Victims find sexual misconduct process ineffective


Rachel Alexander

The Whitman administration works to stop sexual assault on campus, but sometimes even the best preventative efforts fail. Students don’t always respect each other’s boundaries. While many victims choose not to report the crimes committed against them, a handful fill out a pink form and bring a case forward. The Pioneer investigates what happens after.

Coming forward

From 2005 to 2010, there have been a total of 43 incidents of sexual assault reported on the Whitman College campus, according to Whitman’s Clery crime statistics. Of these, 31 were incidents of forcible rape. It is likely that far more rapes have actually occurred over that period, because many go unreported.

Some of these cases have made their way through Whitman’s formal hearing process, and some have resulted in the college punishing the offender. Yet in the time that Detective Miguel Sanchez has been investigating rape and domestic violence cases for the Walla Walla Police Department, there hasn’t been a single rape case from Whitman where criminal charges were filed.

“Do you think in the 13 years I’ve been here, there’s never been a legitimate rape at Whitman?” said Sanchez.

After her own experience, senior Zoe* sometimes finds herself wondering what Whitman does consider to be a legitimate rape. She went to an end-of-season party for the tennis team her freshman year. It was a celebration, and she had a lot to drink.

“I was super drunk and the last thing I remember of the night is this guy coming to this party. He wasn’t on the tennis team, so I didn’t know him. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in his bed the next day, naked and really confused. I was so scared and I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

The guy acted casual, and Zoe followed his lead. He asked her if they were still going to go to brunch, and she assumed they must have discussed this the night before. She still didn’t know his name. Over brunch, they made small talk, with Zoe still feeling uncomfortable from what she assumed had happened the previous night.

A few days later, with a friend urging her, Zoe set up a meeting to talk to the guy. Over coffee, she tentatively asked him what had happened, and he told her that they had had sex.

In her formal statement, Zoe would later write, “Sex is not something I regard as casual, and the idea that I might have had it and not remembered horrified and terrified me.”

At the time, though, Zoe tried to put the incident behind her. But almost a year later, a friend forwarded her an email that the guy had sent to a sports team. In it, he challenged them to play a game called “brunchmaster.” The rules stated that “you must successfully gain entrance to the dining hall’s brunch after a casual one-night stand” and noted that “assuming the pretense of romantic interest can garner better results.”

In her statement, Zoe explained that she had convinced herself that her experience had been a misunderstanding with a nice guy.

“Reading this email made me sick and completely shattered the story I had managed to make myself believe,” she wrote.

Zoe decided to pursue a formal case against him. Both Whitman College policy and Washington State Law include sex with someone who is incapacitated due to alcohol consumption within their definitions of sexual assault, but Zoe elected to keep the case within Whitman’s hearing process instead of going to the police.

The Whitman process

As an educational institution, Whitman is required to comply with Title IX, a federal law prohibiting gender discrimination in education. Title IX considers sexual misconduct to be gender discrimination, and as such, schools are required to investigate complaints of sexual misconduct. The idea is to put the burden on the institution, rather than the victim, to determine what happened. Associate Dean of Students Clare Carson is also the college’s Title IX administrator, and serves as the point of contact for gender discrimination cases, including alleged violations of the college’s sexual misconduct policy.

Formal hearings are heard by the Council on Sexual Misconduct, a committee composed of two faculty members, two staff members and two students chosen from the larger Council on Student Affairs. The council must be gender-balanced, and all members undergo special training to serve. The council votes based on a “preponderance of evidence,” a standard signifying that the accusations are likely true. This is a lower legal standard than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Four affirmative votes are needed to find the accused in violation of the policy; in such cases, the council then decides on sanctions that range from a formal warning to dismissal from the college. Students found in violation will also have the letter stating these sanctions placed in their permanent college record.

As part of the process, both the complainant and the accused may call witnesses and present evidence. Both have a staff member to serve as an advisor, but neither is allowed to have legal counsel.

“We’re not going through a legal process,” said Carson. “Our job [in the hearing] is to find out if our policy was violated, not to find out whether a crime has been committed.”

Because Whitman is not a law enforcement agency, it cannot charge anyone with a crime, such as rape or sexual assault. Through Whitman’s process, evidence and witnesses are presented to decide whether or not the college’s sexual misconduct policy has been violated. In the past, no records of hearings have been kept by the college after the fact, meaning that the police were unable to subpoena evidence that could be relevant in a criminal rape or sexual assault case. The training Carson received in the summer of 2011 to become Whitman’s Title IX administrator clarified that records of cases do need to be kept. As a result, Whitman now keeps records of findings from hearings that may be provided to the police, depending on the nature of the case. The purpose of these records, however, is for the college to keep track of internal affairs.

“Our primary concern is protecting the privacy of the individuals involved in the process,” said Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland in an email. “We are not basing these kinds of decisions on what the police may or may not want.”

Facing the council

When Zoe first came forward, she met with Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator and Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell and with Carson.

“The reaction that I got from the administration was that I was going to be listened to. They were all like, ‘This is so horrible.’ I remember having this guilty conscience about turning this ‘good guy’ in. The way the administration was talking, I thought he would get expelled,” she said.

At her hearing, Zoe called witnesses to testify to the fact that she had been drinking heavily. She sat across the table from the other student while he told the panel that he hadn’t asked her for consent; he’d thought it was implied.

“Him admitting that was difficult, when I was a complete stranger, I was obviously intoxicated . . . Maybe he didn’t know I was blacked out. That’s a definite possibility. But he knew I was drunk, and we have a policy that clearly states that you cannot consent to anything when you’re drunk and he didn’t even ask for consent,” said Zoe.

Whitman’s sexual misconduct policy clearly states that students who are incapacitated due to the use of alcohol cannot consent to sex, and that consent cannot be implied. Zoe thought she had a clear case, especially with the other student admitting he hadn’t explicitly asked for consent. In spite of the apparent strength of her case, the panel voted 5-1 that sexual misconduct had not occurred and the other student was not responsible for violating Whitman’s policy. Zoe was shocked.

“I just never even thought it wasn’t going to end in my favor,” she said. “I didn’t want him to suffer. I just wanted him to know what he did was wrong and that he could never do that again.”

Whitman’s policy does not allow for appeals on the grounds that the panel reached an incorrect decision. Decisions may only be appealed for procedural reasons, for example, new evidence coming to light. Zoe appealed on the grounds that a close friend who had been present at the party and could attest to her condition on that night had been unable to testify at the original hearing. She was granted an appeal by the Chair of the Faculty; according to Whitman’s procedure, the appeal was heard by the same six people who had ruled against her in the first hearing. Once again, they found him not in violation of the policy.

“It’s really rough to have six people walking around this school having seen me in such a state and told me to my face that it didn’t matter and that he did no wrong,” said Zoe. “Hearing that the panel found him not guilty was probably more devastating than what happened. I feel like I’ve worked through what happened through counseling and family support, but having a school that you trusted and you loved and a policy that is very strongly written . . . for that to fail you, and you just have to continue on, was the most difficult part of this entire thing.”

Zoe ended up hiring a lawyer to look into pursuing a civil suit against Whitman because she didn’t feel that her experience was being taken seriously.

“I felt like I had to hire a lawyer for my voice to be heard,” she said.

She eventually decided against a lawsuit because she didn’t want to drag the process out any further. Still, Zoe is left wondering what she possibly could have done to convince Whitman that her story was true.

“What do I need? Do I need a videotape of what happened? If I couldn’t prove that this happened to me, I don’t know how any woman at Whitman can prove that you didn’t consent to sex, unless I got roofied and I went to the hospital the next day and got blood work up,” she said. “We still flaunt this policy that doesn’t work.”

Carson, Cleveland and Maxwell all declined to comment on Zoe’s specific case, though Carson acknowledged that Whitman’s process doesn’t work perfectly every time.

“I do understand that there are people who have gone through the process and it has not been a satisfactory outcome for them,” she said.

However, she emphasized that for many students, Whitman’s process does work. Cleveland agreed.

“There are many cases where the person is found responsible,” he said.

Questions of jurisdiction

Whitman’s official sexual misconduct policy describes steps that the college takes to support victims, including assistance in notifying local law enforcement, “if the student so requests.” The first pages of the policy list resources for survivors, and mention that going to the police does not obligate someone to press charges. Maxwell works with Chalese Rabidue, the domestic violence services coordinator for the Walla Walla Police Department, to make the reporting process easier. Rabidue acts as a victim’s advocate and can come to campus and consult with people who are thinking of going to the police to advise them of their options.

“We want [them] to self-determine,” said Rabidue.

Maxwell said that the college tries to make it as easy as possible for students to go to law enforcement without pressuring them into doing so. However, many victims choose not to go to the police because they see the Whitman process as more manageable.

“I think initially, if students really want something to happen, they focus on the Whitman process,” said Maxwell. “I get very few people who from the get-go say, ‘I want to go to the police.'”

Detective Sanchez believes that Whitman should be required to report sexual assaults to the police, as they would for other serious crimes. He said that victims are often reluctant to report because they believe getting the police involved will trigger a major investigation that they have no control over, which isn’t the case.

“Reporting to the police doesn’t mean we have to take it anywhere. It just means the victim has more options in the future,” he said.

Initially, Sanchez said it’s crucial to collect a rape kit and have the victim make a statement. Once this is done, a victim does not have to proceed with a case, but the evidence will be available if the victim decides to press charges at a later date.

Carson explained that giving students a choice about going to the police encourages them to come forward.

“Let’s say we had a policy that says anytime you came in with a complaint of sexual misconduct, we were going to report it to the police. How many people would come to me? That would keep people away,” she said.

By leaving the decision about reporting up to students, Carson believes that Whitman allows victims to retain control over the process.

“These are some deeply personal things that people are going through,” she said. “They should be able to involve their mentors, their parents, their friends in . . . making their decision and not have it be us making it for them.”

Sanchez sees student reluctance to report as a failure of Whitman’s policy. He thinks that victims need to have access to independent advocates as soon as they report a sexual assault. Maxwell does help to advise students in a certain sense, but Sanchez believes that to truly serve their purpose, advocates for victims cannot be employed by Whitman.

“They need to have independent advocates. If your paycheck has been signed by someone here, can you truly be an advocate?” he asked.

Maxwell said that the students are usually well-served by Whitman’s process. She noted that those who regret not reporting to the police tend to be unsatisfied with the outcome of Whitman’s sexual misconduct hearing.

However, Detective Sanchez believes that Whitman complicates the process of actually prosecuting cases of sexual assault.

“I don’t think there’s anybody [at Whitman] who is qualified to investigate rape,” he said. “They basically screw up a criminal case for us.”

The fact that few women initially report to the police further complicates potential criminal cases. Physical evidence, such as a rape kit, is often crucial in building a compelling sexual assault case. When weeks or months have passed between the alleged sexual assault and the time a victim chooses to come forward, demonstrating that sexual assault has occurred becomes substantially more difficult. The fact that no records of Whitman hearings have historically been kept often leaves investigators with little evidence with which to work.

Rabidue agreed that having victims come forward right away is crucial. Even when they go to trial and lose their case, she said few of them regret speaking to police.

“I don’t think we have women regret reporting to law enforcement. They see it as part of the healing process. Women regret not reporting to law enforcement,” she said.

Senior Ellie Newell is one of these women. Ellie was raped at a party her freshman year, when a guy who had been giving her drinks all night took her back to his room and forced her to give him oral sex. Although she had a strong case, Ellie was too upset and traumatized after her rape to seek legal help or to go the police, though she did report the incident to Whitman.

“When I was raped, the last thing I wanted to do was ever see this person again because it [brought] back flashbacks. I’d feel physically nauseous and terrified for my life and my well-being every time I would see him on Ankeny or in the cafeteria. I didn’t leave my dorm room or my bed for weeks. I would organize my groups of friends to walk me to classes. I stopped doing all the clubs and all the extracurriculars that I love doing because it was so scary,” she said. “At that point, if I’m too afraid to leave my bed, I’m probably not going to feel comfortable to call the police and report something. You need someone to hold your hand. And I really wasn’t encouraged [by Whitman].”

Ellie still regrets that she didn’t go to the police.

“There wasn’t anyone to help me confront him,” said Ellie. “I was too scared. I’m a little bit ashamed to admit that I was too scared to do that. I wish I had gotten back to the dorm and called the police.”

Zoe said that without changes in the way Whitman handles cases, she would advise victims against going through the hearing process.

“What I would tell a girl if she was raped at this school: I would say go to the police, call your parents, hire a lawyer. Don’t even bother with Whitman,” she said.

Rabidue believes that Whitman’s core problem with sexual misconduct is a mismatch between the nature of the offense and the hearing used to adjudicate it.

“It’s a criminal offense with a civil process,” she said.

Both Rabidue and Sanchez feel that shame in the wake of being sexually assaulted can prevent women from coming forward. Solving this problem requires a cultural shift.

“You haven’t done anything wrong; you are the victim. Nothing you were wearing, nothing you drank justifies somebody raping you,” said Sanchez.

Rabidue addressed the fact that many women are afraid of being “that girl”––someone known for getting a guy in trouble for sexual assault.

“He’s the guy on campus that violated her and raped her. Don’t be that guy,” she said. “Do you want to be that guy who has borderline inappropriate sex with every drunk girl you can get your hands on?”

Zoe believes that Whitman needs to show that it’s serious about punishing instances of sexual assault.

“No one’s going to take Green Dot seriously, or our policy, unless guys one day wake up and see [that the] guy living next door is suspended or expelled because he had sex with a girl that was too drunk,” she said. “It’s never going to happen until our administration can follow through on the policies that they set.”

*Zoe is this student’s real name. She chose to be identified by her full name in the print version of this article, because  she wants members of the Whitman community to know who she is. However, she asked to have only her first name published online to avoid having this article show up in search results.

Editors’ Note, March 3, 2012 12:02 p.m.: The use of “women” in this article to refer to victims of sexual assault reflects the experience of the Walla Walla Police Department in terms of the gender makeup of sexual assault survivors. Although both perpetrators and victims of sexual assault can be any gender, all of the people who were willing to speak to the author for this article about being sexually assaulted were women who had been sexually assaulted by men. Nationally, according to the Department of Justice’s 2010 violent crime statistics, about 12 percent of sexual assault victims are male.


Resources for survivors of sexual assault in Walla Walla

Local Hospitals

All local hospitals provide 24-hour emergency medical services and examinations for evidence using a Sexual Assault Forensic kit. The Sexual Assault Forensics Kit is most effective within 72 hours of an incident. In order to preserve evidence, it is important not to bathe or shower prior to seeking medical attention. Students should place any articles that could be used as evidence, such as items of clothing, sheets, cushions, etc., in separate bags. Early medical intervention also allows for the detection of hidden injuries, the presence of STDs, and, in the case of women, the detection of pregnancy

Providence Saint Mary Hospital

401 W. Poplar Street
Walla Walla, WA
(509) 525-3320

Walla Walla General Hospital

1025 S. Second Avenue
Walla Walla, WA
(509) 525-0480

Walla Walla Police, 911 (emergency), (509) 527-1960 (non-emergency)

The College will inform students of their right to report an incident to the police. The Sexual Misconduct Prevention Coordinator and/or the Dean of Students Office will assist students who choose to report an incident of sexual misconduct to the Walla Walla Police Department. Reporting an incident to the police and preserving evidence does not obligate a person to file a criminal complaint, but a prompt accounting of the event allows the victim to keep the option of filing a criminal complaint later.

YWCA of Walla Walla, 213 First Street, (509) 525-2570, (509) 529-9922 (24-Hour Number)

The YWCA is a community agency that provides comprehensive advocacy services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The YWCA makes the services below available and free of charge to students:

  • 24-hour hotline (509) 529-9922
  • 24-hour rape/sexual assault medical, legal, and court advocacy
  • Individual counseling and support groups
  • Safe temporary shelter