Harvard’s Title IX Office debuted an anonymous online reporting form on Monday designed to help students report sexual misconduct with greater comfort and logistical ease.
The tool is HarvardKey-protected, but its responses are moderated by an external company, according to University Title IX Officer Nicole M. Merhill.
Merhill said that no one in the Title IX Office will be able to connect reports back to individuals. Instead, once a Harvard affiliate fills out the form, they receive a unique login credential that allows them to communicate with Harvard’s central Title IX Office anonymously.
The form’s questions are primarily opt-in, so that those who have experienced or witnessed a Title IX violation can reveal as much or as little information as they choose. Title IX is a federal anti-discrimination law designed to combat unfair treatment on the basis of gender that underpins Harvard’s anti-sexual misconduct policy. The questions on the form ask about the nature of the event, the people involved, the event’s location, and the reporter’s desired response from the Title IX Office.
Ensuring anonymity was central to the form’s development, according to Merhill. The Title IX Office sought out feedback on the reporting mechanism from students. Merhill said the office heard that students wanted to be certain their complaints would be anonymous and feel as though that anonymity was a priority to the Office.
“When they saw the original iteration of the form, they said, ‘Okay, if this is anonymous, why are you asking for names, email, and such?’ That was off-putting,” Merhill said. “So the very first question is, ‘Do you wish to remain anonymous?’ And if you say ‘Yes,’ that all disappears.”
Merhill also said that the Title IX Office’s rules and best practices will not change with the new reporting form. The anonymous reports will be kept apart from the Office of Dispute Resolution, which handles Title IX investigations. Filling out an anonymous report will not automatically trigger a formal ODR complaint.
Merhill said she hopes the tool will supplement existing channels of communication with the Title IX Office.
“Our hope is that those persons who feel comfortable and confident reaching out to our system of Title IX coordinators will continue to do so,” Merhill said. “Our goal is to capture the population of individuals who don't yet feel comfortable and confident reaching out to Title IX.”
Advocates of anonymous reporting — including the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which spearheaded a sexual misconduct climate collaborative in which Harvard is involved — say that anonymity helps support victims.
The anonymous disclosure system’s rollout follows the Government Department Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation that Harvard institute an anonymous reporting system in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against former Government professor Jorge I. Dominguez. The report indicates that the committee was interested in instituting its own anonymous reporting system, but was asked not to because the University was planning to roll out its own.
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