Editor’s Note: The name of the survivor in this story has been changed to protect her identity. Victims of sexual assault face a stigma that is hard to shake, especially in the digital age when identities live online.
A Knox student says the college discriminated against her in its response to her allegation of sexual assault, additionally claiming that the school retaliated against her for questioning the pace of the Title IX process.
On Sept. 16, 2014, the OCR reported that it would be adding to the initial investigation of Knox College, announced May 1 of last year, with a separate incident. The OCR notes that “complaints filed by more than one person that raise substantially identical allegations against the same recipient may be treated as one complaint.” A source, who asked to be identified as Kathleen, came forward to The Knox Student as the person responsible for filing the additional complaint.
The OCR is investigating two main allegations from Kathleen’s appeal. First, that Knox “discriminated against Student L [Kathleen] based on sex when it failed to afford her a prompt and equitable grievance procedure to address her allegation of sexual assault.” The other part of her complaint seeks to determine if the school “retaliated against Student L for complaining about the College’s Title IX grievance process.”
While the administration refuses to comment on any individual case for privacy reasons, there are no concrete time restrictions for Title IX cases. “They give suggested guidelines on times, they don’t mandate timelines. They mandate [a] prompt, thorough, equitable and fair [process],” Title IX Coordinator Kim Schrader said of the investigation and adjudication of sexual misconduct cases. “The goal is to minimize the impact on any victim.”
Kathleen filed her complaint with the OCR on Aug. 15, 2014, coinciding with an appeal request to Knox after a grievance panel found her alleged assailant not responsible for the counts of intentional and unwelcome touching, sexual intercourse without consent due to coercion and sexual intercourse without consent due to incapacitation or impairment.
“Appeals can be filed on one or more of only three grounds,” said Dean Laura Behling, who was in charge of receiving Kathleen’s appeal request. “You could appeal on substantive new information that came to light, you could appeal on alleged bias of the chair or members of the hearing panel, or you could appeal on material procedural error.”
Kathleen’s appeal was deliberated after Behling determined her filing alleged bias and procedural error. Her appeal was denied a little more than a week after the OCR sent out a notice that it would be adding to its initial investigation. The grievance panel’s decision was shocking to Kathleen, but what hurt her most was the way her case was handled.
The initial decision to report the sexual assault was difficult for Kathleen. She was on her prescribed dose of Vicodin the night she says she was raped. Citing the medicine’s strength and its tendency to make her “loopy,” Kathleen typically avoided taking the pills unless it was absolutely necessary. Between the pain-killers and the trauma of the event, her memory of the night in question remains a bit patchy, but she had other concerns about reporting, too.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “I was scared because this guy was supposedly my friend. We had a lot of mutual friends. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
It wasn’t until Kathleen engaged in a series of Facebook messages with her alleged assailant’s girlfriend that she decided to seek one of the school’s mandatory reporters in order to begin the grievance process. She chose to go to a trusted professor on May 26, 2014 and brought along a friend for moral support and a copy of the Facebook conversation she took part in.
“She was shaking some, she was clearly distressed,” Professor Karen Kampwirth said of Kathleen when she came to report her assault. Kampwirth knew Kathleen from class.
“She was the kind of student that we all really, really want to have,” Kampwirth said. “All of these years of seeing her as a very responsible, calm, together person made me believe her.” Kampwirth also noted that the Facebook messages implied premeditation. Professor Kampwirth would pass Kathleen’s case through the Title IX channels and would meet with her again the night of the grievance panel to provide dinner and support to Kathleen and her mother.
Later that day, Kathleen went to the Campus Safety Office to request an order of no contact against the student she reported for sexual assault. “[The Campus Safety Officer] told me, straight up, that I could say as much or as little as I wanted, that in no way was I making a statement, that she was just opening an investigation,” Kathleen said. “I wasn’t coherent. I was saying some things that happened but didn’t go into everything because [the Campus Safety Officer] told me I didn’t have to.”
Kathleen believed at the time that she would be contacted a few days later to make an official statement for the case. She began emailing Schrader, who was put in charge of Kathleen’s case and later became the Title IX Coordinator for Knox in August of 2014, to complain that she was not yet given the chance to give a statement. At this point, Kathleen’s only comments to Campus Safety were those given the night she filed for an order of no contact.
“A student can say they want an order of no contact and then that’s not necessarily in any way related to the investigation or the adjudication process,” Schrader said. Orders of no contact are one of the several possible “interim measures” complainants can seek at Knox to assist them while their case is being investigated. Knox provides these measures both to be in compliance with regulatory guidelines and to maintain a “trauma centered” approach to helping complainants and survivors of sexual assault.
Kathleen was contacted in mid-June about her statement after email requests from her and her mother were sent to Schrader.
“When [the Campus Safety Officer] contacted me a month later, [they] didn’t say [they] wanted to contact me about making a statement, [they] said [they] had already written a statement on my behalf,” Kathleen said of an email she received while on summer break.
Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf wanted to travel to Kathleen’s house to have her read over and sign her statement.
“I offered to [go] to Galesburg to meet them in Knox, in their office and read the statement on my own,” Kathleen said. “John Schlaf insisted on [taking] the statement to my house.”
Kathleen found the statement both incomplete and inaccurate from her version of events on the night of May 17. She was informed that the investigator’s report would matter greatly in the findings and that she would not be allowed to edit or revise the statement that was delivered to her.
Instead, Kathleen drew up her own “additional statement” that was to be presented to the Campus Safety investigator and later to the grievance panel as a whole. Many things in her statement were contrary to the one drawn up by Campus Safety, including a quote in the Campus Safety Investigator’s report that stated Kathleen had verbally consented to her bra being removed. After the respondent denied responsibility for the charges, a grievance panel hearing was set for Aug. 14, 2014.
On the day of the grievance panel, Kathleen reported to Old Main at 9 a.m. The respondent exercised the school’s offer to Skype in to the proceedings. Their hearing lasted over 13 hours.
Timing was a major issue in Kathleen’s decision to file a complaint with the OCR, especially after learning at the panel that the respondent in her case was interviewed for his statement the day after she reported the assault. She feels the entire process was stacked against her.
“They made me feel like I was crazy. That I was a burden on them,” Kathleen said of the grievance process. She felt that her concerns and complaints were ignored and that much of the process was victimizing.
“I was hurt more by Knox than I was by [my assailant]. It’s just not my school anymore.”
The respondent in Kathleen’s case did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story.
Throughout the process, Kathleen sought the support of Assistant Librarian for Instructional Services, Ryan Lynch, who attends some faculty meetings and was updated on Knox’s sexual assault policies.
“Generally, survivors of sexual assault need to be in control,” Lynch said. “After August 14 I had absolutely come to the conclusion that we [Knox] were not doing a very good job.” They believe that is part of the reason Kathleen was so angry with the process was how many times the system took control out of her hands, leading to “revictimization.”
“I was extremely frustrated with the process.”
Last term, Knox announced that it was shifting its adjudication process from the grievance panel method – a “trial” with student, faculty and staff members, as in Kathleen’s case – to an investigator model, which features a single, outside investigator responsible for fact-finding and handing down a verdict. It is the school’s hope that the new model will meet, if not surpass, suggestions or mandates resulting from the OCR’s investigation.
“Our overall goal is to really achieve and maintain compliance with the legal, with Title IX,” Schrader said. “Best practices are evolving so quickly. And that’s part of the reasons our policies and updates and revisions happen.”
Jill Mann, the sexual assault medical legal advocate at The Western Illinois Regional Council-Community Action Agency (WIRC-CAA) Victim Services Program in Macomb said schools have to comply with legal standards that may or may not make situations comfortable for survivors.
“I think it’s important that they [schools] are working with a rape crisis center, or with someone that can be an advocate for that victim that doesn’t have a conflict,” Mann said of colleges’ ability to care for survivors.
Currently Knox has a Momentum of Understanding (MOU) with the Victim Services Agency based in Macomb. This MOU is “an agreement between an institution and an agency to provide services,” said Schrader. She says they work closely with the group, but all services students utilize with the group are confidential so the school is not notified when students make use of their additional services.
“I always have hope,” said Kathleen in regards to the system improving. She hopes others will not have to go through what she did.
Knox is still waiting to hear the OCR’s decision based on the complaints filed.