Survivors: You are not alone.

Survivors of a sexual assault have access to resources both on and off campus. What are the differences between them and how can survivors safely reach out?

Rikka Bakken and Joe Dumas

Following the article entitled “Senior outraged by Hamline response” in the Feb. 17 edition of The Oracle, we looked to our readers for feedback. We asked if, after reading the article, they would report to the university if they were ever the victim of a sexual assault. Some answered no, they would not report to the university, but they would report to the police.

“There’s pros and cons reporting to [the university or the police], or both,” said senior Rachel Winter, “but I think you cover the most bases, and you make the most noise, by going to both.”

Reporting to the university does not in any way prevent students from also reporting to the police. As soon as a student speaks with Title IX Director and Associate Dean of Students Patti Klein, that student has the option of speaking to police, being transported to the hospital if that is what they want, or being put in touch with a Sexual Offense Services (SOS) advocate.

Police and university investigations can occur concurrently, and an SOS advocate is a confidential resource who, among other things, can answer questions about the investigative processes.

“She [the SOS advocate],” said Winter, “can help you figure out, ‘can I get an order of protection? What’s the process if I go to the police? What can I say, what can I not say?’”

One possible benefit of the Hamline investigative process is that federal regulations require universities to close cases of sexual misconduct violations within 60 days, according to Klein.

Though the current timeframe is 60 days, Winter argues that investigations can be completed in a shorter period of time. She proposes that a 30 day investigation period would be both realistic for investigators and beneficial to complainants.

“60 days is a long time from a student perspective,” said Winter. “That’s a significant portion of one term, and if you’re constantly freaking out that, ‘Hey, my rapist is still on campus with me,’ for 60 days, it can really detract from your ability to focus on your school work.

Klein believes that a shorter time frame could compromise the process.

“I think, one, it’s important that a process is done in its entirety with integrity and done right,” said Klein. “Any amount of time feels like too much…but there are clear timelines within that process. Five business days to review a packet, five business days to make a decision, that’s two weeks right there in the process.”

While two months (nearly half of one semester) has been criticized for being too long, a police investigation and court process can last much longer. Winter decided to bring her case to the police after finals week of December 2015, and the case is still underway.

“It’s still in the process, and I was told that it could take a year to even two years to get it to court,” said Winter. “Which is frustrating, but on one hand it’s nice because if someone reports to the police right away, it gives them time to process and cope with what they’ve gone through before being forced to go on a stand in the same room as the person who they’re accusing.”

In the event that a case stays within the University, there is, in some ways, a lower standard of evidence required to come to a decision on a case, according to Klein and Safety and Security Director Andrea Vircks.

“I think the biggest difference”, said Vircks, “is that in higher education, the requirement is preponderance of evidence. Is it likely that this happened? That’s our requirement to adjudicate a case. Law enforcement is beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Cases handled by the university are decided based on a preponderance of evidence, meaning that given the evidence provided, it is more than likely that a violation of the conduct policy has occurred. In comparison, a jury would require proof that a violation occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

Physical evidence such as clothing or bodily fluids plays an integral role in a sexual violence investigation. While Hamline officials are not equipped to process items of physical evidence, the police have a number of resources to analyze and preserve pertinent objects and information for use in their investigation.

“One of the things that is very helpful in the court system is the rape kit, and we would never have that here,” said Klein. “Most likely we wouldn’t have a result back within 60 days, to be able to use it in any kind of a way.”

The Title IX offices work with Safety and Security officials and police–if the complainant has chosen to pursue a police investigation–to ensure that survivors do not have to tell their story more than once.

“I understand why they give students the choice (when you report to the school) between keeping it just in the university and going to the police,” said Winter.  “If you do go the police you do have to entirely re-live everything. You have to tell the story from start to end, and they’re going to have to ask questions that are hard, and that’s what they have to do.”

The Forensic Experiential Trauma Informed (FETI) interviewing technique takes into consideration the way trauma affects the brain, which, according to Vircks and Klein, causes a survivor to have difficulty recalling events chronologically.

As part of the FETI interviewing training, Hamline Safety and Security officers learn how trauma can affect the recollection of traumatic events by survivors. Three officers so far have undergone this training in the last three months, and Vircks plans on sending four more in April. While only Vircks and the assistant safety and security director are currently qualified to conduct investigations of sexual misconduct, but Vircks feels that it is important for all officers to understand how survivors handle trauma.

As Winter said, neither police nor university processes are perfect in every situation. Klein’s hope is that conversations about these matters will continue to build a safer and more compassionate environment for survivors.

“I’m glad we’re in a community that can have this conversation, and people feel comfortable coming forward,” said Klein. “That’s what makes a true community better. We don’t get better when we just think that everything is fine. We get better when people raise concerns and questions, and are able to talk about it.”