A horror story
My sexual assault investigation completed, 251 days later
Hey, Wash. U. I hope you had a great summer. I’m back—after writing about my sexual assault in an op-ed last spring—and here to explain Wash. U.’s current Title IX sexual assault investigation process through the lens of my own case, with all of its faults on display. Figured I might shed some light on a process that I wished I understood more before going into it. If you don’t understand the flowchart on the Title IX website, I’m right there with you, and I hope this helps.
1. Event—Dec. 16
I was assaulted at a dorm party. I woke up with no memory of the night’s events. My neck was encircled with bruises, and I sustained injuries to my nether regions. I hadn’t put a name on it, yet, but I had been raped.
2. Rape Kit—Dec. 18
I went to Barnes Jewish Hospital and received a rape kit. I would regret not going the day before, as the evidence wasn’t as fresh as it could have been. The doctors and nurses were kind. I relived my assault physically and verbally, but this time with metal instruments and swabs and photographs. They filled a little cardboard box with all of the things I couldn’t remember.
3. Reporting—Dec. 20
I wasn’t ready to report my assault, but I told myself that if I didn’t do it then the evidence would be gone. I thought I understood the school’s process and assumed I could trust it. I met with Jessica Kennedy, Washington University’s Title IX coordinator. Kennedy told me that we should delay the process as my assailant ought to enjoy his winter break. Winter break was more important than accumulating evidence. It was suggested that I be my own investigator and contact my assailant. This advice was detrimental to my mental health, and possibly to my case overall. Why not just have the school investigate now? I was assured that my assailant would be moved out of my dorm for the next semester. I was told to send the coordinator any evidence I had or accumulated.
4. Discouragement—Jan. 5
After contacting my assailant, I accumulated more evidence that the assault occurred. After I passed on this information to the coordinator, she felt the need to question whether I still wanted to report the assault. If I didn’t want to report, I wouldn’t have sent her evidence, now would I? Why would she ask that unless she thought for some reason that I shouldn’t be reporting or unless she didn’t want me to report? I felt dissuaded and vulnerable.
5. Returning to Campus—Jan. 15
I returned to campus and saw my assailant moving back into my dorm. I stayed off campus with friends and attempted to contact Kim Webb, director of the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, by calling the Washington University Police Department. I needed somewhere to sleep, and I needed to know why my assailant wasn’t living somewhere else. WUPD didn’t know who Kim Webb was.
6. Respondent Informed of Complaint—Jan. 17
I received an email saying my assailant had been informed of the complaint against him.
7. Respondent Moved Out—January 18
I didn’t check if he moved out, but that’s the date I was told. I continued to sleep on couches and off campus for a while. The dorm was not safe.
8. Complainant Interview—Jan. 19/21/22
On Jan. 19, my assigned investigator contacted me, demanding a response within 24 hours to set up an interview. We decided to meet Jan. 21. She then contacted me to change the time of the meeting. Then, she cancelled it and moved it to the next day. Then, she errantly texted my mother regarding the interview instead of myself, completely breaking my confidentiality. I was in distress about this meeting for four days. Our meeting on Jan. 22 was re-traumatizing, to say the least.
9. Respondent Interview—Feb. 7
It came to my attention that the delay occurred between my interview and my respondent’s interview because the respondent was seeking legal assistance. This delay meant that relevant witnesses couldn’t be interviewed until after Feb. 7 regarding an event that happened Dec. 16 the previous year. That’s a lot of time people had to forget. Many of the interviews conducted with witnesses were null and void because witnesses could not recall the events clearly. This deficit was caused by a delay in the process and was later labeled as a lack of evidence.
10. Initial Report (Statements from Witnesses, Parties, and other Evidence)—May 25
If we’re worried about the process being thorough, and that’s why it takes so long, I’m confused why half of my statements from the initial interview were incorrectly transcribed and I was forced to correct them in my response. This initial report is where I found out that my dating history was relevant to my case of sexual assault. This is when I learned that my assailant’s support person (an attorney), who’s not allowed to speak during the interviews, did, in fact, speak in his interview. His attorney asked how long this process would take because my assailant had a scholarship to another prestigious school and would like to know a timeline, so he could be better informed if he should accept it. This individual who was supposed to simply be a listener was not only allowed to speak, but was allowed to ask questions and have them be included in the report. His. Scholarship. Is. Not. Relevant. My. Dating. History. Is. Not. Relevant.
11. Submission of Responses to the Initial Report—June 6
When our Title IX coordinator informed us of the time to submit responses, the deadline of June 6 was written in all caps and even the appropriate time zone was noted. At the time, I worked at a camp for children with special needs. I was stripped of technology, except for 24 hours during our one-day-a-week allotted breaks. Upon receiving the initial report, I would only have 48 hours to read the report and submit a response. I read the report on my first day off, and the second day I had off, I submitted a rushed response. In this response, I noted the unfairness of the disparity of time I had with the document versus the amount of time the respondent had with the document.
12. Extension of Submission of Responses—June 12
I was informed June 6, a day I did not have access to technology, that the respondent had requested an extension to submit his response and the coordinator had granted it, changing the submission deadline for both of us to June 12. When I read this email on my next time off, I cried. I was given three days, while he was given three weeks just because he asked for it.
13. Responses Shared with Both Parties—June 14
I skimmed the response document in my free time. A document full of my assailant’s attorney’s thoughts on the matter, while only containing a few of my own.
14. Interview with the USAIB Panel—June 17
I took time off from work to drive down to St. Louis to meet with the University Sexual Assault Investigation Board (USAIB). I found myself trying to explain terms like “slapping the bag” and “buzzed,” and that “Broccoli” is a song, to individuals who were supposed to be deciding whether I was raped or not. In this interview, a panel member suggested that they couldn’t use the information in the rape kit. They were wrong, but I died a little inside. I was told by a member of the panel that something good came out of the article I published, “HAGS,” because witnesses came forward that would not have been interviewed otherwise. I shouldn’t have had to publish my trauma in the school newspaper to have relevant witnesses be interviewed.
15. Receipt of Final Report (Contains Panel Decision)—Aug. 6
I was forced to drive four hours to St. Louis alone to receive my decision in person. Kennedy used this in-person time with me to request to meet with me about my published dissatisfaction with her. I just stared at her in disbelief, unable to fathom that she was delaying telling me the decision to shamelessly get a word in about her own personal concerns. She then informed me that the panel couldn’t find the respondent responsible because of a lack of evidence. A lack of evidence because witnesses couldn’t give any definitive answers. A lack of evidence because winter break was more important to the coordinator than gathering evidence. A lack of evidence because I did everything right, but this process is wrong. I shredded the formal final packet.
16. Submission of Appeal—Aug. 20
I submitted my appeal on the grounds that my case was mishandled. See above.
17. Receipt of Appeal Decision—Aug. 28
Provost Holden Thorp sent me his response. Although it was mishandled, there was apparently nothing he could do. The respondent had transferred schools, and that was that. It seems you can’t redo or fix an investigation with just one participating party. There’s no way to make up for 251 days of lost time in a case like mine.
So that’s it. Got a problem with that? Any concerns? Strong feelings? Maybe you should have attended a Title IX listening session. Regardless, if you are struggling with the school’s sexual assault reporting process, future, past or present, you are not alone and somebody’s going to freaking fix it before I’m dead and gone. Or Betsy DeVos is going to burn the process to the ground, and we’ll just have to fix the criminal justice system instead. Stay angry, Wash. U. I know I will.