Over the past few months, I’ve seen an issue I care deeply about warp into a self-righteous, off-key operetta set in the Georgetown community. Sexual assault policy reform, like that outlined in the Georgetown University Student Association’s recent memorandum of understanding, is an effort that requires respect for all positive contributions, sensitivity and thought.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m well aware of how frustrating this effort can be. In my time at Georgetown, I directly engaged with the university’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault. My ex-boyfriend of two years was abusive — physically, sexually, emotionally and verbally — and was suspended for two semesters after being found responsible for seven different Code of Student Conduct violations.
The way I and other survivors had and have been treated by our school is disgraceful. I see great potential in the MOU, specifically in the plan to re-evaluate staffing levels and in the goal to collect survivors’ stories, but I know from experience that Georgetown has much further to go.
I thought it would be helpful for me to share some major takeaways from my experience with the Office of Student Conduct — both because I can speak to how our policies do not adequately protect victims of long-term abuse and because I think this conversation needs to continue in a productive direction.
Here are some major problems I encountered and my best guess at how to address them. This list is part of a much longer document I am planning to pass on to administrators, with the encouragement of Jen Schweer — what you’re about to read is just the appetizer.
Insufficient language in the Code of Student Conduct
“Dating violence” is defined in the code as “an offense against an intimate partner … that results in physical injury.” My ex would shove me, drag me (including, once, down a set of stairs), back me against walls, threaten to kill himself if I did not do as he wished, and yell at me for things as small as sitting in a different chair than he expected.
However, as none of these actions ever resulted in enduring physical injuries, Georgetown’s current code suggests that these were not instances of dating violence. I managed to convince my hearing panel otherwise because of the abundance of evidence for my ex’s abusive behavior, but misleading language in the code does everyone a disservice.
Similarly, our current definition of “sexual assault” reads “engaging in a sexual act with the use of force, use of threats or fear,” with force being “the use or threatened use of a weapon.”
Force does not have to be physically threatening to be legitimately coercive. My ex would threaten to dump me, refuse to speak to me and look at me for hours, and throw a fit when I declined sex. He became verbally angry and physically forceful when I wasn’t performing well enough for his standards. I was well aware of these stakes and under constant pressure: textbook sexual coercion.
Talking about force as an exclusively physical act is naive, and it merits a change in our current code.
Unsupportive faculty and staff
At one of my first in-person meetings with the Georgetown University Police Department, an officer I had never met advised me against filing a formal complaint. He said that many young men just weren’t mature enough to handle romantic relationships with grace. This was “just how things are sometimes,” he said, as he shook his head and rolled his eyes. I would “do better to get over him.”
These kinds of comments are belittling, presumptive and unacceptable. Students would benefit from an online reporting system (perhaps similar to Georgetown’s bias reporting process) that allows students to note inappropriate pressure applied by staff members in regard to their cases.
Egregiously long response times
I first reached out to OSC June 22, 2014 looking for some details about the hearing process. I never received a response and sent a follow-up email July 5. I did not receive any response from OSC until July 17.
After much consideration, I filed a formal complaint with OSC Oct. 9. I sent several emails begging for next steps and check-ins, but I did not hear much about the progress of my case until Nov. 7, when Title IX Coordinator Rosemary Kilkenny explained that the delay in moving forward was because OSC had not hired and trained case investigators until Nov. 3.
Title IX mandates that the entire sexual misconduct reporting process, from the day a formal complaint is filed to the day that sanctions are delivered, should take no longer than 60 days.
This does not mean that the university has 50 days to shuffle its feet and 10 days to rush toward the finish line. Moving forward, I suggest that the OSC employee assigned to oversee each case be required to touch base with both the complainant and the respondent via email or phone at least twice a week in order to update them on any progress and ensure adherence to the proper timeframe.
Sloppy management of suspension guidelines
When my ex was told of his sanctions, OSC neglected to provide him with a map of campus. Although his suspension stipulations barred him from campus, he visited The Tombs this past spring — an establishment located on university property. The GUPD was immediately responsive and assured me that my ex would face expulsion once OSC staff returned Monday. An officer tailed him in the meantime.
Come Monday, I was told that, because OSC had not provided my ex with a map, his presence at The Tombs was plausibly accidental. It did not matter that he had tweeted about his intentions to come to an event in the Healey Family Student Center that same weekend, and it did not matter that he continued to skirt campus boundaries, with the GUPD trailing him. It also did not matter that, despite speaking with campus police officers on Saturday morning, my ex apparently did not leave the area until Tuesday — something that no one (not even the officer following him) thought to inform me of until well after he was gone.
From what I’ve heard through the grapevine, I am far from the only person this has happened to. OSC has repeatedly failed to keep complainants safe, delivering imprecise sanctions. Maps, lengthy definitions of terminology and highly specific guidelines for therapy and anger management classes should be prepared, with a respondent’s tendency to look for loopholes in mind.
This entire ordeal was unrelentingly hellish, but I should acknowledge that I’ve been wildly lucky. I had a kickass support system with me every minute. I had strong evidence for most of the charges filed, allowing me to present a successful case. Because I relished the opportunity to focus on other things, I stayed on top of my schoolwork.
I filed a formal complaint in the first place because I wanted to know that I could stand up for myself, and I fought endlessly in the face of what my attorney (who frequently works with D.C.-area schools) called the worst case she had ever seen at Georgetown. I don’t regret it.
That said, I can’t imagine what this process is like for someone less fortunate. For those who can barely leave their rooms due to depression or cannot be honest with their parents and friends, I imagine this process is nearly impossible to endure.
Reporting sexual misconduct or dating violence at Georgetown should contribute to complainants’ empowerment and sense of control. At present, it adds to their victimization. Let’s change that.
Emlyn Crenshaw is a graduate of the College in the Class of 2015.