Problem: Campus Climate Surveys

With regard to the identification of the problem, the very first recommendation is a campus climate survey. A climate survey examines both the amount of sexual assault occurring (prevalence or incidence) and perceptions of campus climate. Perceptions of campus climate are attitudes among students, faculty, staff, and/or administrators about the campus atmosphere regarding sexual assault.

Preventing Sexual Assault – and Engaging Men

With regard to preventative sexual assault, the “Not Alone” report has some real unique recommendations around prevention, one of which is getting men more deeply involved in the work of sexual assault prevention. This is a call to develop prevention programs that will change attitudes, behavior – and the culture, which, many sexual assault and intimate violence prevention advocates refer to as “rape culture.”

The term “rape culture” refers to the  idea that our society allows rape to occur, for the most part with impunity.  It’s a society where rape, is  more or less encouraged, through normalization of non-consent.  This normalization occurs through images and narrative presented in mainstream media, social media, pornography, as well as the kinds of ideas and values that become acceptable in the culture, as a result of the images and narratives.

The term “rape culture” is a highly controversial one; but whether any one particular individual agrees or disagrees with the idea of rape culture, is irrelevant. The fact that there are many in our society who do believe that such a culture exists, and who do refer to it being at issue, with regard to sexual assault and intimate violence, requires that the idea be examined and considered with regard to the management of complaints of sexual assault and intimate violence; and that certainly such ideas should be discussed with regard to the prevention of sexual assault and intimate violence

The “Not Alone” report actually calls for an examination of the attitudes and behaviors that we engage in as a culture, in order to determine what can be done to prevent sexual assault.

Effective Response

With regard to responding to sexual assault, the “Not Alone” report  has recommendations that reinforce and expand upon the guidance offered in the Dear Colleague Letter.  One of these recommendations is that students receive services and treatment that take into consideration the trauma of sexual assault; which can affect students differently than other types of trauma.

The “Not Alone” report recommends that students be permitted to speak confidentially with a faculty and/or staff member about the assault, if that is their preference.

The “Not Alone” report also recommends, (and I would agree that this is critical)  that schools adopt comprehensive sexual misconduct policies. To this end, the task force provides a tool kit, where schools can access a checklist for schools for use in drafting (or reevaluating) their sexual misconduct policies.

Additionally, appropriate training  for responding. The “Not Alone” report makes it clear, that not just anyone should be responding to individuals who are reporting sexual assault, but only individuals who have received trauma informed training, should be on the front line of response to these kinds of complaints.

The “Not Alone” report also strongly recommends that schools begin developing partnerships with community agencies that have more training and skills with regard to dealing with sexual and intimate violence; as well as partnerships with local law enforcement agencies that would be responsible for investigating a criminal allegation of sexual assault.

With regard to the crime of sexual assault, neither law enforcement’s or a community agencies involvement with the victim’s allegations absolves the school of taking the appropriate action on their end; however, for the sake of providing the best support for victims, schools are encouraged to develop partnerships so that all three organizations are working collaboratively on the issues.

Finally, the “Not Alone” report takes a critical look at the adjudication processes many schools use to deal with allegations of misconduct, including sexual assault and suggests that, with regard to sexual assault, other processes, such as the investigative model that has been used successfully in the civil rights realm for many years, might be the better model to deal with these.

Increasing Transparency and Improving Enforcement 

The “Not Alone” report also makes it clear that the federal government needs to be involved in ensuring that college campuses understand how to respond to sexual assault effectively, and to this end,  more resources will be provided from the  Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), in the form of additional guidance around  student’s rights, and a school’s obligations, under Title IX.

While the “Not Alone” Report insists that the “new guidance clarifies that Title IX protects all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, immigration status, or whether they have a disability. It also makes clear that students who report sexual violence have a right to expect their school to take steps to protect and support

them, including while a school investigation is pending.”

It’s an interesting statement given that there have been accusations of the Department of Educations Dear Colleagues guidances going to far to protect reporters of sexual assault (who are primarily, but not always women) while ignoring the rights of those who must respond to the reports of sexual assault (who are usually, but not always women.) Which will be discussed in greater detail below, under case law, but one such case, that received quite a bit of attention was Nungesser v. Columbia University. You know the case, here’s a hint, it involves a mattress. 

What does the “Not Alone” Report  require schools to do:  The Not Alone report requires that schools begin considering innovative ways to assess and change campus culture with regard to preventing and responding to sexual assault.


The White House. NOT ALONE – The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault (n.d.): n. pag. notalone. The White House, Apr. 2014. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.