Reporting assaults not required with proposal

Sarah McKenzie

Professional counselors who learn about crimes when meeting with student victims during confidential sessions would not have to notify campus law enforcement, according to rules proposed by the U.S. Education Department.
In addition, compiling statistical information on the alleged crimes would no longer be the counselors’ responsibility. The policy changes appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday.
College deans, resident hall directors and other officials are not exempt from the federal reporting requirements, however.
“These regulations are proposed in response to the counseling community’s strongly held belief, expressed during the negotiated rule-making sessions, that required reporting from counselors has had a chilling effect on victims and others seeking counseling,” the department’s report stated.
The report made it clear that colleges should consider establishing other confidential reporting mechanisms to “ensure that crime victims and others are not deterred from seeking appropriate psychological counseling.”
At the University, the proposed guidelines will not have much of an impact. Victims have a number of resources if they feel uncomfortable with reporting a crime to police.
Although it is not a professional counseling service, the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence provides services for sexual assault victims. Files are kept on each client but anonymity is protected, said Liz Tobin, a peer education coordinator.
Advocates do not disclose information about specific crimes to the University Police. A tally, however, is kept annually on the number of reported assaults, Tobin said. Program advocates are volunteers, and not licensed professionals.
“What we feel most strongly about is empowering the victim,” Tobin said. “Mandating that we report the crimes would really take the power away from the victim.”
Professionals at the University’s Counseling and Consulting Service break their patient’s promise of confidentiality in only the most extreme circumstances, said Dr. Glenn Hirsch, assistant director of the counseling center.
If a victim tells a counselor that he or she intends to physically harm someone else, counselors alert the police, Hirsch said.
“It has to be a very specific plan,” he said.
Counselors maintain general records on the clients’ problems, but do not disclose any specific information to campus authorities or other officials, he said.
“This has been a tremendously controversial issue,” Hirsch said.
University officials understand the importance of preserving the patient’s right of confidentiality, he said.
College watchdog groups and media organizations, however, sought more inclusive guidelines that did not exempt counselors from disclosing crime information. They started debating the issue after Congress amended the Higher Education Act last year, legislation that changed crime reporting requirements.
Daniel S. Carter, vice president of Security on Campus, an interest group based in Pennsylvania, said the lobbyists had to make compromises.
“Overall, I think (the proposed guidelines) will be very effective,” Carter said. “The negotiated counseling exemption is fairly narrow — it is limited to professionals and the clergy.”
Congress is expected to approve the department’s guidelines by November. If accepted, the proposed rules would take effect July 1, 2000.