Is the reporting process worth it?

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In a 2018 campus-wide survey, 48% of female undergraduates said they had been sexually assaulted since arriving at Duke. That means more than 1,700 undergraduate women have been sexually assaulted, a statistic that even Larry Moneta has suggested to be under-representative. However, during the 2018-2019 academic year, only 169 reports were sent to the Office of Student Conduct. These numbers do not add up.

Jayne Grandes, assistant vice president of Title IX compliance at Duke, said she would like more victims to be reported. Before doing any research for this column, I wholeheartedly agreed. In my opinion, each survivor’s contribution to the reporting system would improve it for others who choose to come forward in the future. But I didn’t understand how long, traumatic and demoralizing it can be for a survivor to report. Now I’m torn. Why should a survivor report when this process at Duke will likely do him more harm than good?

For a student willing to report, the chances of getting a positive result are virtually insurmountable. Of the 169 reports made last year, only nine were returned for investigation. Six of them gave rise to hearings. Three individuals were found responsible. Out of 169 — three. These are the odds that the survivors face.

Additionally, survivors may feel that reporting is more difficult than it is worth. Elderly Sabrina Maciariello was assaulted in January of her first year and felt she had “nothing to gain” from reporting. “The problem wasn’t that he was going to contact me or that I was afraid he would do it again. The problem was just that it happened, ”she said.

Already overwhelmed by the trauma of aggression and the pressure to maintain normalcy in the face of relentless academic, extracurricular and social obligations, Maciariello was unable to prioritize what she assumed to be restorative justice.

The trauma imposed on many victims of sexual assault is crippling. Another survivor – let’s call him Ben – recalled that the day after his assault, he had had four panic attacks. The weeks and months that followed weren’t much easier. “Your brain can’t cope. Finishing his homework and getting to his classes is getting really difficult, ”he said.

While reporting soon after an assault can make it easier to gather evidence, it’s not the first thing on a survivor’s mind. Even though Maciariello had wanted to report, she certainly wasn’t emotionally able to do so right after her assault. After a friend accidentally called the Office of Student Conduct (OSC) the night of his assault, Maciariello received three emails the next morning, one from the OSC, one from the Women’s Center and one from DukeReach. Overwhelmed and distraught, Maciariello neglected to answer one of the emails. She would not seek therapy until three months later.

Survivors face this trauma, isolation and shame even without a sexual assault investigation hanging over their heads. Amy Cleckler, MPH and former Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Office Coordinator at the Women’s Center, attests that the reporting process can make a survivor’s distress even worse.

“The reporting process, even managed in the most efficient, fair and favorable way possible, can create additional stress and trauma,” she told me.

If the reporting process is carried out until a final verdict is reached, “the stress of recounting and recounting the events, sitting for a hearing in the same room as your abuser, and being questioned about extremely personal details can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety, depression and PTSD, ”she said.

In theory, reporting does not need to require a substantial commitment on the part of the victim. Jayne Grandes notes that each report contributes in one way or another to the OSC’s understanding of sexual assault on campus.

“Reporting does not mean that a complainant has to go through the investigation process; they can just tell us what they want to share and what they need, so that we can better support them, ”she told me. “It also gives us more information about what’s going on so that we can improve our prevention and response efforts.

Such a prospect seems logical and fits the needs of some survivors. But for many others, in the weeks and months after an assault, simply admitting they’ve been assaulted is terrifying. As Cleckler argues, “when even those closest to a survivor cannot always provide support without doubt or judgment, it is more difficult for survivors to imagine telling their story to a complete stranger, like a police officer. or a director of Duke “.

Ben describes a “psychological distance” between a survivor’s condition immediately after an assault and several months after, as survivors slowly process and come to terms with their trauma. Such a distance from the event can finally allow survivors to face the option of reporting. “If the system was fully informed, this arc would be taken into account. “

Two years after his assault, Maciariello decided to consider a report. Her therapist recommended that she call Victoria Krebs, Associate Dean of Students for Title IX Outreach and Response, to discuss her options. After asking Maciariello to summarize her story and the documents she had, Krebs claimed that Maciariello did not have enough evidence to prove that she even went to her attacker’s dorm that night, let alone the fact that an assault had actually taken place.

Maciariello reminded me of Krebs’ responsibility to arbitrate liability: “It’s his literal job to prevent you from setting up a business in order to protect the school.” While Grandes assures that not all OSC employees should consider the potential for negative press in these cases, the OSC is still obligated to weigh the liability Duke might incur if they do not respond adequately to an assault. with, say, possible damage to the reputation of the University if the matter goes public or a potential lawsuit brought by the assailant.

It is unrealistic to expect a survivor to keep the kind of strong records required to involve an abuser, especially since at least 50% of all student sexual assaults involve alcohol. Maciariello remembers how similar circumstances thwarted his case.

“When he left the room, I couldn’t text because I was so drunk,” she told me. “I could only call. All I had (since that night) was an outgoing call to my friend, and he had an Uber receipt for his dorm.

If Maciariello was so drunk that she couldn’t text, she clearly wasn’t able to consent to sexual activity. But this reasoning, as common as it is, was not enough to appease the system. Victoria Krebs was right: Maciariello had no concrete evidence to support a case against her attacker. And without a case, she was effectively forced to give up.

Many students, 17% of 169 last year, choose to request a “no contact” directive rather than a formal investigation. A “no contact” directive, in effect a restraining order on campus, offers an attractive option for survivors who do not wish to proceed with a formal reporting process but seek to prevent any potential future communication with their abuser. However, even this can be intimidating, as it requires the abuser to be aware of the report filed against him. Duke’s relatively small campus and tight social networks make survivors more vulnerable to the backlash from the abuser or their friends.

Perhaps the survivors have something to gain to report. But they also have a lot to lose: their dignity, the coping skills they have worked so hard to integrate, and the confidence that their experiences are legitimate. Every survivor’s story matters, but not all stories can resist the system. As Duke’s wife who wants to see the reporting process improve in the long run, I would theoretically love to see more survivors reporting. But now that I see the reality of this process – even as far removed as I am from the direct experience of survivors – if I was in a similar situation, I don’t know if I would choose to report. I think I would choose myself.

And for many survivors, reporting and healing are mutually exclusive.

Rebecca Torrence is a Trinity junior. His column is broadcast every other Thursday.


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