As the Pepperdine community has seen an increase in sexual assault reporting, an online survey of 45 students conducted in spring 2019 showed only 44% of students reported they knew the process of reporting a sexual assault.
There were two reports of rape and three reports of fondling in 2018, according to Pepperdine’s 2018 Campus Safety and Fire Safety report. There was an increase in reported sexual assault crimes in 2019 as seven reports of sexual misconduct were filed during the spring semester. Sexual misconduct is defined as “forcible rape, including date rape and sexual battery” and “sexual battery.”
Less than two weeks into the fall semester of 2019, another sexual assault occurred Sept. 5, according to the daily crime log report.
Students and staff set up tables for Sexual Assault Awareness Week at Pepperdine, the first week of April. Photo by Anastassia Kostin.
One survey response read, “I was one of the seven [victims]. It’s a misguided and ill-informed process.”
At Pepperdine, while each complaint is investigated in a timely manner, all complaints are unique, which makes the timeline for each case different, La Shonda Coleman, associate dean for Student Affairs and Title IX coordinator, wrote in an email.
“When a person files a formal Title IX complaint, they are informed about reporting options and are provided interim support, like counseling and other available resources,” Coleman wrote.
The Title IX office immediately initiates an investigation into the complaint and generates a report. The investigation is conducted by the university and is independent of a law enforcement investigation. The Title IX office then forwards this information to the Office of Community Standards for assessment and resolution, Coleman wrote.
Though this process may be confusing to students who have not been victims of sexual assault, it is nevertheless important for students to understand their reporting options and the resources that are available.
Yet, only 28% of students responded that they knew of the seven assaults, according to the poll. The problem may be a lack of conversation and updates surrounding the topic, despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of all college students experience sexual harassment, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Aside from page 2 of the print edition of the Graphic, the university’s Daily Crime Log lists recent crimes on all Pepperdine campuses. However, the log only includes all reportable crimes and fire incidents for the past 60 days, meaning that any incidents of sexual assault from earlier days are no longer be available for the public to see. Additionally, some information may not yet be loaded into the system when someone is looking.
Other times, students said they hear about incidents from word of mouth.
T-shirts made to represent sexual assault victims and their stories during Sexual Assault Week, as well as words of encouragement. Photo by Anastassia Kostin.
The Clergy Act
Jeanne Clery Act is a federal consumer protection law that requires colleges and universities on or near the campus(es). Schools must report these crimes within two business days in a daily crime log and include the incidents in their Annual Security Report.
“It is a law that’s designed to promote transparency and accountability between students and employees and the institutions of higher education that they either attend or work at,” said Laura Egan, senior director of programs at the Clery Center.
Communication at Pepperdine
Pepperdine, along with other institutions, releases an Annual Security Report on its website in accordance with the Clery Act.
“Included in these reports are incidences of sexual violence, intimate partner or dating violence and stalking, among other forms of campus crime,” Tori VandeLinde, training and technical assistance specialist of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wrote in an email.
Additionally, campus climate surveys are sent out to students to measure incidents of sexual violence, intimate partner or dating violence and stalking on campus. They also measure how students perceive the help and support available on campuses.
However, these surveys are not mandatory for schools to send out and schools are not required to share the results with the student body, Tori VandeLinde wrote.
There are two organizations at Pepperdine which play large roles in raising awareness on the prevention of sexual violence and providing support.
The Title IX Prevention Education Committee, which consists of faculty, staff and students that work collaboratively to create and implement awareness raising, primary prevention efforts and support, and the Student Wellness Advisory Board (SWAB).
Pepperdine’s Title IX office hosts campus-wide trainings, presentations and student programming to educate students about sexual assault, Coleman wrote.
Despite these efforts, only 25% of the students surveyed indicated they felt adequately informed about sexual assault incidents at Pepperdine.
Timely warnings that are sent out to students via email only need to be sent out when there is a continuing danger to the campus community. The last timely warning Pepperdine sent out was on March 14, informing students of a groping incident concerning non-Pepperdine student Jonathan Pope.
Some students said timely warnings are not enough.
“It doesn’t help us once it already happened,” junior Justin Rorick said.
Only 44% of students surveyed indicated they were aware of the process of reporting a sexual assault.
Pepperdine recommends the LiveSafe app to students to increase safety measures. This app allows an individual to submit tips to Public Safety, request medical or security escorts and look out for friends using the SafeWalk feature. However, LiveSafe is geared toward general crime and not specifically sexual assault.
Another possible solution to raise awareness for sexual assault is the Callisto app, which helps to empower survivors, provide reporting options and allow disclosure in a way that feels safe.
Sexual assault survivors wait an average of 11 months to report their assault to their colleges, according to the Callisto’s 2017-2018 Impact Report. Callisto allows student users to immediately write and record their experience in a private, time-stamped record. Its unique matching system connects victims of the same perpetrator to identify repeat offenders.
Video about the founders of the Callisto app explaining its purpose.
Callisto writes on its website that “survivors can securely and anonymously store information about their perpetrator in Callisto.” Its success, however, depends on how college campuses adopt the software.
Currently, Callisto partners with multiple universities, including Pomona College, Stanford, Loyola Marymount University and the University of San Francisco.
Victims who used Callisto were six times more likely to report their assault to their school or the police than survivors who did not, according to Callisto’s 2017-2018 Impact Report.
When it Happens
When a sexual assault takes place, it is important to protect the victim, especially considering the fact that an American is sexually assaulted every 73 seconds, according to RAINN.
“On the one hand, information is good to let victims know that they need to report,” said Mandy Rose, assistant attorney general at Washington Attorney General. “On the other hand, what occurs in the media and when the public gets their hands on information is public shaming of the victims and a lot of misinformation.”
Rose recalled a case she chaired regarding a school teacher in which the victim was publicly humiliated on social media, despite the fact that much of the information was based on missing facts and assumptions, making “life very difficult for the victim.”
Student responses to a poll about sexual assault. Infographic by Anastassia Kostin.
Another important aspect that makes rape the most underreported crime is the traditional way sexual assault information is communicated, Rose said.
“Traditionally it seems it’s not common to communicate about the sexual assault at all or in very limited ways,” Rose said. “This is why assaults are many times not reported until years later.”
Those who experience sexual assault may not recognize it as such or self-blame and hide this information from their family and friends, according to Rose.
This emphasizes the importance of reporting sexual assaults that people hear of or witness.
Jane Smith* reported a sexual assault she witnessed while studying abroad.
“Three of us reported the incident together,” Smith said. “What prompted us was we wanted justice for the victim and not reporting it wasn’t an option especially once finding out this wasn’t his first offense at Pepperdine.”
She recalled meeting with the program administrators, who called Pepperdine’s Title IX office. She and the other students who reported the assault then had individual phone calls with La Shonda Coleman.
Despite the steps it took to report the assault, Smith said there was a lack of communication to other students and she said she found the faculty’s reasons for dismissing the perpetrator unsatisfactory.
“Students were not notified right away [when] he was banned from campus for about a week before he left,” Smith said.
Another student involved in reporting the assault, Jane Doe*, recalled the abroad staff saying post-incident that men and women should not stay in the same hotel rooms.
“I was like, ‘Wait, that’s not the issue,’” Doe said. “If it’s someone from my friend group, I should be able to trust them.”
Whether reporting for oneself or someone else, there is the emotional cost for all involved despite the legal system providing victims with victim advocates, Rose said.
“I kept thinking, ‘I could’ve done more,’” Doe said.
At schools like Murray State University, the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is a model of a collaborative group of individuals who respond to instances of sexual violence by working together to achieve the following goals:
1. Coordinate a victim-centered approach to intervention.
2. Care for sexual assault survivors.
The members of the group include the MSU Police Department, University Counseling Services, MSU Women’s Center and the Purchase Area Sexual Center, according to the Murray State website.
The SART model has become the standard for responding to adult and adolescent victims of sexual assault, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This approach is unique in that it balances two distinct sets of needs — those of the sexual assault survivor and those of the criminal justice system.
The SART model, which intends to take on a victim-centered approach to sexual assault. Infographic by Anastassia Kostin.
However, one major challenge for SART is determining the metrics by which to measure their effectiveness. The impact of SART on prosecution rates is difficult to determine due to the low number of studies and the complex number of factors that determine whether or not a case is prosecuted, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
The Aftermath – Communication to Students
UCLA made the list as the No.1 Most Dangerous College in America in 2011 due to a total of 49 violent crime incidents in one year, with 12 of those forcible rapes, according to Business Insider.
UCLA Senior Pakizah Fatimah said she felt like more could be been done to prevent sexual assault on campus.
“There have been sexual assaults but there is no direct communication [to students],” Fatimah said. “It’s like the school tries to drown the whole scandal. It definitely feels like the school isn’t transparent because we don’t receive any emails about stuff like that.”
Other schools that have dealt with repeated sexual assault scandals, such as Baylor University in 2012, have taken more active approaches to addressing improvements in the University’s Title IX processes.
On its “The Facts About the Sexual Assault Crisis at Baylor” webpage, Baylor released Findings of Fact and Recommendations for Improvement documents following the Pepper Hamilton investigation.
The latest sexual assault scandal involving the Baylor University football team happened the year before senior Alexandra Plank came to Baylor. Her first year at the school dealt with a lot of the aftermath that resulted after those involved were fire.
“I think people feel more open to report things to Title IX,” Plank said. “Every teacher has to put the Title IX office and phone number on their syllabus and at freshman orientation we all had to watch a video about consent. We also had to take an online survey.”
Though Plank said she believes Baylor is trying harder to make the university a safer space, there are still improvements to be made, including increased communication of information to students.
“There was something this year where The Lariat [school newspaper] reported on three cases of sexual assault in the dorms and Baylor didn’t tell people about it, and people were mad,” Plank said.
The school addressed the issue after The Lariat reported on it, which Plank said she believes was due to legal issues.
Sexual assault communication in three stages. Infographic by Anastassia Kostin.
Knowledge is key to preventing sexual assault, which is why communication about sexual assault cases is an important aspect of these often-complex issues, according to research by NCBI.
“Besides complying with all federal and state laws that regulate how information is shared about incidents of sexual assault, our Christian Mission affirms our commitment to safety, equity and response in these matters, without compromising privacy,” Coleman wrote.
Coleman said Pepperdine actively works to prevent sexual violence and other forms of gender-based harm through prevention education, policy and coordinated response efforts. Additionally, all members of the university share in the responsibility to foster safety and support for those impacted by gender-based harm, Coleman wrote.
Though sexual assaults have and will continue to occur, “Even one occurrence of gender-based harm is one too many,” Coleman wrote.
*Names changed to protect students’ privacy
Email Anastassia Kostin: firstname.lastname@example.org