Examining reports and resources available to IC students
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest Network, “one out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime.” In 2003, the organization states, 90 percent of victims of these types of sexual assault were female. Unfortunately, many of these incidents occur on college campuses.
The 2014 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which can be found on Ithaca College’s website under the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, seems to suggest the college does not face a problem with sexual assault. In 2011, there were four reported forcible sex offenses that took place, all in residence halls. In 2012, there were three reported forcible sex offenses that took place, also all in residence halls. In 2013, there was one reported incident of fondling, which took place in a residence hall. That same year, there was one reported incident of statutory rape, which took place on campus property. Not only that, but there were six cases of dating violence on campus, four of which took place in residence halls and 15 incidents of stalking, 10 of which took place in residence halls.
Based on national reporting statistics, it is unlikely that these reported numbers accurately reflect how many incidents of sexual assault actually occur at Ithaca College — as is the case at campuses across the country.
Once a student experiences sexual assault or harassment, he or she may not know where to turn. Surrounded by society’s misperceptions of victim-blaming and who may qualify as a “victim,” the student may hesitate to talk to others about the experience. Not only that, but he or she may be unaware of the resources available to them as well as the nature of their privacy. The decision to report their experience can be an extremely difficult and personal choice, yet some students may not even know where to go.
At Ithaca College, the first step for accessing any type of information about sexual assault and harassment policies, or even potential people to talk to, is to visit the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education website, www.ithaca.edu/sacl/share/. A recent initiative of the college, SHARE defines sexual violence, rights and responsibilities, while giving students access to information about reporting and non-reporting options as well as prevention and education.
Among other definitions on the SHARE website, sexual violence is defined as, “Physical sexual acts perpetrated against a person’s will or when a person is incapable of giving consent,” for example, due to the person’s age or use of drugs or alcohol, or because an intellectual or other disability prevents the person from having the capacity to give consent.
The definition continues: “A number of different acts fall into the category of sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, sexual abuse and sexual coercion. Sexual violence can be carried out by school employees, fellow students, students from other schools, or third parties. Sexual violence is a form of sexual harassment.”
If a student sees this definition and realizes that they have experienced one of these incidents, he or she has a number of resources available, such as filing a criminal or judicial report, attending counseling, receiving medical attention or going to a support group.
If a student decides that they want to pursue a criminal or judicial case, they would do so through the Office of Public Safety, which would then launch an investigation.
Terri Stewart, the director of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management, wants students to know that there are a multitude of resources available to them through her office.
“We are a resource, so you can contact us and hypothetically walk through any kind of scenario and we would talk about the resources or get someone connected to the resources or provide information or work directly with anyone who calls to try to get them that,” Stewart said. “Whether that’s counseling, whether that’s medical attention, but also be able to walk through options of criminal or judicial proceedings or processes.”
One of the most important aspects of the criminal process for students to recognize, she said, is that physical evidence needs to be collected within the first 24 to 48 hours following the incident. Based on all of the evidence provided throughout a criminal investigation, Public Safety consults with the District Attorney’s office in order to determine the likelihood of criminal charges. However, the student has complete control over whether they want to move forward with a criminal or judicial case.
“The survivor really has the ability to say, ‘I’m not sure if I should pursue this criminally. I don’t know what that means, I’m not sure that I want to pursue this judicially because I don’t know what that means for me or for the accused,’” Stewart said. “And so we’ll walk through some of those options, but we will investigate so that at any particular point in time, if the survivor decides that they want to use those, go either one of those directions, that we would be positioning them to do that.”
If a student wants to report the incident, but does not necessarily want to pursue legal or judicial action, they can do so through the Title IX coordinator Tiffani Ziemann.
“I just definitely want people to feel comfortable reaching out to myself or, you know, anyone else to get connected on campus,” Ziemann said. “Telling somebody is really the first step for us being able to provide support and we want to be able to do that.”
Within her position as Title IX coordinator, Ziemann has multiple responsibilities. The first is to provide community education about sexual violence. Her second job is to help students understand the resources available to them and ensure they are receiving the support they need. The third aspect of her job is to look at trends of sexual violence or harassment on campus to remove current threats and prevent similar ones in the future. Whether a student wants to figure out what they experienced, file a criminal report, or be connected with support services, Ziemann works one-on-one with her or him in order to ensure that their needs are met.
When a student speaks to a faculty or staff member about these types of incidents, they are required to tell Ziemann that the student reached out to them. At that point, the student will be contacted by Ziemann, but whether they choose to continue the reporting process with her is up to them. She said she just wants to make sure that they have all of the information and support they need, whether or not they want to pursue anything further.
“It’s really important for students, or people, to have choices,” Ziemann said. “And that’s what happens, particularly if they’re feeling like they didn’t have a choice in whatever has happened to them. And so we are giving them those resources.”
Beyond providing students with options, Ziemann said that in the long term, Ithaca College’s goal is to increase reporting of these types of crimes so that it can lead to a safer environment for all students.
“We want this to be a campus, a culture of reporting so that maybe for a couple years it looks like our numbers go significantly up because students are coming forward, but that might be a good thing because we’re creating a place where people feel like they can speak out and they can say something,” Ziemann said. “They can be supported and then hopefully over time that would shift and our numbers would go down because legitimately we’re becoming a safer campus, that people aren’t tolerating this, that people are recognizing it.”
If a student would rather avoid the reporting process altogether, there are a number of confidential options both on and off campus that students can use without the involvement of Public Safety or Judicial Affairs. The Hammond Health Center, the Chapel, Counseling and Psychological Services, along with The Advocacy Center and Planned Parenthood downtown all provide private support services.
Kristi Taylor is the adult community educator at the Advocacy Center, an organization based in Ithaca that provides services for survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
“Our advocates are going to approach a situation non-judgmentally, and really allow that person to guide what their needs are, so it’s a helpful place,” Taylor said. “And all of our services are free, so there’s no need to have insurance or anything out of pocket, which can be really helpful for students.”
The Advocacy Center has a confidential 24-hour hotline, which can be utilized for anyone who is looking for help, as well as support groups and one-on-one meetings for both legal and emotional support.
“I think the big takeaway is for students to know that even though we’re off campus, the services are available to you,” Taylor said. “We really want people to feel that they’re not alone, that people believe you and that there is help available. And so while it can be hard to pick up that phone, just know that you’re talking to a safe person on the other end who can walk you through all of your on campus and off campus choices and options.”
Another great resource available to students is Ithaca College’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services, which offers confidential one-on-one counseling as well as a support group for survivors of sexual violence. The group meets once a week and offers a space for students to openly express their experiences and how they are moving forward with people who endured similar challenges. While these services are not for everyone, they offer a variety of options for survivors that may be able to provide some support.
Sexual violence is an extremely damaging experience with consequences that can last a lifetime. The main priority of each of these resources is to ensure that the survivor has a support system, no matter which option is chosen.
Kaley Belval is a senior documentary studies major. You can email her at [email protected].