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We were surprised to learn, during our reporting this week on one student’s frustration in filing a sexual misconduct complaint against a professor, that Emporia State required her to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

The NDA claims that confidentiality is necessary to preserve the investigative efforts and “develop factual information related to the complaint.”

But let’s be real here.

Non-disclosure agreements are a way for the university to smother bad publicity, muzzle victims and prevent them from speaking out about their experiences when they most need to tell somebody. NDAs also provide a cover for abusers, ensuring that they can continue practicing abusive tendencies unchecked.

This was the case for Larry Nassar, former sports doctor for the USA gymnastics team and Michigan State University, according to an article in The Kansas City Star, which details a letter that Senator Jerry Moran sent to U.S. Olympics and Michigan State expressing concerns about non-disclosure agreements and how they related to Nassar’s case.

McKayla Maroney, gymnast for the USA Olympic Gymnastics team during the 2012 London Olympics, was required by USA Gymnastics to sign a non-disclosure agreement after reporting Nassar for sexual abuse, according to The Star. If she were to violate the confidentiality agreement, she would have been fined $100,000.

This and other confidentiality agreements gave Nassar cover to abuse over 140 women over the course of his career as a sports doctor. This is a sickening number of victims, a sickening number of instances where his crimes could have been stopped, but were swept under the rug to prevent bad publicity.

The process at ESU seems disturbingly similar.

One undergraduate student, who we have called “Jane” in our stories, said she was forced by the school to sign an NDA in order to make the complaint.

ESU needs to stop requiring students to sign NDAs when they report sexual misconduct.

The university needs to stop taking away students’ First Amendment rights before they can receive any help.

Are all victims required to sign an NDA before the university will conduct an internal investigation? What if they refuse to sign? Will the university leave them without support in a time when they need it most? Would you send your child to ESU with this policy in place?

These are important questions. Sadly, the university administration has chosen to stonewall requests from The Bulletin by referring our questions to Gwen Larson, assistant director of marketing and media relations. Larson said she couldn’t answer our questions by press time Wednesday night because the administrators were all at an out-of-town meeting. True, perhaps— but that wouldn’t prevent President Allison Garrett from making a long distance call to us. She could even make it collect— we’d accept the charges.

A university’s first duty should be to protect its students, not its image, and after this incident, it is clear where ESU’s priorities lie. NDAs protect the guilty, not the victims.

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