Prism: Colleges and universities are requiring survivors to sign NDAs before investigating Title IX claims
June 8. 2022
Staff Attorney Kel O’Hara is featured in a Prism article speaking about how harmful it is for schools to force student survivors of sexual violence to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs)–essentially silencing orders–before entering the Title IX process
“It is often an important healing or advocacy avenue for survivors to be able to talk about what happened to them,” said Kel O’Hara, a staff attorney at Equal Rights Advocates.
O’Hara said many of their clients, most of whom are student survivors, come forward to share their stories in an effort to make sure others are safe, and to also shed light on the Title IX process itself. But many of the NDAs students are being asked to sign prohibit discussing the Title IX process at all. For already marginalized students who cannot afford lawyers, they are especially vulnerable to being silenced by a process that is meant to help heal their trauma.
“For a lot of survivors, the Title IX process itself is harmful,” O’Hara said. “Not being able to talk about [the process] is really concerning. The model that I work under as an advocate is the empowerment model, which says we really want to give power back to survivors. So what’s happening when we have these NDAs is that we are further limiting the power of the survivor to decide what path forward is best for them, how and when they want to share their story to communicate with other people to engage in advocacy, and all of that is not great.”
“The people who are most hurt by this are people who already feel less empowered to engage in this system,” O’Hara said. “[They are people] who do not have the same access to support who might not feel comfortable coming forward at all. When we’re having these conversations, all survivors get hurt, but those are the people I worry about most and those are the people that I think we really need to be keeping in mind.”
One of O’Hara’s biggest concerns includes limiting the ability of students to hold schools accountable for ways that they erred.
“The concern from my perspective is, whether a school has good intentions or less good intentions, the cumulative effect can sort of all end up in the same place where we’re overly limiting what survivors can say,” O’Hara said.