Sexual Assault Survivors Criticize Reporting Process
Julia Comnes | Feb. 21, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
Content Warning: This piece includes language and content about sexual assault that some readers may find triggering or upsetting.
Jessica, a Pitzer College junior, remembers coming back to her room the night of her very first day at Pitzer, her dream college. Standing by the open door was her RA, who had access to the master key.
“He said he wanted to come say good night … he said he wanted to talk,” she said. “That is not what happened.”
The RA sexually assaulted her that night.
She reported the assault to the school less than a week later, after Pitzer's wilderness orientation, but said that she found little resolution. Her alleged rapist faced no consequences.
Jessica, whose name has been changed in this article, is not alone. Even among her friends, she said that being sexually assaulted is not unusual at the Claremont Colleges.
A 2005-2007 National Institute of Justice survey found that 19 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing an attempted or completed sexual assault. Additionally, 84 percent of women who reported having a sexually coercive experience in college said that it happened during their first four semesters.
However, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s 2008-2012 "National Crime Victimization Survey," 60 percent of all sexual assaults go unreported.
A first-year at Claremont McKenna College, Mary, whose name has also been changed, said that about 60 percent of the sexual encounters she has had since coming to campus were not explicitly consensual. She has not reported any of them.
Mary explained that she did not think that reporting the assaults would be worth it. She said that she knows of others like Jessica who have been assaulted and reported it to the school, but still see their assailant on campus, facing few if any consequences.
Jessica said that for her, the reporting process was long and drawn-out. It ultimately provided little resolution for her, she said, and the school took no action against the assailant.
She said that the administration sided with the alleged perpetrator, a “golden boy,” the kind of person one finds on the covers of admissions brochures.
“He was charismatic, funny, smart,” she said. “Everyone loved him.”
Throughout the reporting process, Jessica said that the administrators kept repeating how surprised they were by the accusation.
“They said, ‘I can’t believe he did this; I know him so well,’ several times,” she said.
She said that she was so traumatized that she was unable to give a full account of the incident at the time. And the time that lapsed between the incident and the day she reported it made it impossible to provide physical evidence. The result, she said, was a "he-said, she-said situation.”
Contrary to her account, he claimed that she had opened the door to her bedroom for him. While the administration told her that he should not have entered the room at all, in the end they interpreted the encounter as consensual sex.
Though her alleged assailant was eventually fired from his job for smoking marijuana, she noted that he faced no consequences for the alleged assault.
“I assumed he would be punished appropriately,” she said. “I was just naive.”
Pitzer Dean of Students Moya Carter wrote in an email to TSL that the college uses the standard of proof that was mandated by the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter, which addressed Title IX regulations.
“Our standard of proof is ‘Preponderance of the Evidence,’ which means, ‘more likely than not to have taken place,’” she wrote.
Pomona College Title IX Deputy Coordinator Daren Mooko said that physical evidence is rare in sexual assault investigations at Pomona. Instead, investigators rely on outcry witnesses, or people the survivor confided in after the attack.
“We have to look at credibility,” Mooko said.
One standard, Mooko said, is looking at the motivations for each person to lie. For example, the alleged perpetrator, Mooko said, is more likely to lie about events that occurred because they could face expulsion.
Mooko questioned the likelihood of someone submitting a false report of sexual violence.
“Why would they come forward if nothing happened?” he said.
According to the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, false sexual assault reports constitute 2-8 percent of all reports.
Jessica said that throughout her ordeal, the Pitzer administration provided her with no resources.
“They could have found survivor groups, therapy groups; they could have helped me,” she said. “I had to go out and search for these things. I had to find a survivor’s group through Pomona.”
Late September or early October in her first year, Jessica went to the Pomona Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault and told them her story. The next day, one of the Advocates took her to Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services.
"It didn’t matter anymore whether [the assailant] got in trouble or not," she said. "That was out of my control. I just wanted someone to be on my side and support me."
Carter wrote in her email to TSL, however, that the Pitzer administration does try to provide resources to survivors.
“Once we've been notified of a situation we try and assist our student by recommending counseling at MCAPS [Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services] or help find an outside therapist if that is what our student wishes," she wrote, naming a number of on- and off-campus support services.
After the reporting case was closed, Jessica said that she felt dismissed by the administration.
“I felt shooed off, as if they didn’t want to talk about this icky business anymore,” she said.
Carter wrote in response to a summary of Jessica’s experience: “This is very disheartening to hear.”
According to the Department of Justice, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States.
Mary, the CMC first-year, spoke of a negative reporting experience that she had in high school, when a student that she was dating sexually assaulted her on her school’s campus. She said she was bullied out of the school.
Mary said that she does not want to report sexual assaults at the 5Cs because she has already framed her experiences as bad hookups when talking to her friends.
“It’s a lot easier to frame it as, ‘I had sex with this douchebag; he was not very respectful,’ than to frame it as, ‘I had sex with this predator; he totally ignored my discomfort,’” she said.
Because she has already told a lot of her stories, she fears that reporting it officially would prompt the college to send an email out to the student body detailing what happened, instantly revealing her identity to her peers.
But Mary highlighted how common sexual assault is at the 5Cs. She estimates that about four out of five of her friends have experienced a hookup that was not consensual.
“Let’s not pretend hookup culture and rape culture are at all different things; they are the same thing,” Mary said. “The entire mentality of needing to have someone to go home with for the night encourages a lot of non-consent and talking yourself into it.”
Both Mooko and Scripps College Title IX Deputy Coordinator Sonia De La Torre-Iniguez highlighted the variation among the experiences of survivors who report sexual assaults.
“Given the complexity and sensitive nature of such reports, it would be false to imply that there is an arsenal of questions prepared to ask a student,” De La Torre-Iniguez wrote in an email to TSL. “Rather the process for initial intake is guided by the student’s needs.”
However, Jessica said that having different policies at each of the 5Cs complicates the reporting process. Although the 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter prompted the schools to standardize their definitions of consent and sexual misconduct, the reporting processes at the 5Cs still vary. If a student is assaulted by a student at another college, they may report the incident to their own school, but the investigation must be conducted by the college of the alleged perpetrator.
Jessica suggested a 5C sexual assault council as a more effective way of dealing with sexual assault reporting.
“If they just had one council, it would make life a lot easier,” Jessica said.
She said that she has friends who have been assaulted but avoided reporting the incidents because their assailants went to different schools and they did not want to take the time to work with two administrations and staff members they would never have met before.
De La Torre-Iniguez also advocated a more unified approach to handling sexual assaults at the colleges.
“I would like The Claremont Colleges to collaborate to draft a uniform Title IX policy and support the establishment of a 7C Interpersonal Violence Center,” she wrote.
“This Center would be uniquely positioned to handle all sexual assault reporting under the 7C policy including intake, investigation, support services, and resource management,” she added. “Additionally, such a Center would provide a safe, neutral, and confidential space for all students.”
While Jessica and Mary are unsatisfied with the reporting processes, Theresa Iker SC ’14, president of the Scripps Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault, said that she thinks the 5Cs are ahead of comparable consortiums when it comes to sexual assault reporting.
“Mostly the 5Cs have been really good about being in accordance with Title IX," Iker said. "I think it’s really hard for a consortium to do that."
She noted that Amherst College, which has drawn criticism for its handling of sexual assault in recent years, is also a member of a consortium.
“I think the 5Cs have shown the other side of that, that you can be on top of it,” Iker said.
Jessica said that if she could change the sexual assault reporting process, she would make it less bureaucratic and more focused on helping the survivor.
“It gets so caught up in all the minute rules," she said. "If you raped someone, you need to be in trouble. You should never be let off just because of who you are."