Special Report: Sexual assault survivors speak on Title IX experiences


Photo illustration by Brittany Adams

The Association of American Universities reports that 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault while in college. 5.4 percent of male undergraduate students also experience rape or sexual assault while in college. Nobody in this photo illustration is a subject in the story.

Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a two-part series examining sexual assault on Allegheny’s campus. The second installment will be published next Friday, Feb. 17.

Allegheny College is currently the subject of two federal investigations for allegedly creating a campus culture that perpetuates violence against women and potentially mishandling sexual assault investigations on campus. These investigations were triggered by complaints that allege the college violated Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, an act that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in higher education.

The two separate investigations were opened on Dec. 5, 2014, and July 30, 2015, according to David Thomas, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Department of Education.

A copy of the 2014 complaint, obtained by The Campus via a Freedom of Information Act request, alleges Allegheny perpetuates a culture of violence against women.

The investigation opened on Dec. 5, 2014, is based on a complaint filed on Aug. 29, 2014, in which the complainant stated the college perpetuates an environment of sex discrimination that affects all women on campus.

“That culture, that tolerates violence against women, is evident by a lack of appropriate strategies and policies to discourage or prevent violence or sexual assaults of its female students,” the complaint reads.

In addition to perpetuating an allegedly discriminatory environment, the complaint alleges the college discourages its female students from reporting sexual assaults to the police.

“They are shamed out of reporting to legal authorities and too often this is done by blaming them for the assault in the first place!” the complaint reads.

Allegheny’s 2015 Clery Report, an annual report on campus crimes mandated by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, states that 12 sexual assaults were reported in the 2014 calendar year.

In light of these investigations, The Campus interviewed current and former students who have gone through the sexual assault reporting process to gauge their experiences.

Karley Miller was hosting a party in her off-campus apartment in April 2014, her junior year at Allegheny College, when she was assaulted. Some of her friends had visited from Erie and they, along with Miller, joined Allegheny students in the apartment.

Miller said one of her male friends made repeated sexual advances toward her throughout the night and had pulled his pants down to around his ankles while alone in the living room. While some who attended the party had consumed alcohol, including Miller, she said her alleged assailant had not been drinking.

“He started making out with me. … I laughed it off. He tried to touch me and I pushed him away. I thought he was drunk. I didn’t know until after that he didn’t drink anything,” Miller said.

Later in the night, Miller said she found herself alone with him in the kitchen, where he raped her. She said she told him “no” and to stop, but her attacker continued for several minutes before stopping.

“All of a sudden, it was occurring,” Miller said. “I just remember looking out my kitchen window the entire time.”

That night, Miller went to the Meadville Medical Center to have a rape kit done. She reported her rape to both the Meadville City Police Department and the Office of Safety and Security—now called the Office of Public Safety—within the next two days.

No charges were ever filed in the City of Meadville, and the only non drug- or alcohol-related crime listed in the college’s daily crime log in that time period was an incident of harassment that involved direct police assistance, which occurred on Ellicott Court.

According to the 2016 Annual Security and Fire Report—or the college’s 2016 Clery Report—available on the Office of Public Safety’s website, Miller is not alone in being a survivor of a sexual assault. The report states 12 incidents of forcible sex offenses, both on and off campus, took place in 2013, and  the same number of offenses occurred in 2014. Eight forcible sex crimes were reported to have occurred in 2015.

The report states, “[A forcible sex offense is the] penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim. Attempts or assaults to commit rape are also included; however, statutory rape and incest are excluded.”

They asked me what I was wearing, what I had to drink. They asked me if I had a history of infidelity, and they asked me what my relationship with my father was, and they asked me if I led [the assailant] on.

— Karley Miller

Fondling and the use of date rape drugs with the intent to commit sexual assault are also forcible sex offenses, according to the report.

In the event that a person experiences a form of sexual violence, Meadville Medical Center can collect physical evidence by conducting a rape kit.

Sharon DeMaison, coordinator for Meadville Medical Center’s sexual assault team, said the center currently keeps a staff of three sexual assault nurses on call at all times. These are the only staff members permitted to conduct a rape kit.

According to DeMaison, a person must be at least a registered nurse and must pass through rigorous training at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh to be certified as a sexual assault nurse examiner.

In addition to their certificate, nurses are required to proctor—or observe—exams of patients who have not been assaulted. Finally, each nurse is trained on how to perform a rape kit and handle survivors. Only then are they permitted to perform exams themselves.

When a survivor is brought to Meadville Medical Center, DeMaison said the staff gives them a variety of options, including counsel from Women’s Services.

Every year, Meadville Medical Center administers 20 rape kits on average, according to DeMaison.

Once evidence of hair, saliva, semen or any other bodily fluids is collected, the kit is sent to the Erie Regional Laboratory, a forensic crime lab. It is kept there until required as part of any subsequent police investigation.

Once sent to the lab, the kit is processed and tested, typically within two to three months, according to Forensic Lab Manager Bruce Tackett. After the kit is tested, Tackett said, it is returned to the police department under whose jurisdiction the case would fall. A report on the results is kept for at least 25 years, he said.

DeMaison said evidence can remain on a survivor’s body for up to 96 hours. Having a rape kit performed does not require a survivor to file charges with police, but it leaves the option open.

Because the results of rape kit are saved for so long, Miller could still access the results of her rape kit if she chooses.

After the police told Miller they were unable to make a case against her alleged rapist, she had meetings with Associate Dean of Students Jacquie Kondrot, who then served as the college’s sexual harassment officer, and Joe Hall, the college’s director of student conduct.

Over the next five months, Miller, who left the college shortly after the incident due to her assault, traveled to and from campus with her father and therapist to meet with Hall and Kondrot. She said both Hall and Kondrot were aware she’d had a rape kit done but did not know of the findings.

DeMaison said the survivor can request the results and share them with the college, but for privacy reasons, no one from the college can directly request the results.

The student conduct process began by gathering witness statements from Miller and her alleged attacker. She said she was asked at one of the meetings to read his version of events.

“It was a very pornographic tale of what had happened,” Miller said.

His account said the sex had been consensual, Miller said. But his story changed multiple times throughout the investigation, she said.

As the meetings between her, Hall and Kondrot continued, Miller said the college officials grew hostile.

“They asked me what I was wearing, what I had to drink,” Miller said. “They asked me if I had a history of infidelity, and they asked me what my relationship with my father was, and they asked me if I led [the assailant] on.”

The Campus attempted to confirm Miller’s reports of conversations with school officials. Speaking for Kondrot and Hall, Dean of Students Kimberly Ferguson said in an email to The Campus that neither they, nor she or Ford, the current Title IX coordinator, would comment on any specific cases, open or closed. Ford later said in a separate email that, “especially in light of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” none of them could comment.

After five months, Miller said, the college closed the investigation, taking no action.

Kondrot and Hall called her, Miller said, encouraging her to return to Allegheny after the investigation was completed. She refused.

“I told them, ‘I have class with this kid,’” Miller said.

Miller struggled with mental health issues related to the attack. She began to have panic attacks and said she self-harmed. After seeing a psychiatrist, she was placed on a variety of medications.

The medications put her into an almost “zombie-like” state, Miller said. She has only recently begun to wean herself off of them.

While she no longer attends Allegheny, Miller said, she still fears meeting her attacker again.

“I still look around and think I seem him downtown,” Miller said.

Miller said she does not speak of her attack to anyone. Following the assault, she posted a series of videos on her Facebook page in which she discussed it, but now she is trying to put it behind her and has discussed removing the videos from her Facebook page.

“This is the first time I have talked about this in a year and a half,” Miller said.

The second complaint, which led to an investigation opened on July 30, 2015, alleges that Allegheny mishandled a sexual assault investigation in multiple ways.

Allegheny, the complaint alleges, violated Title IX mandates by being “immediately” hostile and excluding witnesses and evidence.

The complaint says the college retaliated against a person or organization due to involvement in the investigation, although the name of the person or organization has been redacted by the Office of Civil Rights in the copy of the complaint obtained by The Campus via a FOIA request.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Allegheny is not alone. The Department of Education has 307 active Title IX investigations against 224 colleges and universities.

A 2015 study by the Association of American Universities found that 23.1 percent of female undergraduate students experience rape or sexual assault while in college. The study found 5.4 percent of male undergraduate students also experience rape or sexual assault while in college.

Photo illustration by Alex Weidenhof
U.S. News reported on Nov. 18, 2015, that 15 percent of women are raped while incapacitated from drugs or alcohol during their freshman year.

Patrick, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was a first-year student when he was assaulted on  Oct. 24, 2015, at the Student Experimental Theater House on Loomis Street. He did not file a complaint against Allegheny with the Department of Education.

He had been at a party at the SET House for about two hours, he said, when his assailant arrived.

“We were friendly, well-acquainted,” Patrick said. “I believe she was very intoxicated. I cannot say to what degree.”

During the party, Patrick said he found himself on the deck attached to the back of the house.

“She pinned me to the wall and I did not do anything because I didn’t expect anything at that time and she kept saying she wanted to kiss me. … She was relentless, so I just thought I would kiss her to appease her,” Patrick said.

From the deck, Patrick said she led him into the kitchen, saying it was quieter there. Once they were in the kitchen, she took him straight to a bedroom off the kitchen.

“[She] proceeded to engage in acts that I did not consent to,” Patrick said. “I froze. I didn’t think I would behave that way. I just didn’t move.”

Researchers describe a state sometimes experienced by victims of sexual assault, referred to as tonic immobility, or rape-induced paralysis. Rebecca Campbell, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, presented a webinar on the response to the National Institute of Justice on Dec. 3, 2012. Although people often discuss the “fight or flight” response to trauma, the third potential reaction—to freeze—is less well known.

Chemicals released in the brain of someone experiencing a traumatic event can physically inhibit their ability to make rational decisions or, in some cases, to move, Campbell said.

Hormones called catecholamines—a common example of a catecholamine is adrenaline—can cause temporary “structural cellular damage to [rational thinking] circuits,” according to Campbell.

[Title IX Coordinator Gilly Ford] presented me with formal and informal reporting, and she didn’t really explain those. I was very confused for quite some time.

— Patrick

The chemical damage prevents the brain from allowing the kind of thinking to occur that would prompt someone to fight against an assailant or try to escape.

Opiates such as oxytocin are also released by the brain in extremely elevated levels during traumatic events, which serve to block physical and emotional pain, one of the reasons survivors of trauma sometimes seem emotionless when they recount what happened to them, Campbell said.

Elevated levels of corticosteroids, which are also a kind of hormone, can drain the body of energy during an attack.

“It can trigger essentially an entire shutdown in the body,” Campbell said.

Tonic immobility is a state other mammals experience, Campbell said. She said that is an evolutionary development that makes the most sense in certain dangerous situations, such as when trying to avoid being chased by predators or being faced with an even worse situation, like one that could cause death.

Campbell said tonic immobility can affect soldiers at war, and it can affect survivors of sexual violence, like Patrick.

Patrick said immediately after the attack, he and his assailant remained in the room and talked.

“I think she immediately realized she did something wrong because once she got off of me she just kind of laid there, and we had a chat for about half an hour, which was strange,” Patrick said. “Like, I still wasn’t moving, and we were talking about our lives and stuff like that.”

During the conversation, Patrick said they did not discuss the assault. After about half an hour, Patrick said, they left the room together and then left the party separately. He said later, during the investigation, she would produce eight witnesses who said she had seemed troubled when she left the party.

Patrick said the full impact of what happened was not clear to him at first.

“I just kind of went to bed and washed my clothes,” Patrick said.

Patrick said he did tell a friend about the incident. The next morning he decided he wanted to go to church.

“I just felt like I should be there. I always liked going to church. During—when the priest was talking—it just hit me right in the gut and I started crying right there,” Patrick said.

Patrick said he then sought help from a friend in deciding whether he wanted to report the incident to the college. On Monday afternoon, he went to the on-campus Counseling Center to report the assault.

After Patrick reported the assault to the college, the Office of Safety and Security did not add an entry to the daily crime log, according to the Oct. 30, 2015, edition of The Campus. Gilly Ford, the current Title IX coordinator, said that those who report sexual assaults to the Title IX Office can choose to report to the Office of Public Safety as well so the crime is added to the daily crime log. However, the Title IX Office does not report incidents to public safety.

After meeting with the Counseling Center, Patrick said he was referred to then-Interim Title IX Coordinator Ford, and he met with her later that afternoon.

I froze. I didn’t think I would behave that way. I just didn’t move.

— Patrick

During his meeting with Ford, Patrick said, she was “calm” and laid out his options for how to go about reporting the incident. Reporting to the police was something he said he never considered.

“She presented me with formal and informal reporting, and she didn’t really explain those. I was very confused for quite some time,” Patrick said.

The Compass Student Handbook explains that complaints brought to the college can either be handled through an “informal dispute resolution, referral to other college offices (where appropriate), and formal resolution pursuant to this policy.”

Hall said referral to other offices could occur in cases where someone goes to Ford to report something that happened years ago, in which case Ford could recommend them to the Counseling Center or even to the police. Ford said that referral to another office would not replace the formal or informal process but could occur along with one of those processes.

In cases of sexual assault or sexual violence, the handbook says an informal complaint “may consist of inquiries into the facts, but does not typically rise to the level of a formal investigation unless required by applicable law.”

The handbook says the informal process should serve to “resolve complaints quickly and efficiently, and to the mutual satisfaction of all parties involved.” It does not say what timeframe would constitute a “quick” resolution.

Ford said there is no set deadline, but the office tries to keep the process prompt. Hall said that the informal process typically takes 30 to 40 days when classes are in session, though it can sometimes take longer if the case is brought near the conclusion of the year. He said that if those involved cannot return to campus for continued meetings, they will confer over the phone.

The Title IX coordinator oversees these processes, which could include meetings between the coordinator, the complainant and the respondent, although the handbook says the coordinator would not meet with both the complainant and respondent at once. In formal cases, Ford said Hall can act as an investigator and collect information for the case.

Formal reporting consists of the complainant providing a statement to the college with the name or names of the respondent(s). The handbook says the Title IX coordinator is expected to present the “description of primary facts of the allegation at the first meeting set to discuss the investigation” to the respondent. Interviews with the complainant, respondent and any witnesses will follow. The handbook says all parties will have access to “relevant information and documents once the investigative file is complete.”

The Compass Student Handbook says most cases should be resolved within 60 days, and the Title IX coordinator can “recommend interim protections or remedies be provided by College officials,” which could include a no-contact order or making separate arrangements for classes.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the Title IX coordinator issues a written report with “findings and recommendations.” The handbook also says sanctions are issued on a “case-by-case basis for violations,” and appeals are permitted as much as they would be for any other violation.

At the conclusion of Patrick’s case, the college took action against Patrick’s attacker. She was given mandatory counseling and training, Patrick said.

Though Hall was not speaking specifically to Patrick’s case, he said types of counseling that a respondent who was found responsible could be required to attend would generally be with someone who has experience handling people who have committed sexual misconduct.

“We do have online education lessons people can complete,” Hall said.

The online education lessons would only be for low-level cases, according to Hall.

Patrick said he was not looking for any further action.

“I don’t think she is a danger to anyone else,” Patrick said.

Patrick said he felt the college handled the situation well overall. He said Hall handled it “fairly,” but he was not impressed with the Title IX Office and said the process was often confusing.

Patrick said he has begun to move past the incident, but certain parts of his life are not as easy as they once were. He still sees his assailant on campus, although he tries to avoid her when he can.

“I just stay away from the theater department,” Patrick said. “I was really into theater in high school, but I won’t do it now.”

Although a total of 365 investigations have been opened by the Department of Education since April 2011, only 58 have been resolved. Neither of Allegheny’s have been resolved as of publication.