Making campus advocates confidential may help increase reporting & access to services

House Bill 251, Campus Advocate Confidentiality Amendments, by Rep. Angela Romero, prohibits the disclosure of confidential communications related to advocacy services at a Utah institution of higher education. As of today, the bill passed the House and has been sent to the Senate Rules Committee.

Why do campus advocates need confidentiality?

Currently, students and survivors on campus must be told that services they receive are not confidential. This presents a serious barrier to reporting and subsequent services. In fact, the vast majority (88.2%) of rapes in Utah are not reported to law enforcement. In 2015, only 58 sexual assaults were reported on Utah’s 10 largest college campuses.

Because reporting rates are so low, confidential, trauma-informed services must be available wherever a victim chooses to access them. Campuses are one of those access points, as many students spend a significant amount of time on campus because they live, work, and study all in the same place.

In addition, the services provided by campus-based advocates vary greatly from the services offered by community-based advocates. For example, a student who is suffering from trauma after an assault may need assistance rearranging classes or on-campus housing, something a community-based advocate does not have the capacity to do.

What will HB 251 do?

HB 251 attempts to address Utah’s underreported sexual violence and provide more survivors with services.

As Utah’s higher ed institutions made efforts to improve services for sexual violence survivors on campus, a loophole in the Utah Confidential Communications Act was discovered by victim advocates: it did not extend confidentiality to advocates housed at institutions. Because of the lack of guidance under this act, advocates and institutions developed internal policies which vary from one institution to the next.

HB 251 seeks to provide clarity to institutions and advocates by extending confidentiality protections granted to community-based advocates to those in higher ed institutions. This confidentiality is essential to campus-based advocates because research shows that fear of the loss of confidentiality is among the most consistent reasons that survivors do not report. According to a recent survey by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA):

  • 70% of respondents indicated they “would not feel safe reporting to campus advocates.”
  • 47% said their reason was because of “fears related to privacy.”
  • 21% said they are a survivor of sexual assault who did not report due to concerns about confidentiality.

A substantial body of evidence shows that survivors who had the assistance of an advocate were significantly more likely to have police reports taken. They also reported less distress after their contact with the legal system.

Are there any conflicts with this legislation and existing laws?

Though there are many intersections of federal and state law under Title IX and the Clery Act, no conflicts would arise as a result of enacting this legislation. HB 251 does not impede the responsibility of campus authorities to report data under Title IX or the Clery Act. In fact, the Office for Civil Rights recognizes that “counselors or advocates are valuable sources of support for students, and [the Office for Civil Rights] strongly encourages schools to designate these individuals as confidential

Who endorses this bill?

This bill is endorsed by the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah Student Association, UCASA, Citizens Against Physical and Sexual Abuse (CAPSA), the Rape Recovery Center, Talk to a Survivor, and the YCC Family Crisis Center.

Media Inquiries

Trisha Dugovic
Communications Director