An evaluation of the effects of mandatory reporting on students’ likelihood of disclosing sexual violence

Sears, Mackenzie Alexis
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In the United States, employees of federally funded universities are mandated to report knowledge of any nonconsensual sexual experiences (NSEs) to their universities under Title IX. Few studies have assessed students’ opinions or likelihood of disclosing sexual violence to someone at their university under these policies and they returned mixed results. The NSE literature indicates that people with NSE histories are less likely to disclose sexual violence with mandatory reporting (MR) policies in place. Additionally, there are discrepancies in likelihood to disclose even without the presence of MR policy; people who do not identify their NSEs with sexual violence labels (e.g. rape) are less likely to disclose their experience than people who do use those labels. The current study aims to (1) evaluate students’ likelihood of reporting to someone at the university by introducing a manipulation of the presence of MR policies while (2) evaluating how NSE identification rather than NSE history impacts that likelihood. 184 undergraduate students at UT were randomized into two groups, one given language indicating the presence of MR policies and the other given language about confidential reporting. Each student was shown four gender-neutral vignettes, two describing penetrative assault and two non-penetrative assault with alternating professor and student perpetrators. After each vignette, the students were asked how likely they would be to tell a professor at the university about the event if they were the student in the vignette. Students also completed the Non-Consensual Sexual Experiences Inventory to assess NSE identification (NSEI; Kilimnik et al., 2018). Results from a mixed factor repeated-measures ANOVA indicated that there were significant differences in likelihood to disclose between the vignettes (p <0.01), but not between conditions or NSE identification groups (p= 0.44; p=0.71). Though there is concern in the field about the impact of MR policies based on previous NSE literature, these results indicate that MR policies do not decrease disclosure likelihood. Future research should further evaluate this relationship to determine replicability of these results