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University explains sexual assault procedures
One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Sophomore Alexandra Sauro doesn’t find this statistic shocking, but instead thinks it’s a reality that students should be aware of.
“It’s not surprising, it’s really not,” Sauro said. “You know, it’s a topic where everybody thinks it will never happen to them and it will never happen to someone you know. But it does and it’ll change your life and the person that it happened to. It will change your life forever and it will open your eyes and you will be more cautious.”
According to the 2015 fall enrollment statistics provided by University Registrar Joshua Berry, 5,947 women and 3,707 men were reported to attend Quinnipiac. Following the national statistic, based on the 2015 fall enrollment, an estimated 1,190 women and 232 men will be sexually assaulted at Quinnipiac in their college career.
The annual Jeanne Clery Act Report, an analysis of campus crime, categorizes sexual assault under several subsets of sexual misconduct. Sexual assault includes sexual harassment in which someone creates unwelcome verbal or physical contact. In addition to non-consensual sexual contact, sexual exploitation in which the invasion of sexual privacy, knowingly passing on a sexual transmitted infection or the exposure of genitalia occurs. Sex offenses, rape, fondling, incest and statutory rape are all also categorized as sexual misconduct.
In the past year, there were four reports of rape at the university. Three incidents were in residence halls while the fourth was elsewhere on campus. In addition, there were five reports of rape and one report of fondling in 2014, and all incidents occurred in residence halls, according to the annual Clery Report.
Upon hearing that there were only four reports of rape at the university Sauro immediately thought of the impact on these students lives and those students that may have been a victim of sexual assault and didn’t file a report.
“I know it’s something that is going to happen wherever you go, but it’s just sad that there’s four,” Sauro said. “Four people’s lives have been changed forever and that’s the only ones we know about. We don’t know about the ones that didn’t come forward. We don’t know if they will ever come forward.”
According to Associate Dean of Student Affairs and Deputy Title IX Coordinator Seann Kalagher, at the start of his career at Quinnipiac in May 2009, there was an estimated one report of sexual assault per year. Now in his eighth year, there are around four or five reports a year.
When asked about the number of reports of sexual assault in comparison to years past, Kalagher said he doesn’t believe there’s a correlation between the increase in the number of reports and sexual assault on campus. In 2012 there were updates made to the Title IX policy that created a better way to report. Kalagher believes that this new ability to report has increased the number of students reporting.
When investigating an allegation of sexual misconduct, there is a detailed process that occurs. Kalagher is constantly on call for all situations pertaining to Title IX, a policy prohibiting sex- based discrimination including sexual misconduct, as well as any instance in which a student feels he or she was treated unjustly based on their sex.
“Sometimes it depends on how we become aware of it,” Kalagher said. “If there’s something that allegedly happened just recently, I’ll work with the hall director on duty or whoever received the report and just walk through what [the] next steps are on campus to make sure we make different accommodations for the student.”
Student accommodations can include changing housing arrangements, medical attention and law enforcement. Depending on what information is known about the alleged assault, a no- contact order may be placed between the student alleged to have committed the assault and the assaulted student, according to Kalagher.
When a sexually assaulted student enters the Mount Carmel Campus Health and Wellness Center, a confidential resource for students, their mental and physical health are a top priority, according to Director of Student Health Services Christy Chase.
“Mental health and physical health are addressed concurrently when responding to a sexual assault at Quinnipiac,” Chase said. “Knowing that those who have experienced sexual assault may experience symptoms of trauma such as anxiety, depression and [post-traumatic stress disorder], it is important that they understand and know how to access resources available on and off campus.”
After accommodating the student who has been assaulted, two trained investigators look into the incident. The duo begins to interview students, collecting information pertaining to the time in question including door swipes, QCard taps, social media and other means to fill in the gaps of the assault.
Kalagher said interviews span to more than just the assaulted student and the accused student. Students who were not directly involved in the assault, but were a witness or came into contact with the students who were involved in the incident, may be interviewed as well.
After investigators collect all the information, they finalize a report and recommend whether or not they feel there is enough information to charge a student with a violation of the Title IX policy. At that time both the “complaining party,” or the assaulted student, and the accused party are given copies of this report. The accused student then has the chance to accept responsibility or, if they choose not to, they move to a hearing board that makes the final decision, according to Kalagher.
The hearing is solely based on the finalized report created by the investigators. There is no “back-and-forth” questioning between students and witnesses, according to Kalagher.
The hearing board may have questions for the students involved, but there isn’t a time where they are able to speak freely on the alleged assault, according to Kalagher. In other words, the students are restricted to only answering the questions asked of them.
“Neither student gets an opportunity to kind of say whatever it is they want to say,” Kalagher said. “It’s really focused on what’s in the report. If a student is found responsible, we do have what we call ‘impact statements.’ That’s kind of an opportunity for both parties to kind of talk about how the situation has impacted them and their lives, because that may have an impact on what the committee decides to do as a sanction.”
Freshman Erika Conaci said she believes it is a good course of action to base the hearing solely on concrete evidence.
“I think that’s good you don’t have to hear someone make the case,” Conaci said. “Because they definitely did it and there’s evidence based on it. And they don’t want someone to lie their way around so I think it’s good that they use the report instead of both sides.”
The minimum sanction for sexual misconduct at Quinnipiac is suspension from the university for a year. Expulsion is the typical sanction for student found responsible for sexual misconduct.
Of the four alleged cases of rape in 2015, three cases went before a hearing board. In two cases, the accused party was found responsible. In the remaining case, the accused student was not found responsible, according to Kalagher. The fourth case did not go before a hearing board.
In comparison to the criminal law process, Kalagher said the university process is faster and holds a different standard with relation to Connecticut state law.
“If [a sexual assault case] gets reviewed by the state’s attorney office, they have to say like, ‘Can I prove this case beyond reasonable doubt?’” Kalagher said. “For us, we’re looking at whether a student violated university policy as written in our Title IX policy, so we’re not looking at the Connecticut statutes, we’re looking at our policy, and our standard is whether it’s more likely or not that a student violated, so it’s a lower threshold.”
Sauro said if she were to find herself in an instance where she would have to report sexual assault she would trust Quinnipiac to investigate the matter, but would rather go through the criminal process.
“I think I would trust Quinnipiac to handle it, I just don’t like how they keep it under wraps,” Sauro said. “ They keep it on the low. Therefore, I would go to the state of Connecticut. I mean, obviously it’s a priority, but I feel like it’s a priority in the fact that [Quinnipiac] doesn’t want admissions decreasing because of the sexual assaults that happen on campus. I mean, I toured here a few times before I came here, and no one raised the question, ‘Are there any sexual assaults on campus?’”
With regard to the criminal process, Kalagher said the university does not press criminal charges on the accused party. Instead, the decision to press charges is left to the complaining party.
“The university won’t step in on that student [the complaining party] in their stead or make the decision for them,” Kalagher said. “ And that’s very intentional because if a student has recently experienced some sexual assault, part of that is giving them their options back to make their own decisions as to whether they want to pursue through a criminal process.”
Sauro said she believes that students being able to make this decision on their own is good for the student who was assault, because when she thinks of a sexual assault she associates it with a loss of power.
“Honestly, I just think of being uncomfortable and being belittled,” Sauro said. “ Whether it be you’re a man and you’re being belittled, or whether you’re a woman and you’re being belittled.”