College Judicial Consultants

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Archive for the category “Sexual Assault”

Apples and Oranges—Sexual Assault as a Judicial Issue (pt. 2)

There is a lot of understandable outrage from sexual assault and interpersonal violence advocates about the way they see assaults mishandled on college campuses. The criticism I hear most often is that since sexual assault/rape is a crime it should be handled by the police and the criminal justice system. They worry that a college will mishandle things or pressure a victim, and that the victim will not be able to avail herself of the criminal courts. As a result, they fear that the rapists and assaulters on campus will go free or, if they are punished they will get a slap on the wrist compared to what would happen if things were handled “correctly.”

Let’s be clear—recent history has given these advocates a lot of cause for concern. I have already discussed investigations about the way very prestigious schools have mishandled sexual assaults and the reporting of incidents, and those failures (along with the other anecdotal ones any advocate can tell you) have engendered an understandable belief that schools are actively (or at least negligently) silencing reports to make themselves look better.  After all, they only have to report sexual assaults they know about so the less they know the fewer “occur,” and the safer their campus will seem to prospective students and their families. Since I do not know the actual story at any of these schools, I do not want to comment on their intention. I have already talked about how a bad system can hurt victims; however, the college judicial system is no worse than any other system and in some cases has distinct advantages for a victim. If you believe that the solution to the problems with some judicial systems on some campuses is to eliminate their ability to hear these cases, you will be hurting more victims that you help.

As a hypothetical, let’s say that a victim comes forward and says that she was sexually assaulted at a party in an off campus apartment. She says that she went there because she liked one of the guys that she knew from class, but since she was nervous she drank more than she normally does and got very drunk. While she remembers flirting with the guy she liked, she doesn’t remember much after she played a drinking game with “jungle juice” but that she woke up in his bed with him and knows they had sex. When she woke up and realized what happened, she freaked out because she would NEVER have had sex with him. In fact, she is known as a good girl, and that has made her somewhat of a challenge to the boys that know her. When the boy woke up he was being very nice as if nothing was wrong, and offered to take her to breakfast and asked if she would spend the day with him. She made up some excuse she can’t remember and went back to her dorm. A week later her RA brought her to the sexual assault advocate’s office when she heard what happened.

There are much more “horrific” cases that occur on a college campus, but do not be confused—this is sexual assault. Situations like this were the majority of cases that came to me as a judicial officer-ones where the extent of the sexual act was never a question, the victim and attacker knew each other (and often in a positive way prior to the assault), and alcohol was involved. In these cases a victim is often unsure about what she wants to happen to her attacker. There are times where she wants him thrown in jail, times where she wants him kicked off campus, and times where she only wants him to understand what he did to her so that she can “move on.” In fact, I have had more victims back out when they thought their attacker would be suspended or expelled than I have victims back out because of an uncertain outcome. So how do you advise her?

If she wants him held accountable there are three roads she can take. If she decides to go the criminal route she may be able to get him arrested, thrown in jail, and if the case is successful he may face time in prison. However, she has very little control over what happens in the case, it can take a long time, a victim is often kept out of the loop, and in the type of situation described above many DAs will not prosecute. She could decide to sue him, but this option is expensive and takes even longer. Finally, she could decide to bring him up on campus judicial charges. While this option would  result in a much smaller consequence for the attacker (i.e., even if he’s expelled that’s much better than prison,) but the hearing will likely be confidential, she will be allowed to dictate much of what happens, and she can surround herself by the resources set aside for victims in these cases. That is at least true in good systems. Most importantly, if she chooses to use the campus judicial system she can still decide to use the other two because choosing that option does not in any way prevent her from changing her mind and also using the criminal or civil systems.

I know there are many survivors, victims, and advocates that don’t think the above benefits make the judicial system worth it, and will never accept that the system is “effective.” However, I think “effectiveness” should be defined by how a victim’s desired outcomes are met, and by the level to which a system can avoid revictimization. If you want to look at the systems based on their failures, none of them are “effective.” If you want to look at them by their successes, each of them can be. However, I believe that if you look at them as distinct and often not mutually exclusive options, the campus judicial system has the most potential to be victim-focused, minimize revictimization, and meet the victim’s desired goals to allow her to continue healing.

Of course, that’s only true in good systems.

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 This is a plug. If you do not want to read a plug for services, stop now! We will still adore you.

For the 2013-2014 school year we are going to be offering a victim assistance package to advocacy offices on campus. This will include:

  1. Serving as an on-call judicial resource for unlimited complainants for one academic year.
  2. Allowing the extent and nature of the assistance to be completely determined by victim and/or the advocate including maintiaining as much anonymity as a victim desires.
  3. Helping the victim build the most effective case against the attacker possible.
  4. Allowing advocates to exclusively focus on support.
  5. Identifying situations that may require outside legal involvement (e.g. a denial of due process, forced mediation, etc.)
  6. Reviewing the sexual assault policies, and offering recommendations for improving them.

We are in the process of ironing out the details, but if you want to retain our services we will charge half of what we would charge when these services become publicized in August. For less than the cost of hiring an outside investigator for one case, we will help as many victims as possible build strong judicial cases. We believe this will increase the numbers of cases that are heard, help advocates prove there is a problem on their campus, and by removing much of this responsibility from the advocate it will increase the trust and support between them and the victim. Contact DaveK@CollegeJudicialConsultants.com with any question or to discuss costs.

How to Fix The College Discipline System for Sexual Assault Cases

NYT article

Click here for the NYT article on the issues at Swarthmore and Occidental.

Colleges and universities are under scrutiny their (mis)handling of sexual assault and interpersonal violence (IPV) cases. High profile schools are being investigated for violating victims’ rights, while at the same time there is a growing movement advocating for increasing the rights and protections of the accused. There have been calls from both sides to take these cases out of the college judicial process and leave it to the courts, but all that will do is take options away from the victim and result in even fewer perpetrators facing accountability.

Both sides are correct—colleges are not equipped to handle these cases. However, it is not because the judicial systems are inherent flawed or a lack of awareness by the people involved—it is because it is impossible to have a system  fair to both parties when the people responsible for the different aspects of the case have other interests and responsibilities. To ensure the disciplinary process is followed and fair, a school should hire outside entities to handle the three major components of a case, and allow the college administrators to focus on their responsibilities.

By necessity there will be oversimplification of the issues to make this piece’s length manageable, but I am operating under several assumptions:

  1. Judicial administrators (JAs) and board members want to have a fair system that reaches the right result and do not intentionally revictimize or perpetuate rape myths.
  2. The college judicial system is the lowest barrier accountability system available to victims.
  3. Colleges have dedicated professionals in place to assist victims of interpersonal violence through the process as their only or primary responsibility. (This is more rare than the assumption suggests.)

(In addition, I am only discussing student on student IPV cases and will be gender normative-using “she/her” for victims and “he/him” for perpetrators even though I recognize that these roles are not absolute.)

There are four essential components to any case: the case preparation for each side, the investigation, and the hearing. Each requires a rigid activist committed to the perfect execution of their responsibilities in order for them to be successful. However, each of those by necessity encroaches on the other components.

A victim will have to answer questions she does not want to answer to aid in an investigation, a respondent may be moved or transferred out of a class to protect the victim, the opportunity to confront the accuser by definition hurts the victim, etc.

A victim will have to answer questions she does not want to answer to aid in an investigation, a respondent may be moved or transferred out of a class to protect the victim, the opportunity to confront the accuser by definition hurts the victim, etc.

For that reason, there should be 3 professionals exclusively dedicated to these components without regard or responsibility for the other 2, but with a good relationship with each other in order to assure equal advocacy, transparency and fairness. The JA should “only” be responsible for ensuring due process is followed at a hearing, and that each of the three advocates are engaged in a timely manner. While the JA might be able to assume an additional responsibility (and currently may do all of them,) the only way the JA can be responsible for ensuring fairness and due process is if there is someone else who can fully advocate for each side without concern for the other or for the school’s liability.

Simply put, it is impossible for a school to reduce or eliminate its liability in these cases without outsourcing the advocacy and investigatory responsibilities. As long as an “agent” of the school is working with one side in preparing a case, the school remains at risk of liability from the other side. Schools know this, so even victim advocates are pressured to limit their work to connecting victims with resources and, in the best systems, advocating for “one-sided” accommodations. The advocate may also provide excellent advice in preparing the case, but he or she does so knowing that if the respondent sues that assistance may be used against the school. The victim and respondent advisora needs to be separate from the university, intimately familiar with the college judicial process, and have a good and open relationship with the support resources on campus.

Providing equal and external assistance is crucial since the basis of most claims against a college is “inequitable resources” that resulted in an outcome that breached the school’s duty of care. It is also important that the “outsourced” group not be attorneys and/or not be acting as an attorney to prevent the process from becoming de facto litigation. The judicial process is not a legal process and while these resources will help the parties prepare their cases, get ready for the hearings, and protect their rights and interests it will remain up to the students to present their cases through whatever system is in place.

The last component necessary to increase the fairness is a competent external investigator for each allegation that can interview the parties involved, meet with witnesses, ensure that all evidence is collected, and then prepare a report on those findings to help the parties prepare their statements and/or the board reach a decision. There are some schools, like Harvard, that have been doing this (or something similar) for years, but it is prohibitively expensive for most schools. I believe it is possible to have someone responsible for those investigations that can do them at a much lower cost (and have a few suggestions) but expecting students to gather all that information impartially and without exerting pressure on the people interviewed is unreasonable (and developmentally inappropriate.)

Engaging these outside entities will increase the likelihood that the parties will be able to present their positions fully and clearly, that as much information as possible will be available to get as close to truth and fairness as possible, and limit a school’s liability and giving them clean hands. It would be naïve to ignore the additional costs a school would bear to provide these resources, but compared to the positive impact for the students and the reduction in the liability, the costs would be well worth it.

What do you think? Are schools equipped to help each party prepare adequately while still protecting themselves? Are there other (and better) ways to approach this? Leave a comment or email me at (DaveK@collegejudicialconsultants.com). Be good and be safe.

Your Argument is Wrong, Ms. Grossman–The Realities of Sexual Assault Cases in College

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Click here for the Wall Street Journal Article

On April 17, Judith Grossman wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal describing her son’s experience with his school’s judicial system in a sexual assault case. In the article she raises some concerns about the judicial process that should be explored (and I’ll do that in Tuesday’s blog) but those points get lost because she uses straw man arguments (understandably motivated by a mother’s outrage), incorrectly states the problems, and misses the entire point of sexual assault cases on college campuses.

Sexual assault cases on a college campus are different than other types of judicial cases:

  1. Most sexual assaults between students involve a pre-existing relationship and alcohol. A victim being an “ex-lover” is not evidence in favor of accused students. In fact, predators rely on the idea that past relationships mean sexual assault did not happen, and develop these relationships prior to committing sexual assault to allow for that defense. The issue is was there consent in that particular instance. Nothing else matters.
  2. Most victims of sexual assault on a college campus do not bring cases against their attackers. Among the myriad reasons are the facts that they feel as if nobody will believe them, that they are somehow to blame (they aren’t), and that if the attacker is found not responsible that somehow means it didn’t happen. Ms. Grossman labels herself a “feminist,” but the only point of that characterization I can see is to somehow give credibility to her victim-blaming tone throughout the piece. While I do not blame her for writing as a mother, Ms. Grossman willfully ignores the overwhelming pressure against victims. This includes the very real and well-documented academic, social, and personal impact of sexual assault and the overwhelming percentages of victims that suffer in silence fearing the exact type of response in the piece.
  3. Victims that come forward and hold their attackers accountable have been shown by the FBI and DOJ to be presenting “false” accusations only 2% of the time. Even assuming Ms. Grossman’s son was victim of the incredibly rare 2%, when a victim comes forward and has the courage to see the process through the smart money is on it being true. Her characterization of this woman as a “spurned ex-lover lashing out” is dangerous because it has the very real possibility of preventing future victims from coming forward for fear that they will be classified in the same way.
  4. Title IX and the Office of Civil Rights did not eliminate the presumption of innocence. I have talked about the problem with “innocent” students defending themselves, but If her son was indeed “presumed guilty,” that has nothing to do with Title IX. If she is correct, it does sound as if her son went through a terribly unfair system that misapplied OCR’s instructions, but the instructions themselves do not eliminate a victim’s rights. (I explain the preponderance of evidence standard in these cases here.) In 2011 the implementation of Title IX, as it applies to sexual assault and other interpersonal violence cases, was explained by OCR to require a school to do something when a student comes forward as a victim of these types of crimes. This was done to address systemic issues with colleges covering up sexual assaults intentionally, “accidentally” through heavy-handed administrative responses, or by allowing a culture that perpetuates rape myths, and letting peer pressure silence the victims.
  5. Neither party is allowed an attorney. Ms. Grossman makes it sound as if her son was the only one or as if there was an attorney against her son. Neither is true. An attorney did not question her son, the board does not consist of attorneys, and in all likelihood the only person who had an attorney’s help throughout the process was her son.

There are many problems with the campus judicial system, but the case Ms. Grossman uses and the issues she has do not prove those issues. Her call for changing the system and making it more “legal” is exactly why attorneys are not helpful if you are going through your campus judicial process. While it is true that most campuses do not provide the same specific resources for accused students as victims (we offer both,) that is because the college and world communities (including most people who sit on a judicial body) do not understand these issues, and their ignorance (or outright hostility) support the accused in these cases. As a wise colleague once said only partially facetiously “they don’t need help convincing the world they’re good guys.”

Let me know what you think! I respond to all comments and all emails sent to DaveK@Collegejudicialconsultants.com.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Positive Implications of Greek Membership

The AFA (Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors) conference is happening right now (11/28/12) in Indianapolis.  There are great programs on expansion, creating change, advising local organizations, restorative justice, masculinity and feminism, social justice and other great topics.  What there aren’t are any programs like the one I’m going to propose for next year.  “Apologize for nothing: addressing the negative impressions of Greek life without accepting them.”

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An article in the Michigan Review details the results of the research done by James Turner at UVA who, after examining the mortality rates of 1150 schools found that for every 100,000 students there were just over 6 suicides and just under 5 alcohol deaths. (Note:  They say “alcohol-related traffic deaths” in the article so my rephrasing may be misleading.  If, as is likely, they specifically mean these types of deaths then when you add alcohol poisoning and the other alcohol deaths then I would imagine they eclipse the suicide rate.  Since the gist of the article is that suicide is the #1 cause of death for college students, that wouldn’t make sense. I’ve therefore made the assumption that they mean “alcohol” deaths.) This got me to thinking about the things I used to discuss with my colleagues on the student crisis teams, and the impact being Greek has on the at-risk students.  Since I’m not in grad school, I’m not going to do actual research studies (although if you do want a great thesis topic, feel free) but I thought I would post my thoughts and invite anyone who knows more to comment.

  1. Alcohol/dependency issues. I think there’s no doubt that Greeks have more students that are assessed in the “dependent” range for alcohol than their non-Greek counterparts.  I do not know if the same is true for drugs, but I assume that it would actually be drug dependent.  For example, I would not be surprised to hear that Greeks smoke more weed, but I would be surprised if they did more psychedelics or abused more pain medication. That being said, they drugs they do use may make them higher users of “drugs” in general. WINNER: Non-Greeks. That being said, I would be REALLY interested in comparing the alcohol consumption and drug use on campuses without Greek life (e.g. Bowdoin, Brandeis, Middlebury) with schools that have Greek life.  I suspect that the actual consumption rates would be similar and in which case I’d have to say “Tie,” but I can’t prove that.
  2. Depression/Suicide.  I think that Greeks are clearly the winners here. No matter how you feel about the types of connections people make in their fraternity/sorority, the fact remains that once you join these organizations you are rarely alone.  You are usually sharing meals and running in the same social circles as a large group of people you like, so I would expect that there is a lot more “dude, what the f*#k is wrong with you” type of intervention than there would be in traditional male relationships. I can actually think of dozens of examples of fraternity men and sorority women supporting their brothers and sisters through disease, parental death, and other situations, and have heard from students directly that they wouldn’t have “made it through” without their brothers or sisters. WINNER: Greeks!
  3. Violence (non-dating):  When you hear of a student writing manifestos, buying guns, or doing other crazy stuff that necessitates a threat assessment, it is almost never a member of a fraternity or sorority.  In fact, find me one example without the word “loner” attached to the description of the student and I’ll be stunned.  WINNER: Greeks!
  4. Inter-Personal Violence (e.g. sexual assault, dating violence, stalking.)  I think the literature makes it pretty clear that Greeks have a higher incident rate for sexual assault (both as perpetrator and victim) but I would bet that stalking is lower mostly because of the ease of intervention both for the perpetrator (“dude!  Let it go.”) and the victim (“That guy’s a freak.  I’m taking you to the police.”) (That bet is based in nothing, so please feel free to correct me with actual data.)  At schools with Greek life I’d have to probably say WINNER: Non-Greeks, but again the difference is narrow (and when you compare numbers of actual students I’ll bet there are more INCIDENTS among non-Greeks) and where there is no Greek life I would be interested to know once again about the actual incident rates to see if there are fewer per capita.
  5. Missing Students. Students occasionally get fed up and “disappear” for a while, usually by staying with a friend or taking a small road trip of some kind. Usually a parent will then call campus police after not hearing from their kid and file a campus missing persons report which triggers a pretty specific (and potentially lengthy) administrative process.  As with the depression/suicide category I would bet that there are many more of these among non-Greeks for the same reasons.  WINNER: Greeks!
  6. Campus Retention and Graduation. This isn’t a crisis matter, but another big issue on campuses is retention.  One of the biggest selling points I see on Greek Life websites is that membership in Greek organizations make a student more likely to complete their college degree. (see, for example http://arizonagreek.orgsync.com/benefits) WINNER: Greek life!

So what’s the point?  College administrators are quick to point out the areas of Greek life where the members are higher risk than non-Greeks, but I can’t think of a single upper administrator who has stood up and said “While drinking may be a bigger problem in the Greek community, membership in a fraternity or sorority decreases the likelihood that a student will drop out, be overwhelmed with depression, or commit suicide.” I’m not saying that you have to be Greek to have a happy and healthy college experience, but I encourage all or you to challenge your administrators, newspaper editorials, or anywhere else that tries to polarize people into “Pro” or “Anti” Greek camps.  Constantly remind everyone that the things that people use to vilify Greeks are also true for non-Greeks while the positive aspects of being Greek are not easily replicated in traditional residential situations.  Schools push co-curricular involvement to get a student vested in the college and the college experience, but completely disregard these benefits so they can talk about “hazing” and “binge drinking”–like that occasional aspect of Greek life is the ONLY purpose of Greek life. It isn’t, and I encourage you to refuse to accept that it is.

NB: A few housekeeping notes:

1.  Go to our website to know more about what we do and what we can offer.  We are working on a separate site/section for student organizations, but the services are similar.

2.  If you are in college (or recently graduated and can remember what you were like in college) please fill out our survey.  It should only take you 3 minutes, but it will really help us.

3.  We are raising funds to (hopefully) tour colleges around the country this spring.  Go to http://tinyurl.com/CJCSpringTour to donate.  Any amount helps (especially since we have no donors at this point.)

4. Like us on Facebook, follow me on Twitter or LinkedIN, and subscribe to this blog for updates!

5.  I think the photo is Kent State Greeks.  Completely snagged off the internet without permission. 🙂

Sexual assault and the judicial system–Advice for survivors (2 of 4)

When I was a judicial officer I was fortunate to work with an outstanding sexual assault advocacy team.  The team was me, a dedicated and highly-trained detective from Campus Police, and a Victim’s advocate from the Wellness office.  There were also several community resources available to survivors with BARCC (Boston Area Rape Crisis Center) and ATASK (Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence) being our most common partners. The resources for survivors* were extensive, we had tremendous Chairs of the disciplinary committee that heard these cases, and I was as much of an advocate as I could be.  We had more resources available for survivors than most schools and everyone involved was dedicated to helping a survivor through the most difficult time of her** young life.  MIT received 2 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) grants, and did great work during the time I was there.

But the system still sucked for survivors.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault (mostly), but since what happened to a survivor is so terrible, the systems in place to deal with it are inherently terrible to the person going through it.  No matter how kind we were and how sympathetic the people were, it was still an adjudicatory system that heard details about the worst night(s) in a person’s life, allowed a response to those details, and asked questions about those details.  There is a revictimization that comes with these hearings, and most judicial officers try to minimize that to the best of their ability.

Every single program on sexual assault tells people who support survivors that they need to do three things—believe them, help them understand that its not their fault, and give them as many choices as you can.  A judicial system, however, can’t do any of those things.  If it did, there wouldn’t be hearings because the converse of those things is that the accused is lying and it is totally his fault.  You could just find him responsible, expel him, and call it a day.

Of course that’s not in the least bit fair (or legally defensible) so you have to have a hearing, and that hearing process is going to be even more rigidly followed than normal cases because of the potential for litigation.  So not only do you have a system that says “prove it” to a survivor, but they have to do it in a certain way and only that way.  If someone is brave enough to come forward and initiate a judicial process, everything that has been done to return some power is then taken away so that they can attempt to have something done about the person who committed this crime against them.  Additionally, even after someone accepts that she will need to participate in the process, there is no guarantee of the outcome they desire.  In fact (and this is completely anecdotally) it is probably not going to be the outcome the survivor wants, with many accused found not responsible, or given a “light” sanction despite being found responsible for something.

The problems here do not even incorporate social pressures, the impact on academics, the disruption of a survivor’s life, and the hundreds of other things that assail them.  Even if a school’s response is amazing and there are escorts provided, the accused is moved out of a shared living situation and classes, and accommodations are made for academics, this person’s life is forever changed.  The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights put forth a “dear colleague” letter that attempted to “recommend” numerous steps that should be taken to ensure that sexual assault gets addressed properly and that survivors are protected, but none of us administrators have to live the survivor’s life.  [In my opinion, the best thing to have come from that letter is that schools are essentially “required” to have the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard in these cases as opposed to the “clear and convincing standard” many had for these cases.  (I wrote a piece about that earlier so I won’t go into it, but check it out if you’re curious.)]

There are way too many things that need “fixing” if a campus is going have a victim-focused response to sexual assaults, and most of those are outside the scope of this piece.  Instead I’m going to focus on a helping a distinct subset of survivors.  This piece is for those people who, in addition to whatever else they may be doing, are going to be bringing a case against a fellow student (or a student at a different school) using that school’s campus judicial system.  I wanted to provide some help for those people by offering some suggestions to help them proceed and to minimize the potential revictimization that comes with brining these cases.  In order to do so I’m making numerous assumptions that you should keep in mind as you read this.

  1. You will not use this for legal advice.  If you think “do I need a lawyer” you should either get one or contact the Victim Rights Law Center to figure it out.  This is procedural advice and strategy starting points for a campus judicial process only.
  2. I’m assuming that your campus is doing everything the way it is supposed to.  Sadly, this is not always the case.
  3. I’m assuming that some type of sexual act is not in question and the case is mostly about consent since this is the most common scenario in college cases.
  4. There are a few campuses that have independent investigators hired to handle these cases (e.g. Harvard) but I’m assuming that you have a system where some sort of hearing body handles these cases.
  5. I’m assuming you are safe.  If you believe (even if you only sort of believe and can not prove it or even explain it) that you are in current danger contact the police.  I would much rather you be wrong about the risk and have help than be right about it and do nothing.

That being said, here are some information and questions to consider that I believe will help you as you participate in your campus judicial process.  These general concepts should help you get started in most cases, but if you would like specific assistance for your particular case please contact us.

  1. Get a good support team for yourself.  I cannot know the particular resources on your campus, but let’s start with your unofficial support.  Think about your family, your friends, your sorority, your advisor, your RA, an administrator you like, your boyfriend/girlfriend, your particular spiritual guide (e.g. priest, rabbi, etc.), your roommate, etc.  From that group see if you can think of one or more people that can simply be there for you to make sure you’re okay.  Someone you can talk to, someone you can vent to, someone with whom you don’t have to be “professional” when you talk to him or her.  If you’re lucky there will be a person you can count on who has nothing to do with the process, and if you’re really lucky there will be a lot of them.  Regardless, if you can have someone there who’s only agenda is being your friend it will make the whole thing a lot easier.
  2. Get a good advocacy team for yourself. Once you have your personal support in place, make sure you like and trust your campus and community support resources.  Check your counseling center and wellness offices to see if there is anyone dedicated to these issues.  Check your community resources for centers that deal with these issues.  Look to national resources like the Victim Rights Law Center for help finding them, and/or to see what else they can offer.  Ask your RA who someone would speak to.  Ask your judicial officer.  There are going to be a lot of little things you may need, and these advocates should be able to fight for you so that you can focus on yourself and the case.  There are, or should be, many campus resources available to you and whoever you chose as this advocate should help you make sure you are getting all of them. Note that these people can be the same as your support team, but I separated them because I think there are 2 distinct roles to play.
  3. Understand each person’s ability to keep things “confidential.” Confidentiality is a tricky thing on college campuses.  Most people you speak with cannot promise to keep things completely confidential (i.e. they do not have legal protection) and some must report certain incidents to a central body.  You should be aware of each person’s willingness and ability to reveal only that information you want revealed so that you can make an informed decision of whom you are going to talk to.
  4. There is no rush (or at least not as much of a rush as you might think.)  Even in those judicial systems with a “statute of limitations” limiting the time you have to file charges, most of them allow for additional time for sexual assault cases.  Check the time in the policy, and take as much of it as you need.  Once you begin a case a school might have a timeliness requirement to resolve it (i.e. it must be heard within a certain (and brief) period of time after getting the complaint) so do not bring the case until you are ready.  Your policies should state clearly what that time is or the campus advocate should know, but don’t hesitate to ask (or have someone ask) the judicial office anonymously.  [I’ve had people create Gmail accounts with “anon30482” as their name and never hesitate to answer.] NOTE:  In some cases the accused may try to use the delay against you by claiming that you would have acted quickly if it “really happened.”  No board with any training should buy this, but you can always address it in your complaint.
  5. Understand why you are bringing the case.  This is not as obvious as it may seem.  Something bad happened to you, and I commend you for bringing the case, but know what you want out of it.  I’ve had people bring cases so that their boyfriend believed them.  I’ve had people bring cases forward so that they could know they were “right.”  I’ve had people bring cases for a number of reasons that were all valid, but you should know that the more specific the outcome you desire, the harder it will be to guarantee that the system will “work” for you.  You should bring a case for any and every reason you want, but if you will only feel good with one particular result, you may not get that result.  For example, if you want the person expelled the school may suspend him.  If you want him suspended, he may be expelled.  If you want him “punished” he may be found not responsible.  I do not know any system that can promise you a particular result, but they should ALL be able to promise you that you will be heard.  It is completely fair to expect the system to see the truth of your situation, but be careful about needing it to give you some validity.  What happened to you was terrible and in no way your fault, but systems (and people) are flawed.  Regardless of what a board decides, what happened to you is very real.
  6. What happened to you is not your fault, so what happens to the person who did it to you is not your fault either.  In my time I had many survivors say to me “I don’t to get him expelled or anything.”  My biggest problem with that is that the survivor was making it clear that she believed that if she brought a case and he was expelled that it was somehow her responsibility.  That could not be farther from the truth.  When you bring a case against someone for something they did, your job is to present the facts.  Once you do that the hearing body takes that information and decides what, if anything, can be done.  If the perpetrator is expelled it is no more your fault that it is if nothing happens to him.  The only thing you can control is the information you present.  What the board does with it is outside of your control.  While I understand that many sexual assaults occur between people with a previous relationship (i.e. they know each other) the fault for what happens to him lies with the person who committed the sexual assault.
  7. Don’t be afraid of pissing off administration.  You probably have an amazing administration that wants to do what they can for you, but not everyone is that lucky.  Administrators (especially those who can make real decisions) often have many factors they have to consider when making decisions, so they often can’t (or won’t) do what you’d like them to do.  Challenge them.  Push.  The worst thing that can happen is they get annoyed, but who cares?  This is where your advocate can really be helpful. Don’t assume that they are going to tell you everything they can do for you so if there’s something you want, ask.  They can only say no, but no matter how annoyed they get it won’t hurt your case. Something to consider is what you would like in the hearing to make you feel comfortable and safe.  Providing a screen between you and the respondent should be doable, but you may have to ask for it and then insist on it if you get pushback. If they are being REALLY unhelpful do not hesitate to suggest that you will get a lawyer.  While I normally do not like this tactic, I have no patience with people who are not willing to do simple things to mitigate the impact of this process.
  8. Know that you can pull out at any time.  This is your case.  If you decide at any point that you don’t want to do it anymore, you can quit.  While some systems may continue without you, pull out when you’ve had enough.  They can’t force you to continue, and if it isn’t doing what you want it to do what’s the point?  You have nothing to prove to anyone.
  9. Trust yourself. Dr. David Lisak’s work points out that predators create situations where they can assault someone with that very situation giving them protection from prosecution.  They isolate and intoxicate their victim so that there is self-blame and the details are hazier for the survivor than they are for them.  I have worked with many survivors who did not even realize they were “sexually assaulted” until well after the event, but they all knew that what happened was not right. If you know something bad happened to you, that’s enough. It is a completely normal feeling and very common.  It happened, it was not your fault, and it is not okay.
  10. You are going to have to tell your story, so decide how you want to tell it.  Most systems will have a written portion and a hearing.  During that time, people will make decisions based on what information they get from you and the accused.  If you do not tell them something, you can’t assume they will figure it out.  You will need to find a balance between giving them enough information to work with, and sharing information that they don’t need to know.  I used to advise people that they needed to share the outline of what happened, but that graphic details are not necessary if they made the complainant uncomfortable.  I also believe it is easier to write it out because the hearing itself is more of an unknown.  While you might be very comfortable in front of the hearing body, they might also be terrible terrible people.  If you have everything written out then you can simply reference what you wrote, and don’t have to say it out loud.  That way the information is there is something unexpected (and unwanted) happens at the hearing.
  11. Do not worry about the fact that you drank, did drugs, or anything else.  Most schools will not hold you accountable for minor violations if you are bringing a case forward.  Even if they do, those “minor violations” are usually why you were assaulted in the first place.  Do not try to cover them up. If the school really gives you a hard time, even a mediocre lawyer will make hash out of them.  The same holds true with downplaying what you did.  If you do not make it clear that you were intoxicated because you’re embarrassed or worried about getting in trouble, then the accused student can say that you were not intoxicated and therefore consented. I know there are some of you who have family or friends that may be very anti-alcohol or drugs, but if they can’t put it in perspective in this case they aren’t part of your support team.
  12. Prepare and practice. The worst part of any hearing is the surprise.  The more you can anticipate questions (even unacceptable personal ones) the better you will handle it in a hearing.  This is a REALLY hard thing to do, but if you have people you trust that you know support you, having them do it is a lot better than that 72 year old professor do it in a hearing.  This will not stop the revictimization, but it will lessen the impact.
  13. Bring the discussion back to you.  I have noticed that a LOT of cases and deliberation involve discussion on what was reasonable for the accused student to know and expect.  “She said she was drunk, but he said he didn’t know and I believe him.”  Most people put themselves in the mind of the accused and judge his actions in relation to how they would have acted.  People have a hard time coming to terms with sexual assault because they think that a lot of the problems are “common situations.”  This makes sense if you only think of sexual assault as “accidentally going to far” or “misreading cues.” However, just because it might make sense doesn’t mean it isn’t stupid.  Sexual assault is a crime and they need to think about what happened in terms of what was reasonable for you to know and expect.  I want the hearing body thinking “He said he didn’t know she was drunk, but it was 2am at a fraternity party and she only stayed over because he said she would get in trouble if she went back to the dorm.  That is not giving consent.”

Each time I work with a survivor, whether it was for a judicial issue or as an advocate, I am amazed by the strength and courage that they have.  This is not an easy process, but hopefully these points will give you a place to start.

Next:  Advice for respondents

*Note that I use “survivors” to refer to the victims of sexual assault.  There is a move back to using “victims,” but I still prefer to think of them as survivors.

**I am also using the feminine pronoun when I refer to the survivor and masculine when I refer to the attacker.  While as many as 1 in 10 men are sexually assaulted, all of my experience is with female survivors with all but 1 respondent being male. In no way is this meant to minimize the plight of the male victim or the very real problem with same-sex sexual assault.

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