You did everything right. You went to the hospital. You went to the police. You went to the university. Everything the media has ever told you to do—you did it. Your case was dismissed without an explanation. Now what?
With sexual assaults continuing to occur more frequently on college campuses nationwide, a common question many students ponder is, why aren’t we doing more?
Just last week, East Carolina University held the “It’s On Us” campaign, which was launched by the Obama Administration in September 2014.
During the campaign’s inception, President Obama acknowledged that the trauma and fear inflicted on victims of sexual assault does not disappear over time. Their trauma is often present long after their attack.
“It’s there when you’re forced to sit in the same class or stay in the same dorm with the person who raped you, when people are more suspicious of what you were wearing or what you were drinking as if it’s your fault, not the fault of the person who assaulted you,” said President Obama in his address. “It’s a haunting presence when the very people entrusted with your welfare fail to protect you.”
Even with the implementation of President Obama’s campaign, according to testimonies of alleged sexual assault victims and further research on ECU investigative procedures, East Carolina University has continuously failed to meet those standards by not treating complainants in a just manner.
The President’s statement sheds light on several ECU student victims of sexual assault, three of whom were willing to publicly share their experiences.
For their protection, the complainants’ names will be replaced with gender-neutral identities.
The first complainant, referred to as Jordan, shared his/her experience after he/she reported the incident to the University. The first meeting with the investigative panel consisted of a chairperson, three faculty members and two staff members.
Jordan expressed feeling uncomfortable during the session, as though he/she was being viewed as the perpetrator rather than the complainant.
“ECU just did not treat me right,” said Jordan. “They straight up asked me what I was wearing as one of the first questions in my meeting. They also continued to ask me if I was drinking; I felt like it kept coming up.”
According to Jordan, the panel spent more time asking about the outfits worn on the nights of the attacks (twice) as opposed to how he/she was coping with the incident.
“It shouldn’t matter what clothing someone has on,” said Jordan.
The second complainant, referred to as Taylor, also noted that one of the first questions asked by the panel was “what were you wearing?”
“I remember when I first started going to the counseling center and we talked about our stories,” said Taylor. “Almost every person in the support group was asked what they were wearing as one of the first few questions.”
Following the panel’s questions, members allegedly began explaining the process in which the case would be handled. All of the outlined procedures can be found on the ECU website via the Title IX page.
“They told me that the university allows for a 60-day investigation,” said Jordan. “Once the investigation began, they only had 60 days to complete it before they would call me back for another meeting to hear their decision. However, it took four months for me to hear something back, and when I did, it was through a generated email.”
Title IX Involvement
The University’s website provides a definition of the legal doctrine Title IX: “...mandates that no person shall be excluded from participation in or discriminated against on the basis of sex in programs or activities at educational institutions that receive federal financial assistance. Acts of sexual violence, harassment and/or misconduct are forms of sex discrimination. The U.S. Department of Education maintains an Office for Civil Rights to enforce Title IX and ensure that institutions comply with Title IX.”
The Title IX Rights and Procedures state that the university must provide an update to the parties involved at day 30 and day 60 after the complaint is received; however, it mentions nothing about going past the timeline stated.
LaKesha Alston, Title IX coordinator at East Carolina, shared the process the University takes when dealing with sexual assault cases and some of the recent changes they have made.
“The interview panel previously included students,” said Alston. “This changed after the UNC General Administration convened a safety committee. One recommendation was to have only faculty and staff once Title IX was brought in.”
When asked about the 60-day investigation timeline, Alston was unable to speak on specific cases but did say that both parties “are supposed to be notified if an investigation exceeds the timeframe.”
The procedures list also states:
“Deputy Coordinator will provide a written summary of resolution to all parties within 10 days following the completion of the investigation.”
This written summary, which was referred to as an “official notification,” is released in the form of an email.
Tamika Wordlow, director of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, also responded, regarding how students are notified when their investigation concludes.
“There is a typical layout,” said Wordlow. “As per university policy, there are certain things that must be included in the email.”
The items that the university requires to be included in the email are the names of the parties involved, dates, etcetera. However, depending on the case, more information may be provided according to Wordlow.
"The fact that they sent an email just blows my mind,” said Jordan. “You wouldn’t know the effects that that could have on someone.”
While an email is a written document, a template email does not reflect the “summary of the resolution” stated in the rights and procedures of Title IX.
“Students do have access to further information if they wish to access it,” said Wordlow. “FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) allows them to view their file, and we encourage them to speak to us if they want further information.”
Taylor also said that in addition to his/her case being dismissed, the other complainants’ cases in the support group were also dismissed.
“Every single person that I am in counseling with has also had their case dismissed by the University,” said Taylor. “Every single one.”
When The East Carolinian requested information regarding statistics on the number of cases submitted to the University and the number of cases that were dismissed, a safety brochure, consisting of no statistics, was sent in its place.
The ECU Police, however, released a Main Campus Crime Report (the most recent being in 2013) that can be seen in Graphic A.
Both Alston and Wordlow did not comment specifically to the, “what were you wearing” question but did mention that questions asked by the panel are contingent upon the incident in question.
N.C. State Law
According to North Carolina state law, any sexually based offense that occurs without consent or where the complainant has been under the influence of alcohol, is classified as a second-degree sexual offense.
The law is as follows:
“Second degree sexual offense (sexual act committed by force and against the will of the other person; or against someone who lacks mental or physical capacity, such as someone who is mentally defective): Class C felony; 44 to 182 months in prison.”
The state law has also been incorporated into university policy. Under code 2.1 Campus Security Authority (CSA) in Regulation on Responding to Complaints of Sexual Harassment, Sexual Misconduct and/or Discrimination on the Basis of Sex:
“126.96.36.199. Involvement without consent in any sexual act in which there is force, expressed or implied, or use of duress, or deception upon the victim. Forced sexual intercourse is included in this definition, as are the acts commonly referred to as "date rape" or "acquaintance rape." This definition also includes the coercing, forcing, or attempting to coerce or force sexual intercourse or a sexual act on another.”
In all three of the complainants’ cases their alleged attackers were acquaintances, which is one of the most common circumstances in the United States. Nearly 74 percent of victims were acquaintances with their attacker, according to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
The University has a strong stance on stressing the importance of safety when it comes to students. As found on its website, the University aims to “...ensure a safe, healthful and secure campus environment.”
Yet many complainants don’t believe that the University has their best interest following the report of their case.
“I wanted to know if there was a way for me to get a restraining order or something else so that my attacker would not be able to approach me or my roommate,” said Jordan. “It pretty much came down to them only being able to ban the attacker from my dorm building, and [the Victim’s Advocate] handed me a piece of paper with information for the counseling center.”
When asked if additional action could be taken, Alston said that students are given the opportunity to create a safety plan, but was unable to respond further. Per Title IX policy, student protection only goes as far as to separate students if they are in the same class or dorm.
Victims have cited that other factors are often left unconsidered regarding their safety during and after an investigation.
According to Taylor, who was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following his/her attack, he/she has since moved out of the dorm where the incident took place due to insomnia and stress.
“This is something that I have to live with now everyday,” said Taylor. “I don’t sleep at night; I have nightmares. I just don’t feel comfortable on campus alone anymore.”
When Taylor moved to his/her new dorm, Taylor asked the University to extend the ban to his/her new residence hall. ECU denied the request to carry the ban over from his/her previous on-campus residence.
“I had to switch dorms because I couldn’t stay in my dorm anymore,” said Taylor. “Once I moved, [ECU] told me they couldn’t switch the ban, which really bothered me.”
Again, both Wordlow and Alston could not comment on specific cases, but Wordlow said, “If it’s necessary to expand the ban, we would.”
According to Taylor, that was not the case.
While the university’s cooperation and investigation into a sexual assault case is substantial, it does not have legal merit. The university can only carry out repercussions pertaining to university involvement.
“I think the school should spend more time on the victims, getting them the help that they need and to not just provide links to the counseling center,” said Jordan.
While Jordan did not seek legal action against his/her alleged attacker, Taylor did.
“I had two separate investigations,” said Taylor. “One was with the city of Greenville and one with the University.”
After submitting a statement to the Greenville Police Department and to the University, Taylor received a phone call from a detective stating that after the District Attorney reviewed the case, it would not go to trial as the jury would not find the story believable.
“A few weeks after I gave my statement, I received an email from the Dean’s Office which stated that after reviewing my case, speaking with the involved party and consulting the Greenville Police Department, they were not going to pursue my case,” said Taylor, “which of course was frustrating and disappointing, especially since they said that the police investigation would not be considered or influence the university’s investigation.”
The third complainant, referred to as Sam, also had a case dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office.
“I was told that given the circumstances of my case, a jury would believe I consented,” said Sam. “The DA’s Office took a year to review my case and found that my story would not be believable in a courtroom.”
While Sam’s case never made it in front of a judge, the University’s investigation called for the suspension of the attacker, who was 22-years-old at the time of the attack.
“I was told that my attacker would be suspended and that upon their return to campus, I would be notified via email,” said Sam. “Unfortunately, the University never sent me that email, and I ran into my attacker in public which was devastating.”
The District Attorney’s Office and Special Victims Unit did not get back in contact with The East Carolinian prior to this story going to print.
Administration does not have an active role dealing with sexual assault cases. However, they are seeking student input to better the system and make the process better for persons utilizing it, according to administrators.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Virginia Hardy stated that enhancing university policy and the reporting system will “take a village.”
“We want people to report it, one, so that we can provide whatever resources we need to—not only to the individuals but also to do whatever we need to, to those who are committing those offenses,” said Hardy. “So is it an issue on ECU’s campus? I think if any person is assaulted, even if it’s just one, it’s a problem.”
With policy continuing to change and universities nationwide acknowledging the increase in on-campus sexual assaults, Hardy said without student feedback, the system could not be enhanced or altered.
“[Sexual assault] is an ever-moving target,” said Hardy. “So we’re always adjusting and tweaking things from what’s being told to us from the federal government or whomever, but also feedback. We want to know if it’s working and if something isn’t working... How do we tweak it?”
Dean of Students Lynn Roeder said she wants students to feel comfortable coming to administrators for further guidance and support.
“I want them to feel that their case is taken seriously and that we did everything and we support them in anyway we can,” said Roeder. “We don’t know if they don’t come to us. I really want them to feel okay to come.”
Hardy said that while the University does provide employees with training, more should be done, particularly with training as many first responders as possible.
“I think that those first responders on the front line do get a lot of the training and I’m going to broaden that and not just include the employees,” said Hardy. “[ECU] talked about resident advisors. To me, they’re first responders. If you’re living in a resident hall, the first person you go to might be your RA. So how does the RA respond?
“This is a big thing. It’s not a small group of people we’re talking about. There are a lot of people that need to have their hands in this. We’re working our way through all of this and understand that as we do so, there may be, unfortunately, some dips or some missteps. We want to correct those missteps and make sure they’re not constant.”
The “It’s On Us” campaign, brought to campus by the Student Government Association, encourages student victims to get their message across to University officials as well as their fellow classmates.
University programs and safety seminars have been scheduled and hosted by the University as well as the ECU Police Department. Still, attendance is poor, as previously mentioned in news coverage by The East Carolinian.
"I think that they (ECU) try, but at the same time, I think that sexual assault is a very touchy subject,” said Alexis Kovolenko, sophomore political science major. “Taking it into the classroom to try and educate people is a big step. Instead of saying here’s the truth, here are the facts, we need to learn something from it.”
Even students who weren’t victims of sexual assault or aware of the current issues regarding the system — many expressed strong opinions on the matter.
“Part of it may be to cover the reputation of the school,” Sadie Crocket, junior political science major. “They (ECU) don't want parents or possible boosters to think that the school is dangerous in any way. I think that they could do more, but they’re being very passive about it.”
Jake Srednicki, former SGA president and active leader in bringing the “It’s On Us” campaign to campus, believes that students should encourage each other to speak up if they witness an injustice.
“It is important that we are emphasizing how students can be active and take an active role and not be bystanders when these incidents do take place,” said Srednicki.
Srednicki said that by becoming active peers, students could help prevent said peers from putting themselves in risky situations.
“If you see [suspicious behavior] happen or if you hear about [suspicious behavior] happening, be proactive,” said Srednicki.
The Next Step
It is the responsibility of victims and bystanders to come forward, but it is also the responsibility of the university to conduct an investigation that does not question a student’s character, according to the Obama Administration’s initiative regarding campus sexual assault.
“The fact that Student X is aware enough that he or she says that this is not right, something’s not right here and I’m going to report this,” said Hardy. “We’re glad about that because now it’s the community taking care of the community.”
The only thing that stands in the way of change is speaking up and making a difference. All of the victims had this goal in common.
“I just want something to change,” said Taylor. “Something has to change.”