Sex, Violation, Power: “If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it.”

Photo illustration by Robby Hirst | Lariat Photographer
Photo illustration by Robby Hirst | Lariat Photographer
By David Trower
Web Editor

Ever since the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights released its Dear Colleague Letter on April 4, 2011, Baylor has taken a proactive approach to addressing how it handles sexual assault and sexual violence cases.

The letter put universities on notice about the need to make a concerted effort on Title IX issues, said John Whelan, Title IX coordinator and associate vice president for human resources.

Title IX is part of the Education Amendments of 1972 and reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Whelan said that for the last 40 years, the focus of universities concerning Title IX has been on the equality of women’s sports with men’s sports and this has caused confusion for many people. Within the last few years, the focus of this law has broadened to include the fact that sexual assault victims do not have the same equity in educational environments.

To be progressive in their handling of Title IX on campus, Baylor takes proactive steps when looking into a complaint on behalf of the victims.

The Baylor Judicial Affairs Student Conduct Administration handles the investigation of complaints, including those concerning sexual assault.

The process begins with the initial report of sexual assault that can come from various sources such as the Baylor or Waco Police Departments, a community leader in a residence hall, a resident chaplain or a staff member. If the sexual assault has not been reported to the police, Baylor will then work with the victim to report the crime to the authorities, but they are not required to do so.

Judicial Affairs will begin gathering information related to the complaint to see what steps the university needs to take.

Throughout the process, Whelan along with Bethany McCraw, associate dean for student conduct administration, the Baylor Counseling Center and Baylor Police Chief Jim Doak are in constant communication about the reports that have come forward and the actions taken.

“This is such a sensitive topic and there are no winners in these cases, everyone suffers in these cases,” McCraw said. “It’s something that we take very seriously, and we are trying to be very careful with it so that everyone is handled very carefully throughout the entire process.”

After Judicial Affairs receives a report, they ask the student to come in so they can gather details about what happened and find out what the victim wants to have happen.

They are careful throughout this process, because they do not want to revictimize the person by making them retell their story repeatedly to multiple people.

“That’s why we are working so closely with Cheryl [Wooten] in the counseling center to try to figure out what would be most helpful to victims and what we can all do to make the process easier for them,” McCraw said.

This is also where they consider schedule changes if the victim and the perpetrator are in the same class or changes in living accommodations if they are living in the same residential building. Baylor takes such steps to help prevent the victim from forced contact with the accused perpetrator.

During the course of the investigation, Baylor will meet with the accused perpetrator to hear his or her side of the story.

Judicial Affairs will then determine whether there is enough evidence to move forward into the student conduct process.

If Judicial Affairs decides to move forward, they send an official charge of misconduct to the accused perpetrator charging the student with sexual assault. The student has three days to respond to the charge.

Most students deny the charge and the case moves into a hearing, said McCraw, where the Student Conduct Board hears most of the cases, although a Judicial Affairs officer can do the hearing.

The board’s decision will be forwarded to both the victim and the accused in addition to the vice president’s office and the associate vice president for student life, who decides the sanctions.

Either the victim or the accused student can appeal the decision. The appeal goes to the vice president of student life who makes a decision on the appeal. If either student disagrees with that decision, they can then appeal it to the president of the university. His decision is final.

During the Student Conduct Board hearing, the victim and the accused perpetrator are not allowed to question each other.

A panel separates the victim from the accused perpetrator so the students cannot see each other but the entire board can see both students at the same time.

The students are able to ask questions, but they have to be directed toward the chair of the board and not to the other student.

If either student believes their rights have been violated and the process was faulty, they have the right to raise a complaint under Title IX with the university.

Students can also raise a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education or by going to federal court, according to the Know Your IX web site. Know Your IX is a national campaign that aims to educate all college students in the U.S. about their rights under Title IX.

Baylor investigates every case of sexual assault that comes in, however McCraw and Whelan acknowledge that there are more incidents that occur on campus than are reported.

“Our desire would be to have every single one reported,” Whelan said. “If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything about it. We try to educate campus so that people will report.”

Both Whelan and McCraw desire to help every student who is sexually assaulted.

“They don’t want to tell anybody,” McCraw said, “and so we can’t help. That’s one thing we tell everyone during orientation. If you don’t tell us, we can’t help.”

While Whelan and McCraw desire to see every case brought forward, they recognize that students may be afraid to do so.

“I think that there is a fear that it’s going to be their word against another’s word and they may not be able to prove it,” Whelan said. “And the fear of sharing their story and wondering if anything is going to happen to him is a risk they may feel is not worth taking.”

While most cases involving sexual assault can come down to he said, she said, Baylor’s decision is based on preponderance of the evidence, not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. According to the Baylor Judicial Affairs web site, preponderance of evidence means the evidence presented indicating the act of misconduct occurred, “has more convincing force and produces in the mind of the person or persons hearing the case, the belief that the alleged act of misconduct more likely occurred than not.” Preponderance of the evidence is the standards used in civil cases.

Other students may be afraid to report sexual assault because alcohol was involved, particularly if they are underage, McCraw said.

“When it comes to a sexual assault, we’re not even paying attention to an alcohol violation,” McCraw said. That is the least of our concerns. We’re going to focus exclusively on the sexual assault.”

Baylor will not go after the victim for alcohol or drug use, even if they are under age. If the perpetrator provides the alcohol or drugs to an underaged victim or for the purpose of taking advantage of the victim, the perpetrator can have additional charges brought against them, McCraw said.

Baylor is also not concerned about the gender of the victim and perpetrator.

“We’ve talked about the alcohol, the same thing is if it were male-on-male or female-on-female,” McCraw said. “We are not going to be focusing on that relationship. If we are dealing with sexual assault, we’re going to be focusing on that assault. We are not going to then charge them with something else.”

If the victim and the perpetrator in a sexual assault case are the same gender, Baylor will not charge them with engaging in a homosexual act, McCraw said.

The issue of male-on-male sexual assault is starting to gain traction on the national scene thanks to Tyler Perry revealing that he was sexually assaulted as a boy in addition to efforts by MaleSurvivor, a national organization that provides resources to help with hope, healing and support for male survivors of sexual assault. The issue with Jerry Sandusky and the victims he sexually assaulted at Penn State has helped propel the issue of male-on-male sexual assault into the public’s eye.

“I think Penn State has been really helpful in people becoming more aware of male-on-male cases,” McCraw said.

Students could be hesitant to report the sexual assault because they are concerned about with their parents finding out.

“I think for other students, it’s probably fear that by reporting it, it may get back to their parents, and they don’t want their parents to know that they were in a situation,” Whelan said. “Even if it was no fault of their own, they are still embarrassed by the fact that they were even at a party off-campus drinking alcohol or whatever it might be.”

In addition to concerns about their parents, victims of sexual assault experience other fears concerning coming forward.

“I think a lot of it is the fear of what other people may think and the risk that very often it’s one person’s word against another,” Whelan said.

Many times though, victims of sexual assault do not fully realize the impact the sexual assault has on their life, Whelan said.

“Very often many of those folks, over time, start to realize the effects of the assault,” Whelan said. “And it’s through counseling, and so a number of them come after the fact because they can’t focus in class, and they are struggling, and they realize that they need to tell somebody.”

Throughout this process, Judicial Affairs works with the Baylor Counseling Center.

Dr. Jim Marsh, the director for the Baylor Counseling Center, said it provides numerous group therapy sessions, including one that is specific to female survivors of sexual assault. However, there is currently no survivor group on campus for male survivors of sexual assault. Group therapy session are free and there is no limit in the number of sessions students can attend.

For male survivors of sexual assault that are seeking resources specific to them, MaleSurvivor is a national organization that provides resources to help with hope, healing and support for male survivors of sexual assault.

In addition to providing an online forum for male survivors of sexual assault, MaleSurvivor provides what they call Weekends of Recovery.

“The Weekends of Recovery are a wonderful program,” Christopher Anderson, executive director for MaleSurvivor, said. “There really is no other organization working with sexual abuse survivors of males, or females really, that does a program quite like this.”

The Weekends of Recovery provide an opportunity for male survivors to meet other survivors and experience a weekend of healing.

“The weekends are really transformative experiences,” Anderson said. “At the heart of the weekends, what really makes it so powerful is for many survivors it’s an opportunity to come together to community with other male survivors. Often times it’s the first time in their lives they’ve ever had the opportunity to speak about what happened about what was done to them at earlier points in their lives and be heard by other survivors.”

Anderson is a male survivor of sexual assault himself. He has attended three of these Weekends of Recovery.

“For me the moment that changed everything was when I walked into the room and I was surrounded by about 30 people,” Anderson said. “I hadn’t met anybody. I hadn’t introduced myself. I didn’t know anyone’s name but I made eye contact with one other person and I almost broke down crying because it was the first time in my life that I didn’t feel alone.”

Male survivors experiencing a Weekend of Recovery for their first time experience a sense of community they never really had before, a community of survivors with similar experiences, Anderson said.

“Obviously I had been around people before, but I never before had seen in someone else’s eyes what I saw in my own face when I looked in the mirror,” Anderson said. “There was a moment that just happened that gave immediate recognition that I just knew I wasn’t alone and it began to change a lot of things for me.”

For Anderson and MaleSurvivor this kind of experience is really at the heart of the Weekends of Recovery.

The counseling center also provides individual therapy, including individual therapy for male survivors of sexual assault. The first seven visits are free. Each additional session is $8. There is a limit of 12 sessions per year.

Marsh said Baylor currently has about one staff psychologist per 1,800 students.

“When I first came here almost 15 years ago, nationally we were at close to the bottom when it came to student counseling centers.” Marsh said. “Baylor has been great about putting resources into the counseling center. Where we stand now, we’re somewhere right in there around the average.”

Dr. Cheryl Wooten, staff psychologist with the Baylor Counseling Center, said, “Probably 95 percent of colleges and universities in the United States do not have an adequate response. I think the majority of higher education is behind the curve on that.”

Wooten also pointed out, “There are numerous people at Baylor right now in positions of authority who are running at this as hard as they can. We are all very concerned about it and there are a large number of professionals here on campus working at this behind the scenes even as we speak, very hard. And I think that we are all hoping to have something very different in place by next fall.”

Wooten compared the process of bringing about change at a university the size of Baylor to changing the direction of a battleship.

“But it’s really complicated because we’re talking about money, time, public relations, and legal statutes,” Wooten said.

Everyone involved is concerned with the issue of sexual assault on campus.

“I think that the administration would like to get this done, and they are very supportive,” Wooten said. “They know it’s a problem because it’s a problem on all college campuses and because we hear the stories from students and we’re all very concerned.”

Wooten is confident, though, that Baylor will come up with a good solution for our campus. She is also confident that students will be playing a role in helping decrease the number of sexual assaults at Baylor.

“I think the students are going to be a big part of helping us turn this around because students lots of times see what’s about to happen and maybe don’t know what to do,” Wooten said.

One area that we will see changes sooner than later, involves training for faculty and staff, Whelan said.

“We don’t have any universal training yet, although that is something that we are planning and we actually have a committee of folks that is working on issues in general to look at campus,” Whelan said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to add the information about resources available to male survivors of sexual assault through the national organization MaleSurvivor.