7 of 70: After sexual assault, where do students turn?
Of the 70 students who sought support from the Title IX office for domestic or sexual violence in the 2016-2017 academic year, seven students reported to Student Judicial Programs, according to Director of Sexual Violence Prevention and Title IX Support Allison Vogt.
After the Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences in 2015 found that one in four undergraduate women and one in 14 undergraduate men were victims of sexual misconduct, an increase in dialogue about campus sexual assault prevention led to the introduction of the Critical Thinking in Sexuality workshop in 2017.
But what happens after prevention fails?
The Criminal Justice System
The Department of Justice estimates that of female college students who are sexually assaulted, roughly 4 to 20 percent report the attack to law enforcement, according to the New York Times.
According to Vogt, when a student decides to press criminal charges, their assigned Title IX resource navigator takes them to the Rice University Police Department, which gathers evidence and builds a case. RUPD presents it to the district attorney’s office, which decides if the case goes further.
“We don’t have as much success with it as we’d like,” Vogt said. “We kind of get stuck. We had cases that made it all the way through, but those weren’t sexual assault cases.”
According to Vogt, it is not very often that campus sexual assault is reported through the criminal justice system.
“Say they do decide to go through the criminal complaint,” Vogt said. “We go through the whole system with them. They’re never left by themselves to go through the criminal justice system.”
After Madison Nasteff, now a Baker College senior, was sexually assaulted in the fall of 2016, her friend called RUPD. She said RUPD took her statement and then, per her request, took her to the hospital. After, a detective picked her up and took her back to the police station, where she answered questions and gave another statement.
According to Nasteff, that weekend, RUPD brought in her assailant for questioning and took his sheets and his clothes from that night for evidence. That morning, they also connected her with a Title IX resource navigator and an SJP official.
According to Nasteff, RUPD had her sign a form the following Tuesday stating her intentions on how she would proceed. Reporting students, such as Nasteff, have the opportunity to change their minds at any point about filing a complaint against the responding student, the assailant.
“RUPD was putting a lot of pressure on me to decide how I wanted to move forward,” Nasteff said. “[The four options] were: I want to press criminal charges, I want to press charges through SJP, I don’t want to do anything and I need more time.”
Nasteff said she decided not to pursue criminal charges against her assaulter.
“The option of pressing criminal charges is a lot longer of a process,” Nasteff said. “It’s a lot harder on the survivor.”
Students also have the option to pursue a protection order, also known as a restraining order. According to Vogt, Title IX resource navigators will accompany students to file for protective orders with the district attorney’s office. The Title IX office can also help students with accommodations such as rescheduling exams or moving classes.
“Once we have a protective order in hand, then we look at the restrictions in the protective order [and make accomodations],” Vogt said. “Navigators also are helping the responding student make sure they’re not going to be in violation.”
Reporting to SJP
In addition to or instead of pressing charges, students can report to SJP, which can level sanctions through the university.
“The reason why universities are tasked with [judicial procedures] is that not everything that happens to a student falls under the Texas Penal Code, but is well below our Rice standard,” Vogt said.
After a student decides to make a report, SJP makes a decision based on a preponderance of the evidence, according to SJP Interim Director Emily Garza.
Both the reporting and the responding student can submit verbal and written statements, after which SJP will then continue to collect evidence and witness statements.
“Then, they decide, more likely than not, did something happen?” Vogt said. “If more likely than not it did happen, that person will be found in violation. Or they couldn’t decide that it happened, because they didn’t have enough evidence to show that it did.”
The SJP process is non-adversarial, according to Garza, meaning that reporting and responding students will never have to confront each other. Depending on the circumstances, varying levels of no-contact orders are placed during the investigation, meaning that students may be restricted from contacting each other or from entering certain parts of campus. Reporting and responding students are entitled to a Title IX resource navigator, as well as another support person, during SJP meetings.
According to Garza, both parties have the right to review the disciplinary file, which includes any material that is relevant to the decision, at any point during the investigation. The reporting students are also entitled to be informed of any sanctions that affect them.
According to Nasteff, two months after she made the report, SJP found the responding student was in violation of the sexual assault charges leveled against him and informed her that he would no longer be a student after the end of the semester.
“With a criminal case, they could have to register as a sex offender, they could go to jail,” Nasteff said. “Whereas with SJP the most severe thing they can do is expel someone. Ultimately, I decided to pursue things with SJP mostly because of the time, I didn’t want it to be dragged out, the money — it doesn’t cost any money to go through SJP — and the severity of the punishment. I didn’t know how I felt about sending someone to jail.”
According to Vogt, reporting students can request a specific level of sanctioning, but SJP is not obligated to uphold the request.
“Most of the time, I would say the [reporting] students feel comfortable with the results,” Vogt said.
For Kate, a Rice student whose name has been changed to preserve anonymity, almost four months passed following her sexual assault before she decided to report to SJP.
“There are a lot of barriers to reporting that are hard to understand unless you’re thinking about reporting,” Kate said. “First, you have to come to terms with what happened for yourself and then you have to find a way to explain that to the people around you. Then you have to recognize that it was valid and deserved some form of retribution.”
Kate said she made a decision to report two months after the assault, but changed her mind a week later, ultimately making her report two months after that.
“I think it’s really scary to see a statistic that only 7 in 70 go to report to SJP, but when you think about all of the mental work you have to do, it’s kind of amazing that anyone gets to the point where you’re willing to report,” Kate said.
Kate said it is especially scary for Rice students to think about directly affecting someone’s life in this way.
“If you hear that someone has been suspended for a Title IX violation, everyone’s going to know about it,” Kate said. “I would say we’re all pretty smart, successful people who will go on to do pretty smart, successful things. To take away the possibility of someone’s future is pretty serious.”
Adam, a Rice student whose name has been changed for anonymity, was a freshman when he received an email summoning him to the SJP office.
Although he was found not in violation of all charges, including sexual misconduct, Adam said it is difficult to describe how terrifying it was to go through the months-long SJP process.
“I would think about it every day,” Adam said. “I found it hard to get out of bed and go to class. It really hit me afterwards, how deeply traumatizing the experience was.”
During the investigation, Adam said SJP issued a no-contact order. He was prohibited from going to the reporting student’s residential college or the connected servery, and he was told not to talk about the details of the investigation.
“They didn’t say specific punishments [for breaching the no-contact order], but I got the impression that if I did, I would be moved off campus for the duration of the investigation due to concerns regarding confidentiality,” Adam said.
A week after the not-in-violation decision was made, the reporting student appealed to the dean of undergraduates, who maintained the original decision.
“I can’t blame Rice at all,” Adam said. “It’s a traumatizing experience because of the reality of it, but I can’t blame Rice. I felt like it was professional. I felt respected.”
Kate made her report two months ago and is still awaiting the decision from SJP.
“I just feel like this whole thing is about me not having power and feeling powerless,” Kate said. “It’s frustrating to me that I don’t even get power over my case or what’s happening. I kind of haven’t been updated at all. All the information is channeled through Title IX to me, even if i have a question.”
Support Networks at Rice
Nasteff said although she felt extremely supported by her Title IX officer and SJP during the reporting process, afterward she was told the only counseling she could get was off campus, because the Rice Counseling Center did not have counselors who could help her.
According to Vogt, the RCC had trained therapists at that time, but there are cases in which students are referred to off-campus counseling because they need more intensive or specialized therapy.
“The semester that I tried to seek help after the assault, when I was trying to heal, I was a little bit frustrated being told that the only help I could get was off campus,” Nasteff said. “The beginning of the semester, when I needed help, I didn’t get it.”
Kate said while the Title IX office has done the best it can, Rice as a community has let her down.
“It’s more like I am a liability for the university than I am a person whose feelings were hurt as a result of going to this university,” Kate said.
Nasteff said she also used the RCC’s 24/7 crisis hotline. According to Adam, SJP encouraged him to go to the RCC as a resource. He went, but stopped after a few months. Last week, he went in again.
“This is something I’m still dealing with,” Adam said. “There are hours and days of revisiting the case in my head. Even though I do trust my memory and the evidence of the case, it still doesn’t make the recurrent thoughts stop.”
Nasteff said she does not believe that Rice could have done anything to prevent her sexual assault.
“I think there are things that Rice can do to teach individuals what’s right and what’s wrong, but ultimately if there’s a person who’s going to do something evil like that, it’s not Rice’s fault,” Nasteff said. “It’s theirs.”