There are currently 267 open Title IX investigations against schools who students say mishandled sexual assault allegations.
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Monday, August 22, 2016, 4:00 AM
Alyssa Peterson was a sophomore in her fall semester at Georgetown when a student-athlete sexually assaulted her after a night of partying with their friends.
The alleged 2011 attack not only left her feeling alone and confused, but she was condemned to seeing her assailant on campus while she struggled to focus on finishing school.
Peterson, now 24, was completely unaware that she could have reported the alleged assault to her school to get the man expelled or that she had the right to change her class schedule and dorm assignment to avoid the painful run-ins.
And she never reported anything to police because, like many victims, she was afraid her case “wouldn’t be taken seriously.”
While high-profile cases of schools mishandling campus sexual assault have kept the issue in the national spotlight, young victims of sexual violence are often still in the dark about how they can report an attack and what their resources are.
The following is a guide for what students should know about what their Title IX rights are, how to know how your school responds to sexual assault and the difference between a school investigation and criminal investigation.
Alyssa Peterson is a policy coordinator for the advocacy group KnowYourIX and an incoming first-year law student at Yale University.
What are your Title IX rights and why does it apply to campus sexual assault?
Peterson, who is now a policy coordinator for the advocacy group KnowYourIX, works to make sure victims of campus assault are aware of their rights under under a federal anti-discrimination law.
“I had absolutely no idea that Title IX covered sexual violence, I only saw what happened to me as a crime. I didn’t see it as a violation of my civil rights,” she said.
Higher education institutions in the U.S. are varied, but whether you attend a large public university, a small liberal arts school, a community college or an elite private school, you have the right to get educated in an environment free of sex discrimination under the promises of what is known as Title IX.
The 1972 law has for decades made sure universities weren’t discriminating against students and faculty based on gender.
But after the U.S. Department of Education penned a scathing “Dear Colleague Letter” in 2011 to colleges across the country, the civil rights statute was dramatically clarified in order to also hold schools accountable for ensuring that students weren’t going to classes and parties in fear of sexual violence or retaliation. If schools fail at this, the powers of Title IX can strip them of their federal funding.
Peterson said she was unaware of Title IX rights or that she could report her assault to Georgetown, her alma mater.
“It’s designed so that there’s no gender inequity. When you think of sexual assault you think crime, but it’s actually a gendered crime,” said Christina Mancini, an associate professor at Virginia Commonwealth University where she studies sex offender policy and campus sex assault.
Title IX also requires schools to investigate and adjudicate allegations of sexual assault on campus, a legal obligation some schools aren’t doing great at complying with. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) currently has 267 open Title IX investigations brought by students who said their colleges either failed to proactively prevent sexual violence, fumbled a complaint of sexual assault, or retaliated against an accuser.
While high-profile Title IX lawsuits — most recently at Baylor University, Florida State University and University of Tennessee—cast colleges as callous and inept, experts say the scrutiny has, at the very least, made them more aware of students’ rights.
“Six years ago, if I would have went to a university officer and I asked, ‘Tell me what you know about Title IX.’ I would have gotten blank stares,” said Steven Healy, the CEO of Margolis Healy, a firm that trains university officials on Title IX compliance.
“Now they would be able to talk intelligently about what the school’s obligations are,” he said.
Student “climate suveys” are one way of measuring the perception of sexual violence at school.
Regardless of whether a victim wants to pursue an investigation, they are entitled to get counseling, medical care and other support to make sure they can still make deadlines and go to class during a traumatizing time.
Peterson said she had a breakdown when she had to write a paper about intoxicated assault for a gender studies class and didn’t know she could have asked for an extension if she had reported her alleged attack to the school.
“I just felt like I was left alone to deal with a terrible experience at the same time as I was trying to make it through midterms and other academic commitments,” Peterson recalls.
Studies show that in up to 90% of sexual assault cases, victims are friends or acquaintances with their assailants. Under Title IX, victims can ask to get their class or work schedule changed or switch dorms to avoid seeing the accused student.
What to know about your school
Do your homework on your university’s track record related to sexual assault.
The University of Kentucky was one of the first universities to conduct a mandatory “climate survey” asking students about sexual asault.
(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Sexual assault has the lowest reporting numbers of any crime, and it’s reported to police even less frequently in campus cases. There are other ways to find out how prevalent sexual assault is at schools thanks to the Clery Act, which requires universities to gather their own crime numbers and post them on their websites.
Clery numbers are often much higher than police statistics because they account for every reported crime on campus regardless of whether it was investigated or found to be legitimate. Police statistics reflect crimes that were actually reported to cops and investigated.
The Department of Education has a useful portal for looking up your school’s Clery numbers in addition to contact information for campus security officers and Title IX coordinators.
Sexual assault numbers are going up on some campuses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the schools have higher rates of sexual violence, it just means more people are reporting.
At University of Connecticut, for example, (a school that paid a $ 1.3 million settlement in 2014 to five victims of sexual assault who say the university mishandled their cases) Clery numbers doubled after a 2014 law passed allowing students or third party witnesses to report anonymously online.
Florida State University agreed to pay $ 950,000 in a settlement to Erica Kinsman, a woman who said she was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston.
(Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
“When you see those numbers it’s not a bad thing, it actually means that we’re encouraging people to report,” Jenn Longa, University of Connecticut’s assistant dean of students for Victims Support Services, told the Daily News.
Information about how schools investigate claims of sexual violence is more difficult, if not impossible, to access because they are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA.) Details of the shadowy proceedings are revealed if there is a Title IX lawsuit connected to the case, however.
You can look at the list of open Title IX investigations to see if your school is on there, or search for any news coverage related to the suits. Title IX also includes complaints against student groups, like when a woman who says she was the second rape victim of a former Indiana University student and Delta Tau Delta member sued both the school and the fraternity, accusing them of “deliberate indifference” to a culture of excessive partying and sexual aggression.
Experts say that “climate surveys” —or questions given to students about their campus experience–are another way to find out about the perceived prevalence of sexual violence at a school. The University of Kentucky was one of the first universities in the country to conduct a mandatory survey in 2015. Nearly 5% of their students said they were sexually assaulted on campus, but most of them went unreported for reasons including victims wanting to avoid a formal proceeding or “wanting to forget it ever happened.”
At the University of Colorado, by contrast, 28% of female students said in a voluntary 2014 survey that they were a victim of sexual violence. That’s slightly higher than the ubiquitous national statistic saying one in five women are victims of campus assault.
Sexual assault reporting numbers went up at the University of Connecticut after a state law allowing students to report anonymously online.
(Denis Tangney Jr./iStock)
Schools are required by the Clery and Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SAVE) Act to have sexual assault awareness and prevention in their policies which means there should be programming during orientation about consent, about how to report an assault and how a bystander should intervene if someone witnesses shady behavior.
How to report (if you want to)
The reality is that most victims of sexual assault on campus will never come forward, and advocates say that’s either due to shame, confusion, fear of retaliation, or lack of trust in the system. But some schools are working to make victims feel more comfortable reporting.
“Reporting rates are sadly very low, but I strongly believe that the burden should not be on survivors to fix that,” said Kamilah Willingham, 30, a Harvard University Law School grad and victim of sexual assault whose legal battle with the Ivy League school was prominently featured in the documentary “Hunting Ground.”
“It’s the responsibility of schools and the criminal justice system to make sure that they are worthy of the trust of survivors, and to earn that trust,” she said. Willingham is now the leader of the advocacy group Survivors Eradicating Rape Culture (SERC).
Schools should (and most do) have what is called a Title IX coordinator, who might be the first person a vulnerable victim of sexual assault speaks to. According to a bombshell 2014 investigation by Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s office, at least 10% of schools did not have a Title IX coordinator. A year later in 2015, experts estimate that 5% of schools didn’t have one and weren’t aware of their responsibility to hire someone.
Student victims of sexual assault can report to the police, to their school or both.
(Dan Moore/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Title IX coordinators should be trained in trauma response and should supply victims with everything they need to know.
This includes telling victims where the nearest rape crisis center is and offering to go with them. They are also supposed to tell victims how to initiate either a school or police investigation, which are two distinct processes.
It’s important to know that speaking with a Title IX officer, does not mean you have to go the cops or bring an assailant in front of the a student conduct hearing.
A small number of schools have a controversial mandatory reporting policy, however, which requires some faculty members, like professors, to inform college officials if they find out about a sexual assault on campus, even if the victim doesn’t want to report it.
According to what Title IX requires of schools, information for how to report sexual misconduct must be easily accessible to students. This means there should, at the very least, be a link on a university’s webpage and flyers pinned around campus with crucial information for students.
The Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where women were reportedly raped by John Enochs.
(Fox 59 News)
In the immediate aftermath of an assault, if a victim is unsure of what path he or she wants to take but wants to talk to a professional, they can call a crisis hotline at the national Rape, Abuse Incest National Network and confide in a trained counselor.
The RAINN staff can also provide victims with information about local resources, like where a local rape crisis center is located. Many schools have their own rape crisis center where victims can get medical care like getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases after an assault and getting a rape kit, which must be completed within 94 hours of an attack.
For victims who want to pursue criminal charges, they can simply dial 911 or walk into their local police department. Some campuses are served by a state agency police department. Others might have campus safety officers and would delegate the investigation to the host city or town’s police department and prosecutors.
If a victim wants to report the assault to a school, they can call a Title IX officer, go to a rape crisis center or use an online portal (like this one at Swarthmore College) or report confidentially online.
The difference between reporting to your school and to the police
Reporting a sexual assault to a school and reporting the crime to the police involve two unrelated investigations that can have two distinct results.
Kamilah Willingham’s legal battle with Harvard University’s law school regarding her sexual assault was documented in the film “The Hunting Ground.”
A police investigation has the prospect of putting a perpetrator behind bars, requiring them to register as a sex offender. A school’s student conduct board can’t send a perpetrator to prison but can expel or suspend them if they’re found responsible.
Victims who want to report a sexual assault can choose to pursue one of these routes, both, or neither. Both investigations have well-documented pitfalls that victims should keep in mind.
“I do think survivors are choosing between two different broken systems,” said Andrea Pino, 24, a victim of sexual assault while she was a student at the University of North Carolina and now the founder of End Rape on Campus.
Much of the criticism about how schools handle sexual assault cases center on their pseudo-judicial student conduct board hearings which oversee violations as benign as a student caught drinking in their dorm room and as serious as rape allegations.
“It’s very strange to have a university sit in judgement of alleged rapists,” Mancini told the News. “It doesn’t function like the justice system. A lot of times students are just confused about this,” she said.
Austin James Wilkerson, 22, was convicted this year of raping a University of Colorado student after telling her friends he would take her home from a party safely.
(Boulder County District Attorney’s Office)
Experts say that part of the problem is the lack of enforced policy on how schools should investigate the cases, a lack of experience investigating sex crimes, and an inherent bias that can result in decisions that can frustrate both the victims and the accused.
“It can be a sort of messy and amateurish production,” Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor who has represented both victims and students accused of sexual assault in more than 100 misconduct hearings.
Student conduct hearings are either overseen by a judicial panel, similar to a jury, often made up of students who volunteer to participate or other school administrators. Some schools have a single investigator model, in which one designated person puts together a comprehensive report of the evidence and presents it to an administrator who makes a ruling, Wu said.
Disciplinary board hearings can also be problematic when the people adjudicating the case have an active interest in the outcome, like when the football program at Florida State University was accused of covering up an alleged assault by star player Jameis Winston so that he could continue playing. Or at nearby University of Florida, where a student who accused two football players of sexual assault boycotted the proceedings because a football program booster was assigned to adjudicate the case.
One of the only guidelines given to schools on how to handle sexual assault are that the hearings must use a “preponderance of the evidence” in their ruling, which is way lower than a criminal court’s standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In other words, it’s a standard that only requires victims to prove that it’s more likely than not that an assault occurred.
Brock Turner was given a six-month jail sentence after getting convicted of sexuall assaulted an unconcious woman behind a fraty house dumpster on Stanford’s campus.
Some civil rights advocates say the standard is too weak for an accusation as serious as a sex crime. But advocates for victims, including at least 90 law professors who recently signed a letter in support of the standard, say sex assault on college campus should be held to the same civil rights standards as other forms of sex discrimination under Title IX.
A criminal investigation can have its own frustrations, partially because police and prosecutors begrudge taking on cases that have scant or problematic evidence and often involve partying and rely on questions of consent.
“The police don’t like campus sexual assault cases because they feel that there’s often drinking involved and they think they have poor witnesses because they’ve been drinking,” Wu said.
Tim Hardiman, a former Brooklyn sex crimes detective who now trains officers, including campus cops, described the toll an investigation can take on a victim, like the “months to years of hearings” and the victim-blaming in the process. On top of that, rapists are rarely put in prison.
A RAINN analysis of Justice Department data found that 97 out of 100 rapists avoid prison, including the estimated 54% of cases where a victim does not report. That makes Brock Turner’s controversial six-month jail sentence within the norm of outcomes for sexual assault trials. Later this year, the former University of Colorado student convicted of rape, Austin James Wilkerson, also avoided prison.
“While I wish we could put handcuffs on the rapist and put him in jail, I can understand why a woman wouldn’t want to go through law enforcement,” Hardiman said.
Advocates say there are no right or wrong answers to how or if a victim decides to report an assault, but should be aware of what to expect and should contact any of the groups who support victims to talk through the process.
“Some want to see their rapist rot in prison and have to register as a sex offender. And some people aren’t even ready to talk about it or confront what happened to them until it’s too late to report, or ever,” Willingham said.
“I want survivors to know that that’s okay, too. There is no ‘right’ way to survive sexual assault; there’s no duty to do anything but survive as best you can,” Willingham said.
With David Boroff and Meg Wagner