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Sexual Assault at Clark: Prevention, Reporting, and Response

Celine Manneville, Photo Editor

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“Crimes of sexual and relationship violence are underreported both on college campuses and nationally,” Title IX Coordinator Lynn Levey stated. For this reason, “the number of reports give an incomplete picture.”

During the 2016-2017 school year, the numbers are as follows: Eight reports of sexual harassment, six reports of sexual assault, four reports of stalking, three reports of sexual misconduct, and three reports of sexual exploitation.*

However, sexual assault is still tremendously underreported, not just at Clark, but everywhere. In fact, in a 2015 study from the Association of American Universities, 23 percent of women reported experiencing sexual assault at college.

Out of those who participated, more than 50 percent of the women who reported some of the most serious incidents in the survey, such as forced penetration, did not report the incident to authorities.

At Clark, school officials indicate that they take this problem seriously and have implemented a significant range of processes, resources, education, prevention and advocacy work, and ongoing awareness to try to combat this issue.

When an instance of sexual assault occurs, students have a litany of resources they can utilize.

Confidential resources on campus include the Center for Counseling and Personal Growth (CPG) and Health Services, along with four faculty members who are considered confidential resources when specified: Kathleen Palm Reed, James Córdova, and Andrew Stewart in the Psychology department, and Tamara (Sasha) Adkins in the International Development, Community, and Environment department.

When a student reports an instance of sexual assault to a member of the CPG, the student’s experience is handled in a therapy-oriented way. After determining how safe the victim** is at the moment, they determine how it affected the victim emotionally, socially, academically, etc.

They then have a discussion about the pros and cons of reporting the incident to a Responsible Employee.

Clark designates the title of Responsible Employee to many of the faculty and staff on campus. According to the Clark Sexual Offenses Policy, a Responsible Employee as defined by federal law, is a University employee who “has the authority to redress sexual violence, who has the duty to report incidents of sexual violence or other student misconduct, or who a student could reasonably believe has this authority or duty.” Responsible Employees include Faculty, Staff, Resident Advisors (RA), Peer Advisors (PA), and EMS, among others.

Megan Kersting, CPG Director, says that she uses this time to determine how impacted someone has been. While she said she recognizes that going through the Title IX process can be empowering, she also looks to see if the Title IX process is something they can tolerate at the time. However, this is not to say that she influences any student’s decision.

“In therapy in general, we never tell anybody what to do, we just kind of help them come to that decision themselves,” she said.

Staff in the CPG, besides being trained in trauma informed counseling, receive training on the Title IX process so they understand it and what it may mean for a victim. However, they try to remain separate from the Title IX process so students can have a space where they feel safe and they can process things.

Kersting said there is a benefit to going to counseling first, saying “the fact that you can have a place where you can process how you want to move forward with this, but also the addition of having trained professionals who are trained in trauma response to help make sense of the feelings, symptoms, and behaviors that might occur after experiencing trauma.” The CPG emphasized that, like many offices at Clark, they always believe that what the student is saying is true.

Students can also find support in others, as exhibited by We Believe You, a group on campus that is independent of Clark. The group was started by several students who are survivors who found comfort and support in each other that they were unable to find within the Clark administration.

Samantha Burden (‘19), a member of the group, said she was “just looking for other people who ‘got it’ and the administration couldn’t.” She recalled thinking that there should be something on campus that doesn’t just meet her needs, but meets the needs of others as well.

“I don’t want to feel like an isolated survivor meeting with someone at Counseling Services. I want to know that I’m a part of a community of people who live and breathe on this campus and have to navigate the same way I do,” Burden said. “Finding help by myself is not the same as finding it with other people.” So We Believe You was born.

Formally, We Believe You has weekly meetings on Wednesdays with counselors from Pathways for Change, a sexual assault resource in Worcester. Informally, they provide support for victims, survivors, and anyone who is feeling triggered.

Burden said that she will also direct students towards Pathways for Change or other services, for instance if anyone is feeling unsafe, as she is not trained to handle that. However, she emphasized that “you don’t have to be trained to be able to support someone going through the same thing as you.”

Students can also report to University Police (UP). Under the leadership of Chief Stephen Goulet, UP has five sexual assault investigators on the staff who have received significant training. They have learned what questions to ask victims, what questions not to ask, how to ask them, and how not to ask them.

“You really only get one shot,” said Goulet in regards to an initial interview with a victim in order to uncover what happened. “You have to know what to ask and how to ask it. Not only looking long-term for if we end up in court or in the Undergraduate Judicial Board (UJB), but you want to have the victim feel as comfortable as he or she can with respect to the questioning.”

UP will work with the victim of the sexual assault on which direction that investigation will go. UP works with departments on campus to provide services and support. That includes the Title IX coordinator, Residential Life and Housing (RLH), Dean of Students, and a number of other departments on campus.

“Keep in mind, primarily we investigate and we protect,” Goulet said.

UP also works with outside entities. That means, when appropriate, UP will work with the Worcester Police Department (WPD), their sexual assault unit, the Worcester Court System, the District Attorney’s office, and any other appropriate departments off campus.

“We will help. We will assist with that. We’re ready, all of us are ready, willing, and able to help. Just reach out. Reach out and let us help you,” said Goulet.

UP is open 24/7, “so if you want to come in at three in the morning or eight in the morning, come in. If you want to call at eight in the morning or three in the morning, call,” Goulet said. There are five sexual assault investigators on the UP staff. Two of the investigators are female.

“They’re on-call 24/7 and they’ll come in off-duty and they’ll speak to somebody who wants to speak to a female,” he added.

Goulet explained the benefits of reporting to UP quickly.

“The fact that we get involved right away, we can better protect that investigation,” he said “It allows me to provide for protection if you come right away.”

Going to UP right away allows the investigation to start immediately, which can be especially helpful in collecting some types of evidence.

“You’ve got a certain amount of time before drugs in the body go away, before evidence gets washed away,” Goulet said. However, he emphasized that he does not look down on anyone who chooses to wait to report “[the victim] gets to lead this train, and I do not look negatively on waiting,” he said.

If any victims desire to go through the Title IX process, there is also a process put in place to make that possible. In order to begin this process, students can report any incidences to a Responsible Employee, who will report it to Levey. They can also go to anyone authorized under Title IX directly. Once word gets to Levey, if the victim decides they want to go through the Title IX process, she assigns an investigator to conduct an investigation.

More people are being trained to investigate for many reasons, such as conflicts of interest and increased diversity.

“Let’s say we have a [victim who is a] queer woman of color. I might not be the person they want to disclose to,” said Adam Keyes, Associate Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator.  “They should have options in that window of [investigators] with different identities and different backgrounds.”

Once an investigator is assigned, they begin outreach, starting with an initial interview with the victim. At this point, the process can take many different shapes, depending on what the victim would like to do.

“It’s really up to the victim survivor because they’re driving the train to decide how they want to approach it,” Levey said.

However, there are some rare cases where the University will move forward regardless of what the victim wants to do. These include cases in which the respondent is a risk to the community or if their name has come up more than once as a potential perpetrator.

“We have an obligation to safety for the community,” Keyes said.

Accommodations can be made whether a victim wants to pursue an investigation or not, such as housing changes, course schedule modifications, no contact or stay away orders, direction to on or off campus resources, as well as a litany of other options.

If a victim wants to pursue an investigation, that is also a possibility. However, everything is done with input from the victim, in order to best protect them and their needs.

“Our survivors are gonna drive that bus,” said Keyes. “Sexual assault is an act of control, and so for me to step in a second time and remove your control as a survivor is not a good tactic.”

During the Title IX process, the investigation may lead to a hearing in front of a board, which is composed of three trained members of the faculty or staff chosen out of a combination of people.

The investigator interviews the victim, the respondent, and any witnesses that there may be. These are performed to gather information because the investigator did not live through the incident.

“They are not a question of judgment in terms of what you’re talking about and what you say happened,” Keyes said.

The investigator collects information and exhibits as well. They then create an Investigative Report, which gets viewed by the hearing board, the victim, and the respondent. These reviews take place at different times in the Title IX office. The Investigative Report does not include a finding, as the board, not the investigator, determines whether to deem the respondent responsible.

However, no matter what the finding is, “we as a University will always treat you as if this experience was true and lived, even if we don’t have enough evidence to find the accused responsible,” Keyes said.

The only time a victim and a respondent would be in the same space is during the hearing if they both chose to attend.

“You do not have to appear at the hearing,” said Keyes. “If either party accepts coming into the hearing, we inform the other party.” This is done because “we’ve tried to create a very survivor-centric process that allows for a person to meet as minimal a number of times with as minimal number of people,” Keyes said.

According to Levey, there are benefits of reporting to Title IX.

“We’re trying to streamline everything together so that we’re coordinating with the other entities on campus,” Levey stated. This includes coordinating with University Police, RLH, and professors if needed.

“It’s kind of a one stop shop where we would be able to assess what the particulars are in the situation and then be able to come up with a plan,” said Levey.

Additionally, the internal process has to be completed within sixty days of the report.

Levey went on to say that sixty days may sound like a long time, but compared to a typical Criminal Justice System case where the average misdemeanor takes nine months, sixty days is much faster.

“It’s not a perfect process, but it is a faster process,” Levey stated.

However, if a victim decides to go through the Title IX process, that does not mean they cannot also go through the Criminal Justice process.

“It does not preclude you from that; you may do both. You may do neither. You may decide,” Levey said.

Clark has made efforts to try to prevent these incidents.

During Week One, all first-year and transfer students must attend a session called “Consenting Communities.” This program was created by the Clark Anti-Violence Education (CAVE) program Community Task Force, which is the student extension of CAVE.

During the spring and summer of 2014, Sarah Dys (‘15), Sarah Philbrick (‘15), and Maddy Friga (‘15) spoke with Tim St. John, Director of Student Leadership and Programming (SL&P), regarding the current programming during Week One, and the missing component of consent.

At that time, there was an orientation program implemented through CAVE called “Bringing in the Bystander.” This 75-minute program, which was based on a model from the University of New Hampshire, focused on how to be a bystander and intervene to prevent incidents of sexual assault.

“The idea was that, while ‘Bringing in the Bystander’ was a good and important program, they felt that there was this missing layer of consent,” St. John said.

What came out of their conversations was “Consenting Communities,” a program that is conducted in small groups by trained Consent Advocates, which provides students with information regarding Clark’s sexual assault policies and standards that students will be held accountable to over their Clark career.

During the program, Consent Advocates are required to state that sexual assault happens at Clark. “‘Consenting Communities’ is really specific to Clark,” says Jenny Rubin (‘18), Lead Member of the CAVE Community Task Force.

“Something else that’s unique is that it has three really deeply personal testimonials from past or present Clark students — anonymous, obviously. This program doesn’t deny that sexual assault happens on our campus, but it kind of opens the conversation about what counts as assault, what is a punishable offence, what isn’t, what you can hold your friends and peers to, what the University will hold you to; those kind of conversations open up.”

Results from the Orientation surveys that first-years and transfer students fill out after Week One show many qualitative comments about how it is appreciated that there is a focus on these issues and that it is something that people are addressing and paying attention to. According to Rubin, the results from the “Consenting Communities” survey, taken immediately after the session, yielded some complaints, which she said are “super important and valid.” These comments will be taken into consideration and incorporated into the program for next year.

However, “Consenting Communities” is not the only prevention program put into place. During the summer before students come to Clark, all first-year and transfer students have to complete a mandatory, online program titled “Agent of Change.” During this program, students go through a first-person virtual reality where they are presented with situations addressing the subjects of sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment, and stalking. According to the “Agent of Change” program guide, this system “allows players to learn, develop, and practice the skills needed to prevent violence before it happens.”

However, first-years and transfers are not the only students coming into Clark each year. In the fall 2016 semester, there were 976 degree-seeking graduate students, according to the Clark University website.

All incoming graduate students are required to complete an online program called “Think About It.” This program explores sexual violence prevention in a way that is tailored specifically to graduate students and their perspectives. According to the CAVE website, “Think About It” “provides participants with knowledge and awareness of sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, stalking, harassment, consent, and active bystanding.” It also provides students with information regarding Clark’s own policies, procedures, and resources related to these issues.

Also during Week One, there is a session put on by RLH called “Issues on Stage.” During this session, RAs perform skits relating to issues on campus. Included in this session is a skit related to sexual assault, according to St. John and confirmed by Keyes.

All of the education and prevention action continues after Orientation. All incoming first-years and transfer students have to complete the “Bringing in the Bystander” program. This program is carried out during the first month of the fall semester.

“Bringing in the Bystander” is an approximately two-hour program carried out by trained facilitators. The session gives students a new idea of who a bystander/witness is and to create active prevention and a safe environment. It trains students to not only be witnesses, but partners in prevention even if they are not directly involved in the situation and how to intervene in a way that doesn’t threaten their health or well-being.

Like the other Orientation programs, this program is mandatory, and if a student fails to complete it, a hold is placed on their account and they are unable to register for classes until it is completed.

Clark administrators interviewed for this article note that more students are coming forward to report assaults as compared with previous years. This is one of the findings in the ongoing Campus Climate Survey, conducted by Professor Kathleen Palm Reed and Professor Denise Hines, both in the Psychology department.

Reed and others believe that the increased reporting rate is due to the increased messaging, awareness, and education around the reporting process, resources, and potential options at Clark.

Goulet stated that sexual assault “is such an important topic to us,” and stressed reaching out to get help. “As many ways as you can think of to communicate, then you can [report] it that way.”

** A note on terminology adapted from the Clark University Sexual Offenses Policy: although the term “survivor” is preferred by many to describe an individual who has been sexually assaulted, the term “victim” is also widely used, especially in the criminal justice context. Each victim needs to decide at their own pace, whether and how they will become survivors. Therefore this article uses the term “victim” and does so with respect for those who have been subjected to sexual assault.

* Clark defines these terms in the following way, according to the Clark University Sexual Offenses Policy.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual Harassment consists of any unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This includes, but is not limited to: submission to, or rejection of, such conduct that is made either implicitly or explicitly a term or condition of employment or participation in an education program; submission to, or rejection of, such conduct that is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions affecting a student; such conduct that has the purpose or effect of interfering with a student’s work or academic performance; or such conduct that creates a hostile or intimidating work or academic environment.

Sexual Assault

Sexual Assault is any sexual penetration (anal, oral or vaginal), however slight, with any object or sexual intercourse by one or more persons upon another without effective consent. Sexual penetration includes vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, object, tongue or finger and oral copulation by mouth to genital contact or genital to mouth contact.

Stalking

Stalking is a course of conduct (two or more acts) directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to a) fear for their safety or the safety of others or b) suffer substantial emotional distress. Stalking behaviors include, but are not limited to: non-consensual communication (including in-person communication, telephone calls, voice/text/email messages, social networking site postings, instant messages, postings of pictures or information on websites, written letters, gifts, or any other communications that are undesired and/or place another person in fear); following, pursuing, waiting, or showing up uninvited at a workplace, place of residence, classroom, or other locations frequented by a person; surveillance and other types of observation, whether by physical proximity or electronic means; vandalism; trespassing; non-consensual touching; direct physical or verbal threats against a person and/or their loved ones; gathering of information about a person from family friends, co-workers, and/or classmates; manipulative and controlling behaviors such as threats to harm oneself or threats to harm someone close to that person; and defamation or slander against a person.

Sexual Misconduct

Sexual Misconduct is any intentional sexual touching of a person, however slight, with any object without effective consent. Sexual touching includes any bodily contact with the breasts, groin, genitals, mouth or other bodily orifice of another or any other bodily contact in a sexual manner. Any disrobing of, or exposure to, another person without effective consent is considered a violation of this policy.

Sexual Exploitation

Sexual Exploitation occurs when a student takes non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage of another for their own advantage or benefit, or to benefit or advantage anyone other than the one being exploited, and that behavior does not otherwise constitute Sexual Assault, Sexual Misconduct, or Sexual Harassment. Examples of Sexual Exploitation include, but are not limited to: making public sexual activity with another student without that other student’s consent; prostituting another student; non-consensual video- or audio-taping of sexual activity; going beyond the boundaries of consent (such as letting your friends hide in the closet to watch you having consensual sex); voyeurism; and/or knowingly transmitting an sexually transmitted infection (STI) or HIV to another student.

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Sexual Assault at Clark: Prevention, Reporting, and Response