Content Warning: This story contains explicit descriptions of a reported sexual assault.
Editor’s note: *Names have been changed to Jane Doe and John Smith to protect the individuals’ privacy.
It was March 2022.
Jane Doe* was studying abroad when she and her friends decided to go out for the night.
Fellow Pepperdine student, John Smith,* was going out the same night, and the group went to a bar and started drinking together. By the end of the night, Doe said some were sick, some were not “fully there” and some left to go home.
Doe and Smith were left alone.
“Once we were alone, he used that as an opportunity to take advantage of me,” Doe said.
Smith proceeded to rape Doe, she said, without her consent, as she was impaired due to alcohol, according to the Office of Community Standard’s official case verdict.
Two months later, in early May 2022, Doe said it happened again.
Doe said it was a similar situation, where a group of students went out and started drinking. The group left eventually, and Doe and Smith were alone.
“After the second assault, I was like, ‘OK, I can never see this person ever again,’” Doe said.
For the remainder of the program, Doe said she avoided Smith at all costs and considered reporting the assaults to Pepperdine.
“Whenever he was going out, I wouldn’t go out,” Doe said. “If he was going to an event, I wouldn’t go. If he was in a room, I wouldn’t go in that room. I did everything I could do to avoid him for months.”
The program ended the first week of May, and Doe and Smith went their separate ways.
Doe returned home and was with friends and family when she said she decided it was time to speak up.
An individual has the option to report sexual misconduct to Pepperdine’s Title IX office, file a criminal charge through local law enforcement or file civil litigation, according to Pepperdine’s Sexual Misconduct policy.
If the individual reports through Pepperdine, the University has to disclose sexual assault to local law enforcement, but the investigation occurs internally through Pepperdine, without a California lawyer and not through law enforcement, according to section VI of the policy.
After reporting her experience to Pepperdine and going through a formal investigation, Doe said she was upset about the outcome, the time it took to complete the investigation and the way the process took a toll on her — after all that she had already experienced.
Reporting a Sexual Assault
On June 24, 2022, Doe filed a complaint against Smith through Pepperdine’s Title IX office.
Doe had an initial interview with Title IX Coordinator La Shonda Coleman in which she could decide to either file an informal complaint, a formal complaint or neither, according to section VIII of the policy.
An informal complaint does not require the Title IX office to investigate or perform a hearing, and allows the complainant and respondent to mutually agree on a resolution, although the complainant can choose to stay anonymous to the respondent, according to section XI of the policy.
A formal complaint requires a thorough investigation, where Title IX will interview the complainant, the respondent and appropriate witnesses for both parties, according to section XII of the policy.
A formal complaint can then either go through the Title IX reporting process or the Sexual Misconduct reporting process.
Because Doe’s accusations happened outside of the United States and not on University property, Title IX dismissed the complaint, and decided to investigate it under Pepperdine’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, according to an email to Doe from the Office of Community Standards.
The Title IX office will consider a complaint a Title IX complaint if it includes Title IX sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking, according to Appendix A: Sexual Misconduct Definitions in the policy.
The University must dismiss complaints as Title IX and file them under the Sexual Misconduct Policy if they happened outside of any of Pepperdine’s campuses or properties, not at a University sponsored event or not at Pepperdine-owned buildings outside of the United States.
The Title IX office will dismiss a Title IX complaint, and go through the Sexual Misconduct reporting process if it includes non-Title IX sexual harassment, sexual violence, rape, sexual battery or sexual exploitation.
“If it’s Title IX, there’s just very specific regulations that we have to follow,” Dean of Students Sharon Beard said. “And if it’s sexual misconduct, it’s almost exactly the same process — I would say 90 percent [the same], but it does give us a little bit more flexibility.”
Title IX protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in schools and activities that receive federal funding, according to the Department of Education. Pepperdine does receive federal funding, so therefore, has to follow Title IX regulations, according to section IV of the policy.
If a case follows the Sexual Misconduct policy rather than the Title IX policy, Beard said the University will still take appropriate investigative and disciplinary actions.
“There’s a lot of confusion when a student hears that a case has been dismissed as a Title IX case,” Beard said. “They think we’re not going to do anything about it and that we aren’t taking it seriously. But it’s quite the opposite — we’re able to have flexibility that we think will be in the best interests of the student.”
Doe said she decided to file a formal complaint against Smith and would continue through the sexual misconduct reporting process.
In her formal complaint, Doe said she accused Smith of two instances of sexual assault while abroad. Doe also requested a no-contact directive with Smith — meaning they could not communicate in person or on social media, but the no-contact directive did not ensure no contact on campus, Doe said.
“We could be in a group together, as long as we don’t speak directly to each other,” Doe said. “The only way to violate [the directive] is if you speak directly to each other.”
Before the investigation began, Doe said the Title IX office wrote a summary of Doe’s complaints and sent the report to both parties.
The Investigation Process
After the initial report and dismissal, the Title IX office handed the investigation over to the Department of Public Safety, where Dawn Emrich, director of Title IX Case Management and Prevention Education, investigated, conducted interviews and wrote a formal report, according to the policy. At the time of this case, Dawn Emrich was the director of the Department of Public Safety.
The Graphic reached out to Emrich regarding this story, and Emrich directed the Graphic to Coleman for the interview.
Emrich had the initial interview with Doe on June 29, 2022 to begin the investigation, according to DPS’s investigative report.
Over a month later, on Aug. 4, 2022, Smith had his initial interview with Emrich, where he described the events from his point of view, according to the report.
Throughout the month of August, Emrich interviewed six witnesses — all members of the spring 2022 study abroad program, according to the report. Both Doe and Smith could choose witnesses to speak on their behalf.
Then, Doe said the waiting began.
“From the middle of September until November, nothing happened [on my end],” Doe said.
The investigation process should take approximately 90 days, according to section XII of the policy.
For all cases in the 2022-23 academic year, the reporting process and investigation took an average of 120 business days, Coleman wrote in an Aug. 16 email to the Graphic.
“We understand how important it is to complete a timely and thorough investigation process,” Coleman wrote.
Coleman also wrote sometimes the process takes longer due to having to coordinate witnesses schedules and availability.
“There are a variety of factors that must be considered throughout the formal grievance process including specific timeframes for parties to review and respond to investigation materials and scheduling for hearings,” Coleman wrote.
After Emrich conducted all interviews, she wrote an investigative draft report, Doe said.
Emrich sent a draft of the investigative report to both Doe and Smith on Oct. 28, over two months past the conclusion of the investigative process, according to the report.
Both parties had 11 calendar days to submit responses, including any additional evidence they had. Smith did respond, and Doe did not, according to the report.
On Nov. 11, Emrich sent the final report to both parties, including Smith’s responses, according to the final investigative report.
The final investigative report would be used in the hearing, according to the Sexual Misconduct Policy.
On Nov. 17, Emrich sent the report to the Office of Community Standards to review, according to the report.
After Thanksgiving break, Doe said Beard, on behalf of the Office of Community Standards, reached out to Doe and Smith to discuss next steps.
Doe said she would still like to move forward with a formal resolution rather than an informal resolution — which Beard said she offers students at this stage.
If a student decides to proceed with an informal resolution, the Office of Community Standards sends them back to the Title IX office, regardless of if the Title IX office already dismissed the formal case, according to section XI of the policy.
If a student decides to proceed with a formal resolution, the Office of Community Standards schedules a hearing.
Beard said a student can initially choose the informal resolution process, but can always go back to proceeding with a formal process if they want to. In addition, Beard said if two parties don’t reach an agreement with an informal process, they will do a formal process.
Doe decided to proceed with a formal resolution, but at this point, she said she was frustrated the hearing was not going to take place until after Smith graduated, because he was graduating in December.
Doe said she met with Beard a few times to ask questions and said she was upset with the length of the process and not hopeful about the outcome.
“I’m incredibly frustrated by the fact that [it seemed like] the final investigative report sat in DPS’s office, doing nothing for months,” Doe said. “It just sat there. That was honestly unacceptable.”
Beard told Doe the hearing would take place in January, after the holidays, Doe said.
After winter break, the Office of Community Standards sent both Doe and Smith a hearing notice Jan. 8.
The hearing would take place Jan. 18 and 19, via Zoom.
Members of the Student Disciplinary Council to serve on this hearing were Beard, director of Financial Operations Kimberly Hogan and assistant director of Human Resources Greyson Orellana, according to the report. These three would listen to both parties’ testimonies, as well as the witnesses’ testimonies.
Beard said the Title IX office recruits faculty and staff to serve on the Student Disciplinary Council. The members go through training once a year with Coleman.
“It [the training] covers everything and makes sure that they understand, from a trauma-informed perspective, the process through that lens and can understand the overall process and definitions,” Beard said.
All six witnesses also had to be present at the hearing, unless determined otherwise. Doe and Smith could also have advisers present at the hearing, according to the Sexual Misconduct policy.
Advisers serve as a support system for the complainant and respondent but are not allowed to sway the decision in any way, according to the Title IX website.
At the hearing, Doe said both parties wrote and presented an opening statement that could be no longer than 10 minutes.
Next, Doe said the SDC questioned both the complainant and the respondent. They also indirectly questioned them — meaning the SDC asked each party questions the other party had previously submitted — ensuring the parties did not have to communicate directly with each other.
On the second day of the hearing, the SDC questioned all of the witnesses, and then the complainant and respondent presented closing statements, which were each a maximum of five minutes.
Doe said the hearing was not only long but she also had to be in the same Zoom room as Smith, which made her uncomfortable.
“We’re both looking at each other, which is horrible,” Doe said. “Even just seeing him makes me want to barf.”
On Jan. 24, the SDC reached a verdict.
The SDC ruled Smith was guilty of the rape that took place March 12, 2022.
Due to Doe’s incapacitation from alcohol, the SDC concluded she could not consent to sexual intercourse. The SDC said the evidence was she shared a bottle of vodka among five people, she displayed abnormal behavior, she had several memory gaps throughout the night and she could not remove her tampon before sexual intercourse, Beard wrote in the Jan. 24 verdict.
The SDC concluded Smith was not guilty of rape May 4, 2022, due to a lack of evidence, according to the verdict.
The Office of Community Standards proceeded to discipline Smith for the March 12, with four sanctions, according to the verdict.
Smith was not allowed to participate in or attend Seaver College’s graduation ceremony but still could receive his degree and graduate from Pepperdine. Smith graduated in December but could not walk in April.
Second, Smith cannot go to any Pepperdine campus without permission, even though he had already graduated at the time of the verdict.
Third, Smith had to participate in an online training course on consent. Smith could not officially receive his degree until he completed the training.
Lastly, Smith had to write a reflection paper on what he “had learned from this experience,” according to the verdict. The Office of Community Standards asked him to reflect on what he would do differently in the future if he finds himself in a similar situation.
Beard emailed Doe to notify her that Smith was found guilty of rape and outlined his consequences.
“That was all; that was it,” Doe said. “He was found guilty. And then all he had to do was a training.”
Doe said the verdict upset her, but she decided to not follow through with the appeals process because she didn’t believe it would do anything, and the appeal was due by Jan. 31, which was less than a week after the hearing. Doe said this was not enough time.
“I literally just went through hell,” Doe said. “I’m just like, ‘I just need to go back to my classes, actually. My tests are still coming. I missed two days of school for this, and I have assignments and stuff.’ So, I was just like, ‘I’m so done with them.’”
In the state of California, if an individual is convicted of rape, they will face up to eight years in state prison and face felony probation, according to Penal Code 261.
Doe said online trainings do not mean anything and compared it to when an individual gets a speeding ticket and their punishment is an online training course — the same as Smith had to complete for raping her.
“When I read that, it just felt like a slap in the face to me as a human but also just everything I had been through,” Doe said. “It’s just absolutely ridiculous.”
The whole process, from start to finish, took almost seven months, and Doe said she was not just upset by Smith’s consequences but also by the reporting process as a whole.
Doe said she felt like she had to fight alone to prove he was guilty, when in a California state case, she would have a lawyer fighting for her.
“I was not only the victim,” Doe said. “I was the detective in the case. I was also my own lawyer. I was my own confidant, like I was, you know, every step of the way — like they expect us to do all of it. There’s such a burden of proof on the victim.”
Throughout the whole process, even though Doe had a no-contact directive for Smith, she said it did not ensure in any way they wouldn’t run into each other. Doe said she saw Smith on campus one day in the fall and had a panic attack.
“If their [DPS] whole point is public safety, how did they make me feel safe?” Doe said. “I didn’t feel safe at all a single day last semester because I was just walking around on campus with him every single day.”
Improving the Reporting Process
Beard said the Title IX office and the Office of Community Standards always want to serve students in the best way possible throughout the reporting process.
“We want to constantly be improving this process,” Beard said.
Beard said they are open to feedback on how to continually make sure students are feeling supported throughout the investigation.
“It’s always a work in progress,” Beard said. “I feel like every case we’ve had we’ve tried to improve upon it for the next one.”
Coleman also wrote the office is always reviewing their process and working to improve it.
“The Title IX Office actively works to enhance our process and offerings,” Coleman wrote. “The office welcomes feedback concerning the process and care that is offered through the office to best support every student and the Pepperdine Community.”
Doe said there should be more accountability within the Title IX office, DPS and the Office of Community Standards.
“There’s just no accountability,” Doe said. “I want as many people as possible to know that they found a student guilty of rape, and they gave him an online consent training. There needs to be a level of accountability.”
In addition, Doe said when she shared her story with others, she heard of other girls who have experienced something similar, and if they do happen to speak up, it is resolved in a similar way.
“I meet girl after girl after girl who’s frustrated with this process,” Doe said. “But no one knows the details of what’s happening to other people.”
Doe said she only initially reported in order to hopefully prevent rape from happening again to someone else at the school, but now, she has lost all hope in the Title IX reporting process.
“Every step of this process was so re-traumatizing,” Doe said.
Behind the Story
As part of the reporting of this story, the author fact-checked and read the case verdict, the investigative report and all email communications.
Anonymous Source Policy
The Graphic uses anonymous sources only in rare cases. An anonymous source would be considered by the Graphic when the source has a serious concern about privacy and that source is considered to be credible by the managing editor, executive editor and advisers.
Follow the Graphic on Twitter: @PeppGraphic
Contact Abby Wilt via Twitter (@abby_wilt) or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org