Sex Crimes at WCU: eleven reported this semester
Explaining Title IX and how to make a report
Story written by Andrew Schuler, additional information from Nick Childs.
From Aug. 20 – October. 5, Western Carolina students reported eleven incidents of sexual crime on campus to UPD.
According to police logs mandated by the Clery Act (a law requiring colleges and universities to report campus crime data and support victims of violence), eight of the reported sex crimes occurred in residence halls: rape in Buchanan, Noble and Albright; two reports of sexual assault and one fondling in Shining Rock, a sexual assault in Harrill and fondling in Balsam. The other three reported incidents happened elsewhere. These include rape in Norton Field, a fondling in Courtyard Dining Hall and a third-party report of sexual assault at an unknown location.
Campus police are actively investigating all but three cases. The case in Balsam and the unknown location closed because the survivor chose not to participate in the case or press charges. The report of rape in Norton Field closed because it was determined false by law enforcement.
“All suspects [in the sexual assault and fondling cases] are known with the exception of the incident at the dining hall,” Steve Lillard, WCU police chief, said. “The Shining Rock incidents all have the same suspect and according to information provided to the police department, he is no longer on campus. Ongoing discussions are taking place with the District Attorney’s office to determine potential charges.”
At the time of publication, it is unknown if UPD located suspects for the three active rape cases.
These incidents happened in what is known as the ‘Red Zone.’ The Red Zone is the period of time between August and Thanksgiving Break, where over 50% of sexual assaults occur on campus. Intercultural Affairs (ICA) and Students
Against Sexual Assault (SASA) are on-campus resources working to educate students on the Red Zone, empower survivors, and equip them with resources through the Red Zone Awareness Campaign. Events include tabling, RAD (rape aggression defense system) programs, and informational sessions on bystander intervention and consent.
Deidre Hopkins, WCU Title IX Coordinator, oversees all complaints of sexual discrimination on campus and attempts to identify any patterns of systemic problems.
Hopkins said “Consent is the approval and permission to engage in mutually agreed upon sexual activity demonstrated by clear actions, words, or writing.” She continued by saying consent cannot be granted when the other party is under the age of legal consent; asleep or incapacitated; coerced, intimidated, or threatened into sexual activity. Consent also cannot be inferred through silence, lack of resistance, or previous sexual encounters. Consent is freely given and can be revoked at any time.
SASA also held informational sessions on how to file a Title IX report. Title IX is a “federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities,” Hopkins said. “All public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges and universities receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating and domestic violence and stalking.”
There are several ways to file a report to Title IX. The Safe @ WCU page on the WCU website has an online report form or students can talk to faculty and staff, who can refer reports to Hopkins.
When asked by The Western Carolinian if Title IX automatically opens a case after a survivor makes a report, Hopkins said, “Not necessarily. We give the complainant [the alleged victim] the power to decide if they would like to proceed with a formal complaint. Once the formal complaint is made, the formal process commences.”
According to Hopkins, the alleged victim has the right to remain anonymous. However, to initiate an investigation, the complainant must provide information about the time, place, type of prohibited acts alleged, a factual summary of the reported incidents and the name (if known) and description of the respondent (individual accused of prohibited conduct under Title IX).
Once Title IX opens an investigation, an investigator is assigned to the case and will meet and interview all parties involved. They will ask for, and interview, potential witnesses, sift through all evidence provided during the investigation and provide a written report summarizing the investigation. If the parties decide to continue – the complainant is allowed to say they want to stop at any time – then there is a formal hearing process. The hearing panel will determine whether or not there was a policy violation.
Title IX only looks at policy violations. University police handles all criminal investigations and charges. Students can choose to pursue one of these, or both. Title IX and WCU police work together and can open a policy violation and criminal case simultaneously.
Students can utilize the supportive resources provided if they want to remain anonymous or close a case. Supportive measures may include Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), moving residence halls, changing classes if two people are in a class together, increased monitoring and police escorts. Additionally, in the victim’s packet provided by UPD, community resources such as the Center for Domestic Peace (CDP) and Forensic Nurse Services at Harris Hospital are provided.
It is important to note, however, that sexual crime statistics can be misleading. According to Dr. Cyndy Caravelis, a WCU professor in the criminology department who works closely with UPD policies and advising, as well as CDP, an increase in reports does not necessarily mean an increase in sexual crime. It could mean more students are feeling comfortable coming forward, which is something the university wants to encourage.
Still, though, sex crimes on a college campus are pervasive. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest Network), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, among undergraduate students, 26.4% of females and 6.8% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. But college-aged victims often do not make a report, with only 20% of female student victims aged 18-24 reporting to law enforcement.
To report a crime to UPD, dial 828.227.7301 for non-emergencies. For emergencies, dial 828.227.8911. WCU also has blue light emergency phones throughout campus. Students should use these phones to report suspicious activity, crimes in progress, or any emergency.
Anyone can report gender discrimination or sexual harassment. Reports can be made to Hopkins at 828.227.7116 or firstname.lastname@example.org. If the conduct involves students, you can make a report by submitting this electronic form. You may also make a report at Safe @ WCU.
The Sexual Harassment Prevention Committee, a long-standing committee working with the Title IX Office, serves as an advisory body on sexual harassment, violence and campus safety. More information about Title IX and the Committee can be found at WCU Policy 129 – Title IX Sexual Harassment.