The Problem: Sexual Assault while Studying Abroad
Sexual violence is not only a problem within the boundaries of the United States. Many students experience sexual assault or harassment while studying abroad for a summer, semester, or year. These victims are frequently left feeling confused when it comes to reporting an incident to their home institution, the international university, or local police.
While both U.S. and international university study abroad offices prepare for such incidents, the policies, protocols, and resources vary greatly between each country and foreign university, making it difficult for U.S. colleges to prepare detailed response protocols. International institutions that partner with U.S. colleges are not required to adhere to U.S. federal Title IX guidelines and therefore frequently lack clear or comprehensive sexual misconduct policies and protocols.
Title IX Solutions, LLC works with both domestic and international universities to bridge these gaps in sexual violence response for students studying abroad.
Schedule a meeting with our Program Director to learn more about how we can work together to address sexual assault while students study abroad. We offer services to both U.S. colleges and international universities.
Increased Risk of Sexual Assault
What Research Tells Us
The number of U.S. students studying abroad for a summer, semester, year, or even short-term programs has steadily increased over the last decade. The most recent statistics from the Institution of International Education (IIE) indicate over 330,000 students studied abroad in the 2016-2017 academic year. Since 2013, over 65% of students studying abroad have been women.
While approximately one in four undergraduate women in the U.S. experiences sexual assault, academic studies have shown that rates of sexual harassment and assault are greater than or equal to domestic rates of sexual assault during study abroad programs for U.S. exchange students.
Underreporting and lack of academic research prevent us from knowing the exact percentage of sexual harassment and assault among U.S. exchange students each year, but one study indicates that the risk of sexual harassment or assault is 3 to 5 times higher while abroad.
Lack of Familiarity with the Local Culture
Lack of strong social networks of friends or family
Legal access to alcohol
seen as vulnerable to predators
Many of these factors resemble the risks new college students face during the first six-weeks to two-months campus.
Challenges in Reporting Sexual Assault while Abroad
Articles from HuffPost, Inside Higher Ed, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s The Daily Tarheel have highlighted the drastic underreporting of sexual assault during study abroad programs. These sources suggest that frequently U.S. students who experience sexual harassment or assault while abroad often are left confused and isolated after an incident for a variety of reasons. For example, students may not understand:
who to contact if an incident occurs
national law & legal processes in the host country
how to communicate with local police due to language and cultural barriers
Their rights and available resources at the host country or university
what will happen when they return to the u.s., especially if the respondent if from a u.s. college
which supportive measures will be available abroad and in the u.s.
At Title IX Solutions, LLC we take a comprehensive approach to address the risk of sexual assault for U.S. students while studying abroad by working with both U.S. and international universities.
We aim to help U.S. institutions understand the gaps in international universities’ sexual misconduct policies while designing a clear response protocol for study abroad officers at U.S. universities. We also consult with international universities to help them strengthen sexual misconduct policies to more closely align with Title IX while still adhering to national law. We offer international investigations for both domestic and non-U.S. colleges.
Title IX Solutions, LLC staff and Universidad San Francisco de Quito-USFQ campus authorities after a First Responders and campus-based investigators training program in Quito, Ecuador
Our Services Include:
For U.S. Colleges & Universities
REVIEW sexual misconduct policy and protocols for international partner institutions to identify gaps in current policies which create confusion for victims of sexual assault.
Title IX Solutions, LLC can review policies and protocols of all international partner institutions or select international institutions of interest to the U.S. university.
RECOMMEND revisions or changes for international universities’ policies and protocols.
DESIGN a sexual misconduct response protocol for your Study Abroad Office and/or Title IX Office that includes:
- Details of local and national law regarding sexual assault, including legal procedures
- Details of international university policies and protocols
- A list of international university contacts for reporting and support
- A list of local resources for physical, legal, and/or emotional support
INVESTIGATE alleged incidents of sexual assault on international soil, as needed.
For International Colleges & Universities
REVIEW sexual misconduct policies and protocols currently in place at the university
REVISE current sexual misconduct policies and protocols to more closely align with U.S. federal Title IX guidelines while still adhering to national laws and considering local culture. The revised policy may be applicable to the entire student body, not just international students. Updating the sexual misconduct policy may require careful collaboration with national legal specialists, local anthropologists, and international university personnel.
CREATE a list of university contacts, including campus authorities (i.e. Dean of Students, Director of International Programs, Ombudsman, etc.) and counseling services, along with a list of local resources such as legal, healthcare, or psychological support services for victims and alleged assailants to utilize in country. This information will be shared with U.S partner universities to include in their sexual misconduct response protocols.
TRAIN campus faculty and staff to become First Responders and/or campus-based Investigators. We address the impacts of trauma on victims of sexual assault, ways to communicate with a victim as a “first responder,” evidence collection, investigation design, assessment of witness credibility, and more.
CONSULT remotely with trained campus-based investigators to aid in investigation design, witness evaluation, and overall assessment of the alleged incident.
INVESTIGATE alleged incidents of sexual assault, upon request
“As a partner to many U.S. universities, USFQ wanted to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring a safe environment for our international students, especially regarding sexual harassment. Title IX Solutions worked closely with our Dean of Students, Ombudsman, International Programs Office, and legal counsel to assist us in expanding our existing sexual misconduct policies and protocols to better align with Title IX regulations, while still recognizing Ecuadorian legal frameworks. Their Director of Investigations even came to Quito to train our staff to be First Responders and campus-based investigators and utilized his expertise to investigate a complicated case here on campus. As a result, we now feel even more confident in our ability to respond appropriately to incidents of sexual misconduct on campus that are reported not only by international students, but by all USFQ students.
—Diego Quiroga, Dean of International Affairs & Research,
Why Does this Matter for U.S. and International Universities?
Currently, federal Title IX guidelines extend to U.S. students studying abroad in foreign countries. Even if that element of Title IX changes in the future, international institutions can be seen as “hostile environments” to which U.S. colleges send their students, consequently exposing the U.S. and international institutions to litigation by student victims.
It is the responsibility of U.S. colleges to have a thorough understanding of the sexual misconduct policies and protocols of international partner institutions prior to sending U.S. students abroad, but frequently U.S. colleges partner with dozens to hundreds of international universities. Study Abroad Offices simply do not have the time or staff to read and evaluate every international university’s policies and protocols each year. Our international consulting services can assist your college in this task and even work with international partners to provide your Study Abroad Office not only with knowledge about policies, but we can also equip your college with a clear sexual misconduct response protocol.
Title IX Solutions founders have witnessed U.S. students bringing lawsuits against international universities for failing to adequately respond to reports of sexual violence on campus. And while non-U.S. universities are not required to follow Title IX guidelines, failing to respond to a U.S. student’s incident of sexual harassment or assault can damage a partnership with a U.S. institution. Ultimately, an established exchange partnership with an international institution that fails to adequately address sexual violence on campus creates reputational and financial risk for both the domestic and international universities.
To learn more about our international consulting services, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Educators of Illinois 2020 Annual Conference – Bloomington, IL – 13 March 2020