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OPINION: How easy are Florida universities’ online sexual assault resources to use?

The 404 message that appears when you try to fill out UF's Title IX form from their

The 404 message that appears when you try to fill out UF's Title IX form from their "Sexual Harassment" page. Photo: UF website

The 404 message that appears when you try to fill out UF's Title IX form from their "Sexual Harassment" page. Photo: UF website

The 404 message that appears when you try to fill out UF's Title IX form from their "Sexual Harassment" page. Photo: UF website

OPINION: How easy are Florida universities’ online sexual assault resources to use?

The UP ranked 10 different Florida public universities based on their overall user-friendliness and accessibility — and FAU’s is in the middle.

September 2, 2019

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted at FAU, look at the UP’s resource guide to see what emotional, medical and reporting options are available on and off campus.

Update: This story has been updated from our print issue to reflect differences in University of West Florida and Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University’s Google results. 

Students at the University of Florida can’t file a Title IX complaint form online if they go to UF’s “Sexual Harassment” page. Why? Because of a 404 error. The same error appears on their “Sexual Violence Response” page. The “Inform Title IX” page was the only one we could find where it worked.

Victims of sexual assault on college campuses will likely look online for help before knocking on university employees’ doors, just like Sarah did. And when websites like UF’s malfunction, it can prevent victims from easily accessing the information they need. 

The University Press ranked 10 Florida public universities’ online sexual assault resources by their user-friendliness — and FAU’s wound up in the middle. FAU’s website isn’t the most organized, and victims may have to do some digging, but it will still eventually lead you to all the resources you need. 

These are the schools listed from easiest to hardest to find a Title IX report or official complaint form. For each inquiry, the University Press searched “sexual assault [respective school]” on Google. 

Click a school to jump to that site’s analysis:

Florida State University

University of Central Florida

Florida International University

University of South Florida

Florida Atlantic University

University of West Florida

Florida Gulf Coast University

University North Florida

Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University

University of Florida

Section 1

1. Florida State University

The first search result on Google was the University Counseling Center’s Sexual Assault awareness page, which tells you to contact their Victim Services if you’re unsure whether to report.

FSU makes their online and in-person reporting options clear on that first page victims see. There’s also an organized sidebar on the page that offers directions to FSU’s University Counseling Center, a crisis hotline, and directions on scheduling a counseling appointment. 

Unlike other sites, this site gives victims the contact information they need, like the Victim Advocate and Title IX report, at the top of the page, and additional resources, like what men can do to prevent gendered violence and tips for bystanders, toward the bottom. 

In the eyes of a victim: The first search result on Google offered an option for a recent victim, and directs them to an understandable list of everyone they can contact.

Section 2

2. University of Central Florida

The first search result on Google is UCF’s sexual assault FAQ page. At the top of the page, it has three options: “Get Help Now,” “File A Report,” and “Exit Page.” 

The “File A Report” for Title IX option is easy to find and web-friendly. The Q&A portion doesn’t show all the answers at once, which might make it less intimidating to victims. 

However, victims clicking through the Q&A page can only view UCF’s “Immediate Steps” page on certain questions. The “Immediate Steps” page has almost everything a victim needs: police contact, Victim Advocate information, Victim Services, Student Health Services, and more. 

Another downside is a few questions relating to the Office of Institutional Equity’s (UCF administration) investigation and being wrongly accused link directly to the university’s Golden Rule, or its Code of Conduct. The manual is 108 pages, and no victim is going to want to read it in its entirety to find what they need. 

In the eyes of a victim: The Q&A had bits of useful information, but UCF should advertise its “Immediate Steps” page earlier. It should also work on relaying the most important facts in their Code of Conduct to students instead of making them scroll through its 108 pages.

Section 3

3. Florida International University 

The first option on Google is a sexual assault prevention training course at FIU, but that’s not helpful to a victim right after an assault. 

The next option is where victims should visit: the FIU “It’s On Us” page. Below a video of an It’s On Us public service announcement, there are six links you can visit — the two most relevant are “Report an Incident” and “Understanding Title IX.” The former lets you report to Student Affairs and the latter to a Title IX coordinator (without anonymity).

Along with providing actual links to forms, the FIU website describes what the different investigations actually look like. There’s an additional “Resources” link on the “It’s On Us” page where victims can contact the police, their Victim Advocate, the dean of students, and the Title IX office. 

In the eyes of a victim: This was one of the easiest pages to understand and use. A victim will know who to contact and what steps to take.
Section 4

4. University of South Florida 

The first option that appears is the sexual violence portion of USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy website. 

It gives definitions of sexual battery and consent. It also points out that hospitals in Tampa, where USF is located, do not perform “rape kits,” which are sexual assault forensic exams. At the bottom of the page is USF’s Victim Advocate’s contact information. 

There’s more information on the second search result, a 20-page guide for victims of sexual assault, dating/domestic violence and stalking. It’s concise and easy to follow. It starts talking about sexual assault on page 8, and outlines what to do and avoid if a victim decides to report their assault.

In the eyes of a victim: USF’s step-by-step sexual assault guide avoids legal jargon and instead focuses on helping a recent victim. Almost everything a victim needs to know is available to them in one place. However, since the guide is in pdf format, you may not be able to directly click on the links it provides.

Section 5

5. Florida Atlantic University 

The first result leads you to an Owls Care Health Promotion page on sexual assault prevention. There are three options for reporting at FAU listed at the bottom of the site: law enforcement, the Dean of Students Office and Title IX. 

There’s no police department contact information, and the hyperlink to the dean’s website takes you to the homepage, not a sexual assault-specific page. The third link brings you to the Office of Equity, Inclusion and Compliance, which belongs to Title IX.

Once a victim is on the Title IX page, they can find helpful resources on the sexual misconduct form (even if they don’t fill the form out). The form can be filled out directly online.

There’s a list of on- and off-campus resources with a sentence-long description on what they do, which simplifies complex tasks so victims can see which office might be right for them at the time.

In the eyes of a victim: FAU lays out victims’ three main options, which may make it easier for them. Once a victim finds the Title IX complaint form, they can likely find all the medical, legal and emotional resources they need. But FAU could do a better job going into more detail about what law enforcement and Title IX investigations consist of. 

Section 6

6. University of West Florida 

The first three option that appears on Google is UWF’s “Sexual Violence” page, which offers contact information for UWF police, CAPS, the Title IX office and wellness resources on and off campus. 

The wellness resources takes you to a Q&A on gendered and sexual violence, similar to UCF’s website. The wellness page has a helpful section called “If You Have Been Assaulted,” which gives a victim clear advice on what to do immediately after: go to a safe place, call the police, and seek medical care and crisis counseling. 

The Q&A on “How to File a Report” also directs you to both anonymous and non-anonymous report options that you can fill out online. It helps guide victims through the reporting process and submitting new class and housing requests. 

In the eyes of a victim: This site was impressively succinct and easy to navigate. Victims can view Q&As that walk them through the Title IX reporting process with sufficient contact information. However, those first three broken links that appear on Google may confuse victims.  

Section 7

7. Florida Gulf Coast University

The first search result is FGCU’s “Free Resource Library” page. The majority of it is alcohol, drug, physical health and relationship-related. 

The relationship portion breaks into subsections like domestic violence, dating dangers and others, but they all bring you to the same suicide prevention pamphlet — which doesn’t mention sexual assault at all. 

Below that list, there are miscellaneous fact sheets, one of them being “Yes Means Yes: Stop Sexual Violence.” It mostly goes over consent with a short list of on- and off-campus resources at the end that FGCU students can reach out to. One of those resources is FGCU’s Assault & Rape Information Support and Education (ARISE). 

The ARISE website links to FGCU police, health services, Victim Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, and a Code of Conduct complaint form. However, you can’t access a Title IX complaint from this page — that requires a separate search. 

In the eyes of a victim: The ARISE website had the most useful resources, but it required some digging to find — and victims may not know to look for it in the first place. It might help if all the Title IX and reporting information were all in the same place. 

Section 8

8. University of North Florida

The top result is a news story, and UNF’s sexual misconduct policy comes next. It addresses what sexual misconduct is and points out you should reach out to the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Inclusion in-person, or by phone or fax. 

There’s no web-friendly Title IX form victims can fill out on that page — only a link to a more detailed sexual misconduct policy page. The list of resources including the Hubbard House (similar to Palm Beach County’s Butterfly House), UNF Women’s Center, a LGBT resource center, the counseling center and police department is placed at the very bottom.

A better resource is the third page that appeared on our Google search: “The student who may be a Victim of Sexual Violence.” It lays out the phone numbers of the previously mentioned centers and offices without having to scroll through a jargon-ridden university policy. 

In the eyes of a victim: UNF’s sexual assault web pages aren’t as user-friendly as other universities’. With no option to fill out a Title IX form online and more policy language than directions for victims, the site is outdated. 

Section 9

9. Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University

The first Google result is a news article, which don’t help victims find what they’re looking for. 

The next two links — FAMU’s “Department of Campus Safety and Security” and “Center for Interpersonal Violence Intervention and Prevention,” pages — give victims a vague understanding of how to report a sexual assault. One page offers phone numbers for the police, the Title IX coordinator, the Dean of Students, FAMU’s Victim Advocate and more, but like other schools, FAMU doesn’t offer detailed step-by-step guidance. 

There’s also no way to file a Title IX complaint form online. 

In the eyes of a victim: FAMU briefly explains that victims may report their assault anonymously and goes into greater detail about the Victim Advocate’s role, but the resources for victims are much too spread apart on different sites. Not having an online Title IX form can also make it less convenient to report to FAMU administration.

Section 10

10. University of Florida 

The top website on Google was University of Florida Human Resources’ Sexual Harassment page.

The page has a few paragraphs about the purpose of UF’s sexual harassment policy and a chart outlining what happens when you file a Title IX report. The Title IX coordinators email and phone number appear next.

You’re supposed to be able to report your sexual assault at the next link titled “Title IX ﹘ Report an Issue.” Instead, it leads you to an error page. However, there’s a working Title IX complaint form on their “Inform Title IX” page.

That’s for reporting to UF administration and getting the accused possibly suspended or expelled. If you want to report your assault to the police, according to UF’s Office of Victim Services, you should contact the UFPD Office of Victim Services.

In the eyes of a victim: Having a defunct online Title IX form is a disservice to sexual assault victims wanting to have all their statements in one place. Victims may stop searching for a working link after stumbling upon that and never get to report their assault to UF.

Kristen Grau is the managing editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email her at [email protected] or tweet her at @_kristengrau.

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