April is sexual assault awareness month, but we should be talking about sexual assaults more than just one in 12 months of the year. Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) defines sexual assault as “sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include: attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrators body, and penetration of the victim’s body (also known as rape).
It is important to use gender neutral terms when discussing sexual assault. Statistically speaking, women are often victim to sexual assault, and men are often the perpetrator. But that is not always the case. Women can assault other women and men, and men can assault other men. There is not a single victim when it comes to an assault.
The sexual assault reporting process tends to hold stigmas against the victim. Women are typically asked what they were wearing, if they were drinking, and suggested that they knew the act would happen or lead someone into it. This is not how the process works here at Saint Martin’s. Most students know that there is a way to report sexual harassment and assault, but don’t know the way to do so, or what happens.
The first and foremost focus when the conversation takes place, is the victims and safety and that they are educated on the resources available to them. It is important to note that simply having a conversation to clarify what the victim went through, does not equal a report. Every step along the way of this process is with the comfort of the victim in mind. There is no force for a victim to file a report, nor is there coercion to not filing a report. It is in the first conversation whether it be with a staff member or public safety, the victim will be given an outline of their options available to them – from a formal reporting process, to just having protective orders in place such as moving residence halls or changing class schedules – to going the legal route through local community law enforcement. The decisions made on behalf of law enforcement will not affect the decision made on behalf of SMU and vice versa.
If you are unsure about which step you’d like to take, if any, there is no push. The process will take as long as it needs to take with respect to the victim. There is not statute of limitation or amount of time that a report needs to be made. Everyone processes things differently. It is a known fact that the way in which the process goes will dictate the healing process for the victim. The comfort of the victim is the top priority in all cases. If the victim had their power taken away from them during a sexual assault, it is key that the victim is empowered during the healing and reporting process.
In the case that a victim approaches any staff member, faculty, or public safety officer to discuss a possible case, it is important to note that the conversation will be “I believe you, I will be honest with you, and I will be transparent with you through the entire process.” Every case is different and there are different standards for each individual case. The process is not strictly report, investigation, conduct. “We will find a process fitting to each case. If there is something we can do, we’ll do it” said Will Stalkin.
If you choose to file a formal report and request an investigation take place, and the investigation leads to conduct, it is important to know what happens next.
- Both parties will be given equal rights
- Separation is allowed in hearing, but the victim can confront the accused perpetrator
- Both parties have the right to view the case file and ask questions
- Protective measures are in place for both parties
- Each party can give up to a 15-minute explanation in the hearing as long as it fits within outlined boundaries
- Students can request to have a witness. However, there is examination to quality of witness, no one can randomly be brought in.
- The hearing is held in a well-controlled environment
It is important to note that the accused perpetrator has a right to know who accused them of the assault. Both parties can repeal the decision made within the hearing, whether they think the punishment was too lenient or too harsh. There are multiple check-ins with both parties throughout the entire process, no one is left in the dark about what is happening. “In my time here I have had only one instance of false reporting. It is important to listen to and believe survivors” stated Tim McClain.
There is nothing in the reporting, investigation or conduct process that will lock you down. The student can walk away at any point. The comfort, healing and wellbeing of the student is top priority always. It is the fear of reporting that creates a culture where sexual assaults, violence or harassment go unreported.
Cynthia Johnson, Title IX coordinator explained her role as, “making sure the victim is taken care of, stopping the behavior, and making sure the behavior does not happen again. There are retaliation and confidentiality protections in place for both parties involved.”
If there is an immediate threat to the campus community, or need to release a statement to the community, the name of the victim and/or perpetrator will never be used to protect them both.
It is imperative that students are aware that if you are victim to sexual assault, everyone is here to support your healing process. There is no force or coercion, and you make all the decisions. You can choose to back out at any time.