Colleges not equipped to punish sex offenses

Part 1 of a series on campus sexual assault

By Dennis Barbosa

The freshman was undressing in her dorm to take a shower, and the man who had been forcibly biting and groping her in the hallways was hiding in her room. 

When parents see their kids off to college, they have in mind four years that will be the most memorable of their lives, not this voyeuristic scene. 

Federal Law Title IX requires post-secondary institutions to investigate all reports of sexual misconduct involving a student, but there is no federal law obligating the schools to share their investigations with the campus police and vice versa. 

Increasingly, many colleges are acting as judge and jury without any police investigation. 

Illustration by Dylan Lee Hodges

In some cases where rape has not occurred, but a student feels unsafe amid sexual advances or unwanted bodily contact, a school may take disciplinary action such as relocating the student to adifferent dorm, issuing a no-contact order, or ordering a suspension or expulsion. 

Susan was one such student (not her real name). 

In fall 2012, Susan had only been at Indiana University two weeks her freshman year when she experienced unwanted sexual advances. She worked at a food court across the street from her residence center. She said she often worked late, returning to her room through empty hallways. 

In the residence center, “because people are constantly smoking and drinking and whatever, music going, we always had our doors shut,” Susan said. “Every single door shut, because RAs (resident assistants) are walking around.”

Empty hallways for Susan meant no witnesses when the man across the hall grabbed hold of her before she could enter her room — spanking her buttocks, groping her breasts and biting her neck. 

Susan said she was afraid to report him at first, because she had seen him act violently when he was drunk and considered him to be an angry person. If he could get away with holding her down in the hallway with no one noticing, what could happen if he became angry? 

This happened just about every night, she said, and she tried her best to tolerate it. 

But her best didn’t prepare her for what happened next. 

The man who grabbed her every night sneaked into her room while Susan was undressing, she said. 

Susan’s roommate said she remembered hanging out in her room with several people from the same floor, including a friend the two had known since high school and his roommate, whom we will call Joe (not his real name). 

When Susan got home from work, everyone left the room so Susan could take a shower. Her roommate said she told Susan something about Joe made her feel uncomfortable, and they should stop letting him hang out in their room. 

It wasn’t until she was naked that she noticed Joe hiding in her room — watching. 

“I just freaked. I just lost it,” Susan said. “I yelled, ‘What the f—k, [Joe]?’” 

It was this incident more than two years ago, that pushed Susan to tell someone everything. 

Susan reported Joe to an RA. The IU Office of Student Ethics responded to her complaint by moving Joe to a residence center on the opposite end of campus, suspending him for two semesters and issuing a no-contact, no-trespass order, according to university documents. 

The university’s judicial conference found Joe responsible for violating the IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct: “Sexual contact with another person without consent, including while any party involved is in an impaired state.” 

In addition, Joe needed to complete alcohol treatment and sexual assault counseling before returning after the suspension. 

Because of the no-contact order, Susan thought she had seen the last of him. 

‘No-contact orders are useless’ 

At IUPUI, as well as IU, a no-contact order is one of many disciplinary actions the university may choose to use. 

Communication between the two students is prohibited and can result in more punishment if violated. 

“A no-contact order with the university can help a student feel more comfortable and safer on campus,” said Maria Hinton, assistant director of IUPUI Office of Student Conduct, in a prepared statement. “While it cannot be enforced by police, it is enforceable by the Office of Student Conduct. There can be significant consequences with the institution for failure to comply with a no-contact order, including suspension or expulsion.” 

Susan said she did not feel safe when Joe showed up around her workplace a year later. She alerted her manager, who called campus police, but by the time they showed up he was long gone. Then, to her horror, they told her they could do nothing. 

She needed a protective order. 

But it was too late for that. Susan didn’t know Joe’s address, a prerequisite for petitioning the local judge for a protective order. 

In Marion County, for example, one must go to Marion Superior Criminal Court 21 in the basement of the City-County Building and fill out a protective order petition with the full name, address and date of birth of the offending person. If the request is filed in the morning, one can reasonably expect to know by the end of the day if the civil order was granted. 

A protective order has legal consequences that can result in an arrest if violated by the offender, which was precisely what Susan thought she had. 

“Anyone who really understands what a no-contact order does, must wonder why they exist at all,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate for the Student Press Law Center. “The existence of these orders prevents people from getting proper restraining orders, because they don’t see the distinction.” 

However, one benefit of no-contact orders is that they can be issued immediately, whereas petitioning for a protective order can take all day. 

Most people in general don’t know the difference between a campus no-contact order and the civil protective order, said Sareen Dale, sexual assault prevention specialist at IUPUI Counseling and Psychological Services. 

“I usually encourage people to do both,” she said. “The number one reason people don’t initially report is that they’re not sure right away what happened rises to the level of a crime.” 

Disciplinary boards caught between education and criminal justice 

During a collaborative investigation, the Student Press Law Center and The Columbus Dispatch asked 110 colleges across the country, including Indiana, to provide disciplinary records for cases involving violent crimes. Only 25 responded. 

Often colleges will cite the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as a reason for not disclosing disciplinary records, but FERPA covers only educational records. Disciplinary records involving violent acts have been considered non-academic for more than 15 years. 

The IU Office of Student Ethics director declined to comment on this story citing FERPA. 

Of those colleges that provided records, students were found responsible for violence in 1,970 cases since 2010. In 158 sexual-assault cases, seven students faced criminal charges.

Traditionally, disciplinary systems of colleges have been used to punish cheating and plagiarism, but increasingly these institutions are making decisions about non-academic violations that can potentially endanger the entire community. 

Editor’s Note: The Campus Citizen will be conducting an investigative series this semester on how colleges across the state deal with sexual assault. 

Students can report a sexual assault to campus police at 317-274-7911 or by dialing 911. The IUPUI Office of Student Conduct also accepts online submissions of sexual offense reports.