Deirdre St. John
A panel of four women came together in the University Commons Ballroom C on Tuesday to discuss the process of reporting a Title IX complaint.
“Our objective here today is to provide you with the overview of Title IX, how things work and how the different departments of the university are involved,” Michelle N. Johnson, William Paterson University Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator said.
Johnson told the audience that the Title IX Teach-In was a perfect segue from the student-initiated “It’s on Us” campus sexual assault event held earlier in the month.
Title IX is a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education. There are additional aspects that students should know about Title IX. More information can be found on the website: www.knowyourIX.com.
“A lot of students did not know that something that happened to them could be reported,” Johnson said. “People think that because they were drinking, they can’t report it, but that’s not true. People should not be ashamed to come forward just because they were drinking.”
Johnson stated that 25% of women have reported to be sexually assaulted in college, but a few years back it was at 20%. This proves that the problem is increasing and awareness is needed within the college community.
“It’s not that more incidents are happening it’s that people are aware of what things can be reported,” Johnson said. “So people are being more vocal are feeling more comfortable and more secure in coming forward and that’s what increased the number of reports over the years.”
However, Johnson mentioned that sometimes your attacker can be your friend or someone you are acquainted with and as a result people might be hesitant to report the sexual assault.
WPU has different policies on campus that relate to sexual violence, domestic/dating violence, stalking, sexual harassment and a student code of conduct.
During the meeting, Johnson explained who students can report to and the difference between the contacts.
“Confidential employees are not required to tell me names or report details to me, but they are required to let me know that a report was made just so I can document it,” Johnson said. “A responsible employee has an obligation to report that allegation and notify the victim that they reported it.”
Confidential employees can be found in the counseling health and wellness center and the women’s center on campus.
“A student can be close to a professor and feel that he or she needs to tell that professor what happened. If you are in that position you need to know what to do,” Johnson stated.
Once the report has been made, then it is optional for the victim if they want the police to get involved in the sexual assault allegation.
Johnson stated a Title IX complaint does not have to involve two students, it can involve an employee and a student or a third party member.
Ellen Desimone, a detective sergeant, said they get reports through many different outlets. The information can be anonymous, it can be family, friends or it can be a third party, and sometimes the victims come forward directly.
If the victim does come forward to the police station it will be a long and lengthy process and they will need to state to the police the details of the incident that occurred.
“It matters where on campus the incident occurred because if it happened on campus the university police have jurisdiction over the investigation,” Desimone said. “But, if it happened off campus, we have to notify the police department and we cannot investigate that case.”
As recently as May 2016, a sexual assault protection order was issued by the court so a victim can order their alleged perpetrator to stay away from them.
“Prior to this you could only get a restraining order if you had some kind of relationship with the individual and it fell into domestic violence,” Desimone said. “Or if you went to court and the person was successfully convicted of the crime you can get a restraining order.”
When Desimone reaches out to Johnson within 24 hours about what she found out during an investigation, then Johnson will meet with several people involved in the sexual assault case.
First, Johnson meets with the victim after she re-reads the police report to fill in unanswered questions that she might have. Then Johnson will meet with the witnesses brought up by the victim to acquire more information and evidence for the case.
“I’ve learned in my own three years here that students don’t keep any text messages and that they all delete them as soon as they read them,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the first questions I always ask and I almost always get the same answer, ‘Well I have too many text messages, I delete my messages every two days.’”
The last person Johnson meet’s with during a Title IX complaint is the one being accused.
“I let him or her give their side of the story and sometimes they will have their own witness names, as well as documentation to dispute what they are being accused of,” Johnson explained.
Once Johnson has reviewed everything, it is time to draft an investigative or fact finding report.
“The report will include my investigation efforts, my fact finding and whether or not I find that there was a violation of student policy,” Johnson said. “If there was a violation of student policy then that report will get forwarded to student conduct and dispute resolutions.”
Jennifer Tumlin, director of student conduct and dispute resolution, said that once a report is provided to her office it automatically goes through the student conduct process.
“There is a committee, referred to as the University Hearing Ward, that is constructed of faculty and staff members who are trained in handling alleged policy violations,” Tumlin said.
“They are the ones who will ultimately hear the case and determine whether or not there is responsibility and if responsibility, what sanctions are appropriate to be assigned.”
WPU student violation code is 3R: Unwanted sexual interactions, including verbal or physical acts or threats.
“The first three words, unwanted sexual interaction is the key piece of the policy allegation,” Tumlin said.
Librada Sanchez, director of the women’s center, stated that the “Teach-In on Sexual Violence” event was significant because if students are further educated in sexual violence then they are more likely to report it.
“The victims are going to receive the support no matter what, whether they report it or not,” Sanchez said. “It remains completely confidential.”