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Unwelcome presence

Students under investigation for sexual misconduct may still be allowed to attend class


Photo Illustration | Daytona Niles  | Photo Editor 

When she walks into the library to study, she has a friend check the entire floor to make sure her rapist isn't studying there too. 

Rachel's complainant was filed with the Office of Student Conduct in January after being sexually assaulted off campus. Her rapist was found in violation of Central Michigan University's Code of Conduct. During a long investigation process, he is allowed to attend classes.

"I have paranoia in the back of my head that I might run into him on campus," she said. "It's a lot of anxiety. If he gets kicked out, I will feel safe again."

Rachel is not the complainant's real name. Central Michigan Life does not name victims of sexual assault and other crimes. Her investigation was verified through university documents. 

Committee working to restore SANE services at hospital

A small box containing a series of envelopes containing evidence could be the difference between a sexual assault complainant seeing a rapist arrested or watching an attacker walk free.

In 2011, Women's Aid in Mount Pleasant lost a federal grant for a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at McLaren Central Michigan that funded the SANE program. As of 2013, if a patient tells the hospital they have been sexually assaulted, they are able to get a rape kit done, but it is questionable whether the kit will stand up in court.

"There are certain ways it needs to be done," said Roger Skrabut, Director of the Heart & Vascular Center at McLaren. "Right now we don't have anybody in the emergency department that has completed certification for this."

Skrabut is part of a team of community members working to restore the SANE program at McLaren. Along with him, the Central Michigan University Police Department, representatives from Foust Hall and members of the Sexual Assault Response Team through the Saginaw-Chippewa Tribe have been meeting to figure out funding and solve logistical matters to restore the service.

The committee's goal is to restore the SANE program by this fall.

"It is important to be a SANE versus a RN because there's conversations that can occur while this process is going on and we want to make sure the nurse is compassionate, caring, answering the questions, helping the victim," Skrabut said. "(We want to make sure) they're not just moving down this recipe, checking off these things to get out of the room as quickly as possible."

Brooke Huber, leader of SART, said the committee is working to secure funding that would restore the service for a sustainable period, rather than through a grant which will expire. Huber said having these specially-trained nurses will increase reporting among victims.

"If you are reporting to law enforcement, (police) want that forensic evidence," she said. "It'll still get turned over to police. The problem with not having appropriately trained people is that can be challenged in court."

Huber estimates the cost of SANE is about $20,000 per year. It will cost $1,000 for a one-time training of each nurse. The rest of the funding would go to compensation for trained nurses who are on call.

Skrabut said nurses complete 40 hours of online training, one day of intense training at the hospital where they will undergo a mock evidence collection, mock trial and mock interview with a "victim."

These nurses will be trained to administer a rape kit, which usually takes three or four hours. The exam starts with a thorough medical history from the complainant. Next, there is a head-to-toe, detailed examination and assessment of the entire body, including an internal examination. This includes collection of blood, urine, hair and photo documentation of injuries. Then, the nurse speaks about treatment for sexually transmitted inflections that the complainant may have been exposed to.

Since the kit from McLaren may be challenged in court after being performed by an uncertified nurse, victims may be sent to other hospitals that have SANE programs to obtain a rape kit. Lt. Larry Klaus, part of the committee to restore SANE, said CMUPD will transport assault complainants to Midland to obtain services at Shelterhouse.

"Usually the examiner will be the first contact a survivor has," Klaus said. "(Medical personnel) should be trained to talk to survivors with a compassionate, empathetic approach."

Klaus added a bad first contact experience can shut a victim down.

"We want (the service) in place," he said. "We want a trained person available on the front end. It's best practices of what needs to be accomplished in providing services to victims."

Since Rachel filed in January, her case is being handled by the Office of Student Conduct, going through a system used until the new sexual misconduct policy was introduced March 16. After that date, all reports of sexual misconduct will be investigated through the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity.

Though Rachel is undergoing the investigation through the former process, they both take a certain amount of time. With the new system, the office has up to 60 days to complete their investigation. After that time the complainant or respondent can appeal the decision.

The new investigation process

When the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity receives a report, director Katherine Lasher's first step is to reach out to the complainant and tells them about helpful resources. She tells them about Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, the Counseling Center, Student Disabilies Services and other resources outside of CMU. 

Also in that first contact, Lasher will ask the survivorto meet with her, letting them know they may bring a support person.

During the first meeting with Lasher, a survivor will become further informed with support resources, with a focus on which are confidential and which are not. Lasher also details interim measures that can be put in place to keep the survivor as comfortable as possible while attending CMU. This can include looking at both students' schedules and making sure they do not cross paths while on campus.

"Our goal is to have the survivor only talk once to us about what happened, and I want to make sure they are ready and informed if they want to go forward," Lasher said.

The decision to go forward with a formal complaint is left largely in the hands of the survivor. The only time the university would continue an investigation without the survivor is if the office sees a repeat offender.

If the survivor wishes to proceed with a complaint, a follow-up meeting is scheduled. This is the time for the survivor to explain what happened. Along with the complainant, witnesses are interviewed and any pertaining documentation is provided.

The student who is accused will be notified next. They are treated largely the same as the complainant, being allowed to bring a support person, provide their documentation of what happened and also refer any witnesses that might support them in their case. They also have the opportunity to provide a written statement.

The office has 60 days to complete an investigation. They will make a determination as to whether there was or was not a violation to the sexual misconduct policy. 

If no wrongdoing is found, the inquiry will end. 

If the student is found in violation of the student code of conduct, the information is sent to the Office of Student Conduct, where director Tom Idema will determine a sanction. Idema has not yet had to deliver a sanction under the new policy. 

When investigations went through the Office of Student Conduct, the process was similar. However, in between the interviews and the sanction, there is a hearing. The respondent is allowed to choose to be interviewed by a conduct proceedings officer or by a hearing body, which would consist of a hearing officer and two students approved by the Student Government Association. 

Idema said most respondents chose to appear before the hearing body.

"They seem to think having more students on the board is more in favor of the alleged perpetrator," Idema said. "Students tend to be tougher on their fellow students than hearing officers."

Lasher said it is recommended other students are not involved in a hearing process.

"The individuals involved in the process need to be highly trained," Lasher said. "These are very sensitive concerns. When you're talking about students evaluating other students, it can make the students who are involved uncomfortable." 

Rachel said having the opportunity to face her respondent during the hearing was empowering. It might not be for all survivors.

"I was able to give a student impact statement, which can be whatever I want to say," she said. "I used it to talk about what he affected in my life. I used it to address why I was so hurt by him. This is good closure for survivors."

Like the former policy, there is a minimum sanction requirement of suspension. Idema will determine how long the suspension needs to be, or can expel the student. 

The complainant and respondent both have the opportunity to appeal Idema's decision. Though interim measures can be taken to keep the respondent off campus, switch classes or work schedules or issue a no contact order, if these are not mandated, the respondent will be able to attend CMU as usual.

By the numbers

The thought of being forced into an investigation can be a determining factor in survivors deciding to come forward, said Director of Sexual Aggression Services Steve Thompson. 

A national expert on sexual assault and stalking, Thompson said the issue of rape on college campuses isn't being addressed effectively. There is a high number of sexual assaults that go unreported. 

Though students who experience a sexual assault are not required to go through an investigation under Title IX, this is a common misconception of the new misconduct policy. Thompson said it's important to remember the confidential sources students do have, and that Lasher's office will stop an investigation if that is what the survivor wishes. 

At CMU, students can report confidentially to Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates, a 24-hour hotline for victims of sexual aggression, or the Counseling Center. 

"I believe we are doing the best we can for survivors. It's not right that if a survivor tells a (resident assistant), that person has to go up the ranks," Thompson said. "What is right is that at this institution, OCRIE will do the best they can to do what the survivor wants. That's not what all Title IX coordinators are doing, but that's what ours are attempting to do. They're caught between doing what the survivor wants and the (federal government) saying, 'You have to do this.'"

Thompson said the numbers collected by the Clery Act and Office of Student Conduct are not representative of the problem of sexual violence on college campuses because only one out of every 100 survivors will report an assault. 

Code of Conduct violations for 2013-14 amounted to six for sexual misconduct. According to Clery data, which only accounts for assaults reported within university boundary, CMU had five forced sexual offenses in 2011, six in 2012 and eight in 2013. These numbers tell a different story than the 200-300 calls SAPA receives each year. Though SAPA receives calls from outside of CMU and Mount Pleasant, Thompson said even if all the calls were from CMU, they show only part of the picture.

"When people look at the numbers, they're ignorant," he said. "They don't realize most targets are freshmen and most offenders are upperclassmen. Very few upperclassmen live in residence halls. So those numbers are very low, and they will always be very low."

CMU must comply

The process of investigating sexual misconduct must be followed by CMU as instructed by the federal government. 

The instruction comes from a "Dear Colleague" letter directed at universities. This letter, formulated in 2011, instructs universities on how to respond to sexual violence. 

Though many students may feel immediate action should be taken against a respondent, the university can only take interim measures during an investigation, which are handled on a case-by-case basis. 

In the meantime, Idema suggests students utilize services offered by the university, including SAPA, the Counseling Center and Disabilities Services.

"No matter the outcome of the case, we encourage the student to utilize these services," Idema said. "Whether a violation was found or not, to that student, something happened, and we need to address those and we do." 

Rachel said she has felt extremely informed throughout the process. 

"They always took into consideration what I am OK with," she said. "They cover my concerns and make sure I'm OK the whole time."


About Sydney Smith

Sydney Smith is a super-senior at Central Michigan University. She comes from metro Detroit ...

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