Survivor Stories: Sexual Violence at University

Link to "An Examination of Sexual Assault at Columbia University"
Link to “An Examination of Sexual Assault at Columbia University”

In 2009, Bruce Shapiro interviewed Kristen Lombardi, staff writer for the Center for Public Integrity, about her findings in an investigation of campus rape in the U.S. The full article is linked below; the following is an excerpt:

BS: You describe campus sexual assault as “shrouded in secrecy.”

KL: First of all, there is a culture of secrecy simply because so many student victims feel ashamed. That’s reinforced by peer pressure on a college campus. That is the difference between college women and women in the general population. Rape is an under-reported crime overall, but 20 percent of rape victims in the general population do come forward. At the college level, on the other hand, it’s less than five percent. There’s a lot of fear, especially if two students might know each other, of how their social circles might handle it.

Then there is the official secrecy, which envelops the disciplinary process. It is quite common for people to have no idea that a hearing is taking place — except for the hearing board members and administrators. There is no announcement, even in a campus newspaper. Some schools take it further, with policies that really keep student victims out of the process. I was really surprised at the number of student victims who had any idea of what happened to their complaint. They knew they had filed the complaint, and the outcome, but had no idea what happened in between: They just are not part of the process.

One typical case we write about is Alphia Morin — this student was treated in the proceeding as a witness to her own alleged assault. So she is not an equal party. She is not allowed to sit and hear what her alleged assailant has to say about her in the incident. Then she was told she had to sign a confidentiality agreement if she wanted to find out the outcome.

Those kinds of confidentiality agreements violate the Clery Act (The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act). There is a section called the Victims’ Bill of Rights, with a stipulation that says every student victim must be informed of the hearing outcome.

Link to "Know Your IX" (U.S.)
Link to “Know Your IX” (U.S.)

BS: This is a complicated story to tell. You’ve got education institutions all over the country. Plus human sources and documentary sources. How did you break the storytelling down?

KL: That was a huge challenge. We started with 50 student victims. Then we separated out people we interviewed who never reported. I thought they were an important voice to understand because they do represent the silent majority. But I knew that we wouldn’t be pursuing their cases, because we were investigating the process.

We also separated out students who said they were assaulted by professors. They were a tiny minority. I am sure they exist, but you have to prioritize.

That left us 33. Then we looked at those 33, and we figured out similarities — how their stories overlap. What were the commonalities of their experiences. And we decided those were our narrative themes. And we organized the stories around those narrative themes. And then for each one we would pick a main narrative case.

BS: Let’s say a college student wants to look at how sexual assault is handled on a particular campus. Where do you go for documents for something so shrouded in secrecy?

KL: I would find out who on your campus serves as a victim advocate. I would develop that person as a source and explain the desire to lift the curtain. Perhaps the victim advocate can be convinced to introduce you to a student who has been through the process as a victim. Once you have a student who has been through the process, see if she is willing to show you documents or to sign a disclosure waiver so that you can file a records request.

If you are a student reporter and your school is not releasing statistics, you should be filing records requests and asking for aggregate statistics on the number of sexual assault reports coming through the judicial affairs office, which then has hearings. And the dispositions, and the sanctions and the names of all accused students actually found responsible. They should be releasing this information. There is nothing in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act that prevents them from releasing this information. Even if you can at least get a sense of the number of hearings, then you can work to figure out the names of accused students found responsible for sexual assaults.

If there is a finding of responsibility, you should be able to get those names.

Link to "Covering Campus Sexual Assault - Interview with Kristen Lombardi"
Link to “Covering Campus Sexual Assault – Interview with Kristen Lombardi”

Related Article: Vanderbilt’s ‘Girl Who Ratted’ Illustrates the Stigma of Coming Out as a Rape Survivor

Related Posts include:

Sexual Violence on Campus: “Rape is Not Sex”

University Rape Culture

Gang Rape on Campus

Campus Sex Crimes and the LGBT Community

Sexual Assault on Campus

“Students, Sex, and Shame”: a Short Film by Warwick University Students

Sexism in Universities

BS: You describe campus sexual assault as “shrouded in secrecy.”

KL: First of all, there is a culture of secrecy simply because so many student victims feel ashamed. That’s reinforced by peer pressure on a college campus. That is the difference between college women and women in the general population. Rape is an underreported crime overall, but 20 percent of rape victims in the general population do come forward. At the college level, on the other hand, it’s less than five percent. There’s a lot of fear, especially if two students might know each other, of how their social circles might handle it.

Then there is the official secrecy, which envelops the disciplinary process. It is quite common for people to have no idea that a hearing is taking place — except for the hearing board members and administrators. There is no announcement, even in a campus newspaper. Some schools take it further, with policies that really keep student victims out of the process. I was really surprised at the number of student victims who had any idea of what happened to their complaint. They knew they had filed the complaint, and the outcome, but had no idea what happened in between: They just are not part of the process.

One typical case we write about is Alphia Morin — this student was treated in the proceeding as a witness to her own alleged assault. So she is not an equal party. She is not allowed to sit and hear what her alleged assailant has to say about her in the incident. Then she was told she had to sign a confidentiality agreement if she wanted to find out the outcome.

Those kinds of confidentiality agreements violate the Clery Act (The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act). There is a section called the Victims’ Bill of Rights, with a stipulation that says every student victim must be informed of the hearing outcome.

BS: This is a complicated story to tell. You’ve got education institutions all over the country. Plus human sources and documentary sources. How did you break the storytelling down?

KL: That was a huge challenge. We started with 50 student victims. Then we separated out people we interviewed who never reported. I thought they were an important voice to understand because they do represent the silent majority. But I knew that we wouldn’t be pursuing their cases, because we were investigating the process.

We also separated out students who said they were assaulted by professors. They were a tiny minority. I am sure they exist, but you have to prioritize.

That left us 33. Then we looked at those 33, and we figured out similarities — how their stories overlap. What were the commonalities of their experiences. And we decided those were our narrative themes. And we organized the stories around those narrative themes. And then for each one we would pick a main narrative case.

– See more at: http://dartcenter.org/content/covering-campus-sexual-assault#.UuJ6J_tOmM8

Center for Public Integrity staff writer Kristen Lombardi – See more at: http://dartcenter.org/content/covering-campus-sexual-assault#.UuJ6J_tOmM8
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