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Saint Mary’s highlights options for reporting

| Monday, November 16, 2015

Sexual-Assault-Graphic-WEBSusan Zhu

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment of a five-part series on sexual assault at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. Today’s stories focus on the process for students reporting sexual assaults.

Saint Mary’s students who are survivors of sexual violence have several different avenues through which they can report a sexual assault.

Students can either report a sexual assault to confidential or non-confidential resources and individuals, director of the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) Connie Adams said.

“We have confidential people on campus at Saint Mary’s and that’s myself in BAVO, Health and Counseling Services professional staff so counselors, nurses, nurse practitioner, psychiatrist all of those individuals and then the pastoral ministers that are in Campus Ministry,” she said. “If a student chooses to speak with a confidential person, he or she does not have to make a report unless he or she wants to make one.”

Enacted in 1972, Title IX deals with issues relating to gender, and specifically prohibits discrimination based on gender for institutions that receive federal funding, Adams said.

Saint Mary’s students who want to go through with the investigative process have two options for reporting their assault: They can either report to a non-confidential College resource or to law enforcement, Adams said.

“Everyone else that is employed by Saint Mary’s is a non-confidential person or a responsible person, which means that if they’re an RA, in building services, a professor, if they work in the library, whatever they may be, they are a responsible person,” she said. “So, if they receive knowledge that sexual violence may have happened, then they are required by federal law to be reporting that information to the Title IX Coordinator. That means the institution knows and the institution has to take action.”

Adams said if the survivor or third-party reporter decides to make a Title IX report or discloses information to a non-confidential person, the report goes to Title IX Coordinator Rich Nugent.

The Title IX Coordinator has been designated by the institution to oversee all Title IX cases. Reports to non-confidential persons must be made to the coordinator, she said.

“The report comes in to the Title IX Coordinator and the first piece is identifying if this is a Title IX issue … and identifying if we know who may have been impacted, victimized — who is the survivor,” she said. “When talking about Title IX, we use the terminology complainant — the person who filed the report.”

Complainants get first priority to make sure their needs are met, she said.

“There has to be those certain types of support and resources that are available while making sure that the individual is okay,” Adams said. “And making sure they have whatever they have to be able to continue in their academic environment and to be able to excel.”

If the name of the perpetrator is provided, and associated with the college, Saint Mary’s has an obligation to investigate it, Adams said. However, if the perpetrator is not a Saint Mary’s student, the Title IX investigation does not move forward at the College, but rather at that student’s institution.

“Really, the investigation piece is institutions can only conduct investigations if individuals are enrolled in the institution or employed in the institution,” she said. “Title IX doesn’t necessarily have to do with where something happened but who’s involved in the situation.”

After a students files a report with the Title IX coordinator, she initially meets with a Deputy Title IX Coordinator for an intake meeting, in which the student receives options and information, and the Deputy Title IX coordinator offers support and determines if the complainant wants to move forward.

Saint Mary’s has three deputy Title IX coordinators who oversee an area of the policy based on who is involved. Assistant vice president for Student Affairs Janielle Tchakerian handles cases involving students. Director of Human Resources Kris Urschel handles cases involving staff or administration, and Dean of Faculty Vickie Hess handles cases involving faculty members.

“Depending on the information gathered, the investigation may move forward to investigation and adjudication. If the complainant wants the investigation to move forward or if the complainant does not, but the Title IX Coordinator identifies a safety concern for the wider campus community, the process continues,” Adams said.

“Then we utilize — which is new this year — outside external investigators,” she said. “Local attorneys that have different kinds of specialties around sexual assault, higher education and what not that conduct more of the actual investigation component. What that looks like is sitting down and having meetings, gathering information, listening to stories, asking questions. They’re fact finding in an impartial manner.”

Adams said in cases regarding student respondents, the Community Standards process begins next, which involves the Critical Issues Board.

“What they’re looking at is based on the evidence, is it more likely than not, a preponderance of evidence standard, that the policy has been violated. They’re not looking at the law, they are looking at the policy. And ultimately if someone is found responsible for violating a policy, then there is some type of consequence. Ultimately, the greatest consequence is dismissing someone from the institution or firing someone,” Adams said.

The process of pursuing a criminal investigation takes shape differently, in addition to having a longer time frame, Adams said. A Title IX process from start to finish is 60 days, unless extenuating circumstances change the timeline. The law enforcement process takes a minimum of one year because the prosecutor has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the law has been violated, instead proving a policy violation has occured.

“Title IX process start to finish — from the time that an institution knows, or reasonably should know, to the time that someone is found responsible or not responsible for a policy violation — is 60 days,” Adams said. “That doesn’t include the appeals process. The law enforcement process, you are lucky if it takes a year in terms of how that actually ends up playing out because it is a very different system and the components are different.”

The law enforcement process looks at what state the crime was committed in, and what the laws in that state are, Adams said, while Title IX has to do with who is involved.

“In this community there are a lot of different law enforcement agencies, … so if something happens on campus and the survivor wants to make a report, we are going to contact St. Joseph County as Saint Mary’s in it’s jurisdiction,” Adams said. “There’s Roseland, South Bend, Mishawaka, Notre Dame Security (NDSP) — those are the law enforcement bodies.”

Adams said a number of years ago, the St. Joseph County prosecutor’s office formed a special division to address issues of domestic violence, sexual violence, dating violence and stalking. Law enforcement reports made to St. Joseph County about sexual violence will be referred to the Special Victims Unit (SVU).

“That team consists of investigators that are sworn law enforcement agents that are detectives and attorneys who work for the prosecutors office and other support staff,” Adams said. “There are officers, investigators, detectives that work for St. Joseph County, South Bend and Mishawaka and they are assigned to this division so they are members of their different departments but they come together and work as a team as part of SVU. They do the vast majority of investigations when it comes to law enforcement side of things.

“Students need to know they have options when it comes to reporting sexual violence,” she said. “Even more importantly, they need to know there are support systems and persons in place to help whether they make a report or not.”

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About Alex Winegar

A junior at Saint Mary's, Alex is a Communicative Sciences and Disorders major. She serves as the Saint Mary's co-associate news editor. Alex enjoys traveling, food and spending time in "The Mitten."

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