Colleges and universities send more than 300,000 students to study abroad every year. Many of the issues Student Affairs professionals address each year with students on campus are magnified as they live, work, learn, and play in different cultures and societies. This article briefly summarizes some legal considerations in the area of sexual and interpersonal violence prevention and response when students study overseas, and highlights additional resources.
Take Down Silos
To properly serve the non-academic needs of our students studying overseas, we must work together between different offices. A strong relationship between Student Affairs and International Programs professionals (as well as other relevant offices) is crucial to meeting these goals. Rivalries, poor communication, and silos must fall.
Laws to Consider
Federal laws that cover safety in overseas study include the Clery Act as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization, and Title IX, as interpreted by the Office for Civil Rights. The key to compliance is to remember that the laws have different touchstones: Clery classically is based on geography, requiring that colleges report certain crimes occurring in specific geographic locations (and only those locations). Title IX guidance is not based on geography. Colleges must respond to unequal treatment on the basis of sex or gender (including sexual violence) in a way that limits its effects and prevents its recurrence without regard to where the violence occurs. The VAWA amendments to the Clery Act are split—new crime reporting is based on geography, while response to violence is based on identity of the reporting individual or respondent, as it is with Title IX.
While crimes that impact students overseas can be covered intensely by the media, some studies show violence on study abroad to be comparable or less than on campus. When violence occurs, institutions can respond generally using the same policies that apply on campus, but often must do so in a tailored way. Communication is key. In a hub-and-spoke style model the author developed for efficient and comprehensive response, the International Programs Director serves as a hub in regular communication with Student Affairs as well as other relevant offices (Title IX, Safety/Police). When a report comes in, the representative in the field can communicate with those offices through the hub, and information can be quickly exchanged. Effective implementation requires advanced planning as well as tabletop exercises.
Where violence occurs can further complicate response. A special issue to consider are countries that persecute LGBTQ* students. In some countries, same-sex sexual contact can lead to imprisonment or even a death sentence. Students may not even need to be caught in a sexual act, as certain countries outlaw same-sex “propaganda.” When sending students to such countries, Student Affairs professionals should cover these risks comprehensively in a way that does not victim-blame, but provides clear information about risks and risk reduction, including warning students about social media account content. We should also prepare for a situation in which a report to the police or even a visit to a hospital can be dangerous to our student victim. The Americans Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center/Sexual Assault Support and Help for Americans Abroad provides direct support to American victims of violence overseas and has resources to aid response.
While an appropriate response is crucial, colleges should also expend significant resources developing prevention methods. While discussion of the institution’s Title IX, conduct, and other policies should be a standard part of pre-departure orientation, a best practice is to customize content based on the specific location of the program.
The legal obligations for Student Affairs professionals working with study abroad can be complex. But using the resources in this article, institutions can comply. Best practices for serving students may require steps beyond compliance. A tailored approach to response and prevention will be more effective at assisting students.
To Learn More:
- More information about Clery Act compliance overseas can be found in this NACUA Note: Joseph Storch, The Clery Act and Overseas/Distance Study: New Developments and Compliance Guidance, NACUANOTE, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY ATTORNEYS, VOL. 10, NO. 5 (Feb. 29, 2012).
- For a comprehensive discussion of Clery, VAWA, and Title IX requirements on study abroad, see: Joseph Storch, Risk Management Considerations Regarding the Clery Act, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Title IX When Students Study Abroad, UNIVERSITY RISK MANAGEMENT AND INSURANCE ASSOCIATION GOVERNMENT AND REGULATORY AFFAIRS BLAST (Jan. 2016).
- For a much deeper dive into the legal issues, including discussions of relevant cases, see: Joseph Storch and Natalie Mello, Reporting on Student Safety and Security Abroad: Legal Requirements and Best Practices, National Association of College and University Attorneys Annual Conference, Washington, DC (June 30, 2015).
- For a discussion of the recent changes in the 2016 Clery Act Handbook, including their impact on study abroad compliance, see: Joseph Storch and Andrea Stagg, The 2016 Clery Handbook: New Developments and Important Changes, UNIVERSITY RISK MANAGEMENT AND INSURANCE ASSOCIATION WHITE PAPER (July 21, 2016).
- You can review the SUNY International Clery and Title IX Policy here (Note: In the process of being updated after 2016 Clery Handbook).
The views in this article are those of the author. This article should not be considered legal advice. This is a brief synopsis and not a replacement for a comprehensive review of the laws, regulations, and guidance. Specific facts may require different response.
This post is part of our #SAinternational series. We will hear from #SApros who work in international student related services. We’ll also hear from those those who have had the fortunate opportunity to work overseas or have a global perspective to higher education. For more info, please see Kim Irland’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Alison Scheide on Study Abroad Programs