Confidentiality in Sexual Misconduct Cases: Policy, Examples and Advice for Witnesses

1. During the process of investigation and adjudication: All parties are bound by confidentiality completely during the process of investigation and adjudication. This requirement is crucial to protect the integrity of the process. This means that all parties involved in the process (complainant, respondent, witnesses and advisors) are forbidden to discuss the case or to share written materials related to the case with anyone. The only exceptions to this confidentiality requirement are as follows:

a) Students may discuss their experiences, including experiences regarding the case, with the staff support people at Sexual Assault Survivor Services, Health Services (including medical and psychological practitioners) or the Chaplain’s office – these individuals are confidential resources.
b) Participants may discuss their experiences regarding the case with confidential health, mental health, and chaplaincy professionals off campus.
c) Students may discuss the case with their parents.

If students believe there are others with whom it is important to speak, they should inform the Title IX deputy for students (Dean Sandstrom), who will endeavor to enable them to access support while maintaining the confidentiality that is promised to all parties.

Violations of confidentiality represent additional violations of the code of conduct, and will cause a new conduct process to be initiated. Violations of confidentiality may also constitute retaliation.

Retaliation is harmful action taken against someone who has filed a complaint, provided testimony, or in some other way participated in a disciplinary investigation or process. It could also include actions taken against someone who has intervened as a bystander to stop or attempt to stop harassment, discrimination, or misconduct. It can include intimidating, threatening, coercing, or discriminating against an individual because of their participation in a disciplinary process, or because they opposed behavior that was in violation of our Code of Conduct.
If the actions directed at that individual would deter a reasonable person in the same circumstances from reporting misconduct, participating in a disciplinary process, or opposing behavior in violation of our Code of Conduct, it is deemed retaliatory.
Any retaliation will cause a new and separate disciplinary process to be initiated.

2. After the case concludes completely (including any appeals of the disciplinary decision of the college), the rules of confidentiality change somewhat. In particular:
a) The materials and information learned in the disciplinary process itself are confidential. No participant in the case may share any written materials of the case – including but not limited to the no contact order, investigator’s report, finding and sanctioning letters, emails from the Title IX deputy or advisor – with others. The only exceptions to this rule are the students’ parents and mental health counselors.
b) Each student’s experience is their own, and they may discuss it with others if they wish to do so, with certain limitations. Witnesses may share that they were a witness in a sexual misconduct case and how they felt about it. A witness could say “I was a witness in a case about a violation of college policy with regards to sexual misconduct” or “I felt that the allegations were false.” They could not, though, name the complainant or respondent. Nor could they name the other witnesses who were called, or discuss in any way information that they learned through the process of the adjudication. The only exceptions to this rule would be if they wished to discuss their situation, in confidence, with an attorney, with their parents, or with counselors, religious professionals or therapists.

Advice: We strongly recommend that all students involved be very thoughtful and cautious about with whom and how they discuss the issue at all. There are several things to keep in mind. First, if a witness discusses the matter with friends even without naming the complainant or other information they learned through the investigation, the friends may still surmise who the complainant is, and they might act in a way that is either retaliatory or that causes the matter to become much more public. It turns out that we all have far less control of what others do with information than we might like, and in a small community that can get very difficult very quickly. That’s bad for the witness in two ways: first, if retaliation is linked back to the witness, it’s a serious disciplinary concern. And second, once rumors start spreading on a campus of this size, they go everywhere essentially instantly, and can lead quickly to mutual back-and-forths of public accusation which are terrible for all involved and are almost impossible to rein in. If you do decide to discuss your experience with friends, you will want to be very specific about what you do and don’t want them to do with the information you’ve shared. Any dean or the Title IX deputy for students (Dean Sandstrom) can assist you with those conversations and talk with your friends if you would like.