On Women’s Equality Day, Slotkin Announces Legislation Requiring ‘Trauma-Informed’ Approach in Sexual Assault Investigations

August 26, 2020
Press Release
Slotkin marks the 100th anniversary of major women’s rights milestone with a bill to ensure, for the first time, Title IX investigations are required to be conducted with a science-based understanding of sexual trauma

WASHINGTON D.C. –– U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (MI-08) announced the Trauma-Informed Investigations Act today on Women’s Equality Day, a bill that would require every participant in a Title IX investigation –– from school administrators to police officers –– to take a “trauma-informed” approach, minimizing re-traumatization and better ensuring justice for survivors of sexual assault. The bill comes just weeks after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ finalized Title IX roll-backs have officially taken effect at Michigan State University and other higher education institutions across the country.

By clearly defining “trauma-informed” based on the facts of medical and psychological impact that results from sexual trauma, and requiring participants to follow such approach, this bill would help ensure survivors are not re-traumatized or hindered in pursuing legal action under the very civil rights law intended to protect them.

"Survivors in our community, and across the country, have been clear: too often, seeking justice under the very civil rights law intended to protect them means re-living the trauma of their assault in a way that’s not only psychologically harmful, but makes it less likely they will be taken seriously and their testimony judged fairly,” Slotkin said. “As Secretary DeVos’s Title IX roll-backs take effect in our community and across the country, it’s time to make the process for adjudicating sexual assault was more fair, evidence-based, and understanding of the trauma survivors go through after an assault." 

Specifically, the Trauma-Informed Investigations Act would:

  • Mandate that institutions of higher education ensure that any investigation of sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct is a “trauma-informed investigation."
  • Clearly defines “trauma-informed investigation” as recognizing the emotional, behavioral, developmental, and legal challenges that can accompany trauma exposure and includes evidence-based procedures, informed by cognitive science, that are designed to minimize further trauma to victims.

Survivors, health and legal experts from Michigan and across the country commended Slotkin’s bill:

"Investigations following sexual violence have an increased potential of further victimizing those who have already had their power stripped from them,” said Grace French, survivor, President and Founder of the Army of Survivors. “This bill is incredibly important in validating that victims are to be treated in an equitable way and that investigators should consider the victim’s mental health and trauma in order to give them a chance at justice."

"As firsthand experience and research have shown, people are fundamentally unable to participate effectively in justice systems when their basic needs are not being met,” said civil rights and Title IX attorney Elizabeth Abdnour. “This proposed legislation will help ensure that individuals who have experienced sexual trauma will be able to equitably access and participate in Title IX investigations, ensuring safety for all campus community members."

"The American Psychological Association commends Representative Slotkin for introducing this bill to help ensure that any investigation of sexual violence on a college campus is trauma-informed and rooted in evidence-based procedures,” said Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., CEO of the American Psychological Association. “Implementing these practices will minimize further trauma to victims and make college campuses safer and welcoming for all students."

"This bill’s introduction is a step towards how we should be handling all instances of sexual abuse and misconduct,” said Kelly Stec, Advocacy Director for the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health. “As institutions of higher education come into compliance with the new Title IX regulations, I’m grateful to Rep. Slotkin for taking survivors’ wellbeing into account."

"I have seen so many young people traumatized all over again when they are questioned by someone that does not understand how to talk to a child or young adult that has been sexually assaulted,” said attorney Karen Truszkowski. “When the interview is more traumatizing than the assault itself, something is wrong."

"I think that it is imperative for institutions of Higher Education to support survivors while adhering to best practices related to psychological trauma,” said Andrew Spicer, Director of Student Rights Advocates at Michigan State University. “Being able to understand and build in policies of trauma-informed practices will help foster relationships of trust and will give the necessary tools to Higher Educational institutions to better suit the needs of survivors."

Slotkin has made strengthening protections for students and survivors of sexual assault, particularly though Title IX, a priority during her time in Congress. She has co-led the introduction of the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, which would strengthen prevention and enforcement measures for campus sexual violence, including an increase of Clery Act violation penalties and heightened requirements for universities to inform students of their Title IX rights.

She also introduced the Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations Act. The ALERT Act is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would hold universities accountable for sexual abuse cases that threaten the safety of their students and would require the confidential notification of senior administrators when Title IX cases have been opened. Upon assuming office, Slotkin stood up a Title IX District Advisory Board made up of survivors, experts, and advocates in the 8th District who provide feedback and have collaborated with Slotkin on a number of legislative efforts.