It happens here: reporting sexual harassment and assault

Renew Counseling Center is available to all students.

Grace Williams, Guest Writer

19% of college students have experienced, attempted, or completed sexual assault since entering college, most often perpetrated by someone they know and trusted according to the CDC.

The Oklahoma Crime Victims Compensation Act states that “Sexual assault” means rape, or rape by instrumentation or forcible sodomy. SNU’s handbook reflects this definition of sexual assault. In the past three years, no one has been found in violation of the crime of sexual assault on our campus as communicated in the crime report. SNU’S crime report, which will be updated in June with statistics from 2012, shows that our campus is a safe place to be.

However, a few students have brought complaints of sexual harassment to residence life staff and student development in recent years.

A current female student, living on campus in the spring semester of 2011, which was her sophomore year said, “I had been dating a guy for awhile and our relationship was really serious. We spent all our time together. Eventually, he broke up with me. Since we had been so serious, I had lost many of my other friendships. I became depressed but I tried to move on. I met a new guy and we became pretty good friends. He said a lot of things that flattered me. One night, he invited me to his room for open dorm.

I told him I couldn’t because I had a lot of homework to do but he persisted. Finally, I agreed to come for one hour. I went to his room and when I walked in he shut the door. I, being a rule follower, didn’t like this so I opened the door. The guy who lived next door (who gave me the creeps) told me that he was going to turn up the music really loud in his room so I would want the door shut. It was rumored that this next door neighbor’s girlfriend lived with him in the residence hall so I figured we wouldn’t get in trouble. The guy I was visiting then turned off the lights. I was feeling nervous but didn’t want to bail on him and we were watching tv or something so it kinda made sense.

I was basically sitting on the arm of the couch. He scooted next to me and put his hand on the inside of my leg. I pushed his hand off. He put his hand back and said ‘I know you want it.’ I said I didn’t. He thought I was joking so I made it clear that I wasn’t and then tried to leave. He tried to stop me but I eventually was able to get out. When I walked out, his roommate was sitting in the lobby and gave me this look that made me feel as if he said I know you just had sex with my roommate. I felt so horrible afterward. I didn’t want to hang out with people any more.

One of my good friends tried to figure out what was wrong and so I told her the story. She encouraged me to report it but I was too scared and shaken up. My friend ended up reporting it to Michael Houston on my behalf and she told me that the guy had already had several complaints against him. I later told my resident director what happened. My R.D. was very supportive but never told me the outcome or what happened to the guy.”

Michael Houston, associate dean of students, responded “By law we must tell victims of sexual assault what happened to the perpetrator but in cases of harassment or misconduct, as we have in this case, we keep the punitive action confidential.”

Knowing the perpetrator of sexual assault or harassment can make reporting a very difficult task.

Another current SNU student reported “I dated a guy for a week, my first college boyfriend. We broke up after a week because he and I were not right for one another.  About a month after our break up he asked if we could talk. I knew he was dealing with some hard things in his life and I wanted to be there for him. We met in a study room in a campus residence hall. He propped the door open with a trashcan, I guess so he could say the door was kept open and was following the rules. He talked to me about a trip.

After our conversation, he pinned me to the ground and tried to kiss me. Luckily, I blocked him with my hands and after some struggle I was able to get free. I was shocked and horrified that something like this could happen to me on campus. I didn’t tell anyone for a few months. I felt horrible during this time and my friends and family could tell something was wrong but I did not tell them.

I finally told my R.A. and gave her a letter detailing the incident. She told the R.D. and I also spoke to her about the incident. One of the reasons I waited so long to tell was because I didn’t want to give my ex-boyfriend a bad name especially among our mutual friends. As much as I was angry and hurt that he did that to me, I still didn’t want him to be hurt.

He was an upperclassman and I knew he would graduate soon so he would be out of my way. Plus there was no evidence since there were no cameras in the study room and I wasn’t sure how I would be received. However, it greatly disrupted my schedule to avoid him and I needed to talk about what happened. After I finally reported, he was given a no contact order meaning he could not be near me.”

Houston said “Sexual assault/harassment cases are always very sensitive because often the evidence is he said/she said. Victims are usually hesitant to file a police report and/or classify their situation as sexual assault. Victims often back off their initial stories during the reporting process. It is extremely important for people who have experienced sexual harassment/assault to report as soon as possible with as much detail as possible. If you believe you were sexually assaulted, say so and stick with it. This is the only way to keep an assailant from doing it again.”

Though many people report sexual assault and harassment to R.A.’s and R.D.’s. Michael Houston is ultimately in charge of dealing with cases. He receives a report of the conversations that took place between the victim and the residence life staff. Houston and another staff member, typically from student development, will then meet with the victim.

“We let the accuser guides the conversation. When they come in, I first have s/he fill out a form which has check boxes on it where the student can indicate what occurred, if there was coercion etc. There are three options on the form: the student wishes to file a police report, the student does not want to file a police report but wishes that SNU take disciplinary action or the student just wants to report it and no action will be taken. We will always offer to take student to the police station and help them file a police report.” said Houston.

Houston then has the student discuss the incident in entirety. After the student finishes, Houston and the other staff member will ask a few questions to clarify any details. If Houston completely believes that a crime has been committed, he will turn it into the police. Next, Houston will call the accused into his office.

“I will tell the accused the nature of their accusation and listen to their side of the story. I will ask them questions to clarify his/her story and make sure it makes sense. My advice to people relaying their story of sexual assault or harassment is that they need to make sure they tell all the details. The accused always tell the entire story, starting with their history with the person whether it be a true story or not.” said Houston.

If Houston deems the situation sexual assault after hearing what the accused has to say, he will turn it over to the police and/or immediately suspend the accused until the judicial process can be completed. If the situation is deemed sexual harassment, the accused will be sent to Campus Judicial Council (CJC) which is made up of faculty, staff and student representatives. Houston gives the forms and records of conversations with the victim for his/her testimony so that the victim does not have to testify and see the person who hurt them. Throughout the entire process, the accuser and the accused are kept separate from each other. In most cases, a no contact order is in place between the two. A no contact order is the campus version of a restraining order. Students are also encouraged to get a legal restraining if they wish.

It is extremely important to report sexual assault and harassment as soon as possible. If you are assaulted, do NOT take a shower or change clothes. You should go immediately to the hospital or have an R.A./R.D./trusted friend to take you to a hospital so you can have a sexual assault test done which collects the evidence needed to prove what happened.

Houston offers additional advice “Don’t be intimidated to tell what happened to you. Many times students change their story from ‘he grabbed my [breast]’ to ‘he grazed my side’. If someone really hurts you, we need you to stick with your story so we can take appropriate action. Don’t be afraid to label sexual assault, if that is truly what happened. Please seek help from counselors and mentors.”

Renew Counseling Center here on campus at SNU is a safe place to seek counseling. Counselors are trained in helping people deal with the negative effects of sexual assault as well as making the decision about reporting it to the authorities. Kimberly Campbell said “11% of our clients indicated on their intake paperwork that they have experienced rape, unwanted sex, sexual assault.  I would imagine there are clients that don’t indicate this on their paperwork, but end up disclosing this during their process in therapy, so probably closer to 15% of our clients.”

Dena Beals, senior human relations major and Jenn Wachtel, senior international studies major both experienced sexual harassment on campus and reported it.

Beals said, “If you feel weird about a situation, get out of it. It will probably get worse. Please tell someone so it won’t happen to anyone else.”

Wachtel said, “It is extremely hard to report sexual assault when it is someone you trust especially when it is the first time your trust has been broken in such a major way but do it. Do it for yourself so you can come to terms with it and do it to protect others. People will support you.”