University requires journalists to release information on sexual assault sources
November 14, 2019
In the ongoing battle against sexual assault on campus, a University policy that requires Illinois NPR journalists to disclose information about sources who share sexual assault allegations to the University for further investigation is gaining attention.
Under Title IX, journalists are bound to release information on sexual misconduct allegations as the University believes the safety of the campus is a priority. At the same time, the Sexual Misconduct Policy qualifies NPR Illinois reporters as “responsible employees” of the University, thereby bound to follow University policy.
On Nov. 11, ACLU of Illinois and ACLU of Women’s Rights Project released a statement highlighting that requiring reporters to disclose information of their sources “does not serve the objective of protecting students, faculty, or staff from gender-based violence or harassment on campus.”
“Journalists, like counselors, provide an opportunity for survivors to make confidential disclosures,” the ACLU wrote in the statement. “A survivor of sexual misconduct may choose to confide in a reporter for any number of reasons. They may want their story to help others in similar circumstances but do not want to be further identified for fear of retaliation.”
Further focusing on explaining why disclosing sexual assault victims’ information impedes freedom of the press, ACLU asked the University for an exemption to Title IX.
On Nov. 14, the University of Illinois System shared its statement on the issue.
“Those Title IX reporting requirements are a key to our efforts,” the statement reads. “A primary goal is to make sure the institution knows about any student who may have been victimized so that we can reach out to provide support through counseling, accommodations and other resources.”
In August, NPR and ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom, published an investigative article in which reporters investigated sexual harassment allegations against University faculty. The article highlighted the discrete and minimal procedures that were taken after these accusations.
Mary Hansen, a multimedia journalist at NPR Illinois, said after the article was published, the University stepped in. The University’s Title IX officer soon contacted NPR.
“At the end of the investigation, we had said, ‘Please share your stories of sexual misconduct in any college campus in Illinois, and we won’t share your information with any third party without your expressed consent,” Hansen said. “The fact that we promised confidentiality for those stories is what prompted the Title IX officer to raise this issue.”
On the morning of Nov. 15, the University Board of Trustees will hold a meeting with NPR and ACLU representatives to discuss the conflict further.
“We did see the University’s statement and we actually also addressed the Board of Trustees this morning and we stand by our comment to the Board of Trustees that we believe we should be exempt from the ‘responsible employee’ status when engaged in newsgathering,” Hansen said.
NPR is exploring all of the possible next steps to lead to the change they are asking for.