TCU talks about campus sexual assault

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    TCU360 does not identify victims of sexual assault. The victim in this story will remain unidentified.

    It started as a first date:

    “I met this guy who was older than me. He bought me dinner; it was great. I was into him.”

    But it ended horribly:

    “He slipped me something,’’ said the student, who is now a senior. “He drugged me, and he raped me. I was on his bed. I was aware of everything, but it was like I was paralyzed.”

    The student, who will remain unidentified, said he was attacked twice during the fall semester of his freshman year. His first attacker was not a TCU student.

    The second, whom he fended off, was a friend and fellow student.

    “I never talked to him again,” he said.

    Sexual abuse is the most common, violent crime on college campuses.

    One in five college women are sexually assaulted, according to Not Alone, a White House initiative to end sexual violence. One in six men are sexually abused, according to the nonprofit organization 1in6 which aims to help men who are assaulted.

    Not Alone started in January as a part of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The Task Force’s charge is to help end sexual violence on college campuses and to direct students to local resources if they have been sexually assaulted.

    In April, the Task Force released a list of recommendations to universities on how to educate and to prevent sexual misconduct, including a voluntary student survey in order for faculty to know the scope of sexual violence on campus.

     

    Initiatives such as Not Alone, and changes to federal law regarding how universities respond to and report sexual violence has prompted universities nationwide to change some their protocols.

    The statistics and the silence

    These federal and university changes will hopefully encourage more students to report sexual violence.

    However, 60 percent of sexual assaults are unreported, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

    “It was very painful,” said the senior, who never reported either attack. “And I suffered that pain for weeks and months after that.”

    Three years later, he is ready to talk.

    “I understand why most assaults go unreported,” said the senior. “When you’re in that position you feel embarrassed. You’re in pain, and you don’t want to describe that pain to anyone, especially being a guy.”

    He said he wants TCU to take different approaches on handling sexual assault.

    “There are phone numbers, and hotlines and stickers on fridges,” the senior said, “but there’s really not a good resource as to how to do it. You don’t want to talk to an adult counselor who may not have experienced what you have experienced.”

    Instead of seeking TCU services, he relied on support of friends and family.

    “I think with any tragedy time heals,” he said. “And just feeling the love from my friends whether I talked to them about the incident or not [helped].”

    The senior said he did not feel like TCU’s services were inviting.

    “I tell people to go to those services,” he said, “but I’m a hypocrite because I don’t want to go to those services. They don’t appeal to me. I wish they were more inviting.

    “I wish that was different; I don’t know if it’s just me.”

    The resources TCU offers

    The major services offered to sexual abuse victims on campus are the Brown-Lupton Health and Mental Health Center, TCU Police and Campus Life.

    More students are utilizing these TCU services than in the past regarding sexual misconduct, said Dr. Eric Wood, associate director of counseling and mental health at the TCU Counseling and Mental Health Center.

    Wood credits the university’s effort to raise awareness as the reason for the increase in the number of students seeking help.

    “TCU in the last couple of years has increased awareness of sexual assault,” Wood said. “When you do that, you’re going to see a rise of people coming in.”

    Each victim is treated on a case by case basis, Wood said.

    Counseling services are confidential. Counselors do not report sexual misconduct to authorities unless the victim wants to report, he said.

    If a student wants to take action against the attacker, counselors will recommend students to Campus Life.

    Students who are assaulted can pursue legal or disciplinary action against attackers.

    Disciplinary action, which is quicker than going to court, can be used if the attacker is another student, Assistant Dean of Campus Life Leah Carnahan said.

    Students have the right to an advocate to help them through either of these processes.

    The TCU Victim’s Advocate Program provides students with an advocate who helps them through any action they wish to take against their attacker from accompanying them to the Campus Life office to being with them in the court room.

    Carnahan said Campus Life has licensed student and faculty advocates on staff. A student also has the option to choose a close friend or relative to be his or her advocate.

    But the victim is the top priority when handling sexual misconduct.

    “Our main concern is the student who is reporting,” Carnahan said.

    Students who want to file criminal charges can work with TCU and Fort Worth police.

    In these cases, students are advised to go to the hospital for examination, TCU police officer Pamela Christian said. The student will later be contacted by an investigator, and a Campus Alert will be sent to out.

    “With sexual assault, it is all the individual’s choice what they want to do,” Christian said. “So, even if they just want to come in and talk with an officer and they don’t want to file chargers, that’s their choice.”

    Some changes to the protocol

    TCU clarified its protocol to be in line with recent changes to the Clery Act and the Campus Sexual Assault Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.

    In the summer, Campus Life began defining the different types of sexual misconduct.

    During the Need 2 Know program of Frogs First, first year students received a pamphlet outlining the levels of sexual misconduct and TCU’s definition of consent.

    Sexual misconduct is defined as:

    • Sexual assault: sexual contact of any kind without a person’s consent
    • Sexual harassment: unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual manner
    • Sexual exploitation: recording, photographing, transmitting or distributing sexual sounds, images or information about a person without his or her consent
    • Stalking: actions directed at a specific person that would cause the other to fear for his or her own safety or to suffer emotional distress
    • Relationship violence: asserted violent misdemeanor and felony offense committed by the victim’s current or former spouse or cohabitant

    Consent is now defined by the university as a “knowing and voluntary agreement between the participants to engage in sexual activity.”

    According to the university, there is no consent if one member is asleep or if one or both members are inebriated by drugs or alcohol.

    Students with knowledge of these behaviors but who don’t report them could also face action under what the university is calling the bystander initiative.

    While the punishment for an abuser would be different than action taken against a bystander, Carnahan said that people having information and choosing to withhold it could possibly receive consequences.

    “If we find out that a student does know about it and does nothing, that’s not upholding the values of our community either,” she said.

    This initiative will be added to the online sexual violence education program this year, Carnahan said.

    She said the goal is to encourage students to report situations that they think could result in sexual violence even when they are not directly involved.

    Finally according to the Campus SaVE Act, Campus Life must act if a victim names another student as an attacker, she said.

    In order to protect the victim’s rights, Carnahan tells the student this before he or she talks about the incident.

    Student opinions on TCU’s sexual misconduct message

    The senior said he understands why so few people report sexual misconduct.

    “I think you should report it,” he said. “But, I totally understand why they go unreported, because I felt the same way.”

    He wishes that TCU would have had a more direct message about preventing sexual misconduct.

    “There needs to be a continual message from the university about how to behave toward women, especially,” he said, “but [also,] how to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence.

    “I think there are a number of things the university can do to help that.”

    Some students question if the Need 2 Know program is enough to help prevent sexual violence.

    “The only time I remember TCU giving much information about it was probably as a freshman with Need 2 Know,” said Shelly Crossland, a senior strategic communication major. “I paid attention to that, but I don’t think many did. And I think now as a senior, not very many people remember.”

    Some want these messages to be reestablished for current students, not just incoming students.

    “I really do feel that there needs to be more talk about it,” said senior Spanish and education major Maggie Fitzpatrick. “[But] I think it’s one of those things that they’re trying their best, but it’s just so hard to talk about.”

    Carnahan also wants to increase awareness of sexual misconduct, but said there is a fine line between awareness and an overload of information, especially for students who have already experienced sexual violence.

    “We continually struggle with how to continue that message,” Carnahan said. “It is a delicate balance between getting the message out there without being overwhelming.”

    However, many of TCU’s services have reached out to current students in order to prevent future sexual misconduct, such as TCU police reaching out to fraternities.

    Scott Mathis, a junior member of Beta Theta Pi, remembers one of the TCU police officers coming to chapter meeting to talk about sexual misconduct.

    “He talked about sexual assault cases that have happened on TCU’s campus,” Mathis said, “saying it could be happening even if you don’t know that you’re doing it.”

    But he agrees that a redress of this message to the student body would be helpful.

    “I’m sure a refresher course once you hit sophomore year probably wouldn’t be a bad idea,” Mathis said. “As far as I remember, at sophomore year people start to falter a little bit.”

    The victim, who will graduate in the spring, said he hopes this conversation continues.

    “I think it’s an important enough issue that you have to talk about it,” he said. “And if you don’t talk about it, then you’re a part of the problem.

    “You have to be vocal or nothing is going to change.”