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Understanding sexual assault

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The Appalachian Online

The policies, resources and culture surrounding rape on campus

Since the start of the fall 2014 semester, there have been seven cases of on-campus sexual assault reported to university police, as disclosed by emails.

Every time a sexual assault occurs on Appalachian State University’s campus, it is reported to the students in an email with the subject “CRIME ALERT.”

One of these, the only one reportedly perpetrated by an unknown acquaintance, was found to be a false account. According to a university police crime alert email, the alleged assault reported Sept. 8 never occurred.

According to an email from university police, two of these assaults were perpetrated by the same student, who was arrested after committing the second. The first of his victims was a nonstudent and the location of the incident was undisclosed.

The remaining five occurred in residence hall rooms, and were allegedly committed by known acquaintances of the victims, according to police.

Only one of these cases involved a male student, who was  reportedly inappropriately touched by a female student.

National Change

Last fall, the federally mandated and funded Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, or SaVE, was introduced to Appalachian’s faculty and staff, addressing domestic violence, dating violence, stalking and sex offenses, taking effect July 2015.

According to www.clerycenter.org, SaVE requires a higher level of transparency in reporting, minimum standards for institutional disciplinary policies, education programming and  collaboration with the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services.

A major change implemented by the act is the definition of rape. The word “force” was removed from the definition, outlining any sexual intercourse without clear, knowing consent as rape.

University Police Chief Gunther Doerr said because of increased education and awareness efforts by the university, the higher numbers may reflect more students willing to come forward.

“We feel like the number of reports has increased,” Doerr said. “We’re not convinced that the number of incidents has increased. It’s the reporting. People are a little bit more comfortable, they’re a little bit more aware, maybe a little more trusting to report and seek resources.”

Seeking help

There are numerous resources available in Boone for victims of sexual assault and rape on and off campus.

Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter Inc., or OASIS, is a community organization that can help direct victims to resources, as well as assist in the reporting process.

OASIS offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, a confidential emergency shelter for women and their children, short-term crisis intervention and support, case management and referrals, support groups and other services for victims.

Executive Director of OASIS Jennifer Herman said the organization can also help victims navigate Appalachian’s resource and reporting system.

The counseling center offers walk-in intake from 1-4 p.m., but will take any emergency cases immediately after hours, meaning that University Police can be called at any time to be redirected to a counselor.

Dr. Dan Jones, director of the counseling center, said the hours and lack of funding and staff do create limitations on the resources that are available.

Jones also said the counseling center has seen a 135 percent increase in students seeking help with unwanted sexual experiences in the first seven weeks of the fall 2014 semester, as compared to the same period of time last year.

The reporting process

Victims of sexual assault do not always come forward and report, Doerr said.

“The university would like victims to come forward so we can at least provide them resources, so they can recover, heal and move on with their lives,” Doerr said. “There’s a difference between reporting and going forward with criminal prosecution.”

Reporting can be done through police, OASIS, the counseling center, student conduct or any faculty member on campus. Reporting simply requires a victim to tell someone that they have been assaulted.

OASIS also offers anonymous reporting methods for victims who do not want their names released, as well as a fund that makes medical examinations and rape kits available to victims who request them.

“If you choose not to give your name, you can still have the rape kit completed and the evidence gathered,” Herman said. “You have an indefinite period of time for that information to be stored.”

It is up for the victim to decide how they want to handle their assault. If they want to simply receive counseling and support without reporting, their attacker will not be tried. If they decide to report, conduct will discipline the attacker. For criminal prosecution, the case must be brought to the police.
However, once a case is brought to police, Student Conduct also receives the report, said Judy Haas, director of student conduct and associate dean of students.

Students fight rape culture

Students organized a forum Sept. 24 to address concerns surrounding Appalachian’s sexual assault policies and to compile a list of demands for administration.
The event, titled People’s Forum Against ASU’s Rape Culture, was organized by junior global studies major Julia Grainger and senior women’s studies major Rachel Clay. Students met in Peacock Hall in Room 1020 to voice their questions, concerns, demands and calls for action to be taken.

Clay said she and Grainger decided to organize the event after attending the open panel hosted by the Student Government Association the previous week, in which students were invited to ask questions of a panel of university officials, including administration members and Doerr.

Grainger said she felt the event was ineffective and the panelists were unresponsive.

“The entire time that we were there, the chief of police, he laughed and he smirked at people’s questions and people’s concerns and their anxiety,” Grainger said.

Clay said she felt questions that could have been answered with a simple yes or no were responded to with political, 15-minute or longer answers.

“There wasn’t any apology, and there weren’t any answers,” Clay said.

The forum organized a list of demands to be given directly to the administration, including free rape kits to be available on campus, required interim suspension for suspected perpetrators of sexual assaults, a higher level of transparency in communication from administration and a required class for incoming freshmen on interpersonal and sexual violence.

“We’re here because we know the programs we have in place don’t work,” Justis Tucker, a freshman accounting major, said at the forum.

The forum also called for possible actions that could be taken moving forward, including organized sit-ins, mattress walks, like the one demonstrated by a Columbia University student, and consent campaigns.

The group is currently in the process of solidifying dates for these events and has been holding more meetings to organize, though they are not calling themselves a club because they want to be seen as the student body as a whole fighting for the cause, Grainger said.

Education
Appalachian is implementing education for its students and faculty on sexual assaults and being an active bystander.

All incoming freshmen are required to attend orientation, during which the topic is addressed. Additionally, there is a new program called Haven, an online training module for incoming students. However, the program is not yet required.

The university also offers rape defense and upstander training through the Red Flag Campaign, a program designed to raise awareness and educate people about being active bystanders, according to www.redflag.appstate.edu.

Hannah Hribar, student coordinator for the Red Flag Campaign, said the campaign is working on expanding their training, which focuses on educating students on interpersonal violence and how to be active bystanders.

“You’re trained on how to handle interpersonal violence and how to talk to people about interpersonal violence,” Hribar said.

However, Jones referenced a study conducted by psychologist David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, called “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists” to explain why education doesn’t always work.

Jones said the study found only about 5 percent of men “might rape,” or have the capacity to be rapists. Of these 5 percent, 2 percent would regret it or would only do it under the influence, while the remaining 3 would not feel remorse. Additionally, a man who is considered a “repeat rapist” will rape an average of 5.8 women.

“Those 3 percent are probably narcissistic personalities or they’re antisocial personalities and they’re trying to take care of themselves and they’re not very empathic or compassionate,” Jones said. “Appealing to empathy and compassion is probably not going to make much difference with those 3 percent of men.”

Jones said he thinks the conversation surrounding rape needs to focus on exposing the tactics of “serial rapists,” which includes looking for isolation and drunkenness when searching for victims.

“We do tell men not to rape, but that 3 percent are not going to listen to us,” Jones said. “We’ve got to expose them.”

Additionally, Jones said he thinks the history of accused rapists and assaulters need to be investigated further.

“Not only should the incident be investigated, the alleged rapist should be investigated to find out if there’s a pattern,” Jones said.

According to Article VI of the Code of Student Conduct, if someone “presents a health or safety risk to members of the University community, the University may take reasonable steps to prevent recurrence of such misconduct.”

Word of mouth as evidence

In sexual assault and rape investigations, oftentimes the main, and in many cases sole, evidence for both the victim and persecutor is word of mouth, Haas said.
The process is a hard one, but fundamentally fair, Haas said.

According to the Code of Student Conduct, cases involving sexual misconduct are seen by a separate board from the ones which oversee all other conduct cases. The Sexual Misconduct Interim Appeals Board is comprised of three council members, who Haas said undergo extensive training in order to serve.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a false report [of sexual assault in conduct] on this campus,” Haas said.

However, junior communications and advertising major Dakota Hiatt said he spent five months last semester battling the conduct office after being falsely accused of rape and other charges by an ex-girlfriend.

According to Hiatt’s formal resolution, he was found not responsible for the charges of sexual harassment, non-consensual sexual contact, non-consensual sexual intercourse and sexual exploitation. The sole charge he was found responsible for was unauthorized entry, which Hiatt said he was guilty of for entering a dorm he didn’t live in without escort in order to meet his ex-girlfriend.

He now owes more than $9,000 in legal fees to the attorney he hired to handle the case, and said he is paying the money back with student loans and also said his grades suffered due to the charges.

“The only thing student conduct has ever done for me is hinder my academic success,” Hiatt said. “My GPA went from a 3.75 to a 3.1.”

Hiatt said he feels that universities should have no role in investigating sexual misconduct because they are educational institutions, not punitive ones, and therefore are not qualified to investigate criminal matters.

“I’m a very lucky individual given the circumstances,” Hiatt said. “I recognize that, but that doesn’t justify what I went through.”

Limitations on transparency

Doerr said students’ rights prevent University Police from releasing much information after initial crime reports are sent out.

Under criminal prosecution by police, the accused are protected under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, specifically the rights of the accused.

“If a student is found guilty, there is due process,” Haas said.

All conduct matters are protected under the Family Rights to Privacy Act and may not be released without permission.

“There are a lot of limitations imposed by law and by the victims and by the parents,” Jones said. “They have the ability to say, ‘No, I don’t want people to know about that,’ and the university has to honor that.”

 

 

Story: Laney Ruckstuhl, News Editor

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