Sexual Misconduct Investigation Process Draws Criticism

Michen Dewey | The PHOENIX

A female Loyola student accused two male students in separate incidents of alleged sexual misconduct on campus earlier this year. While the case was closed without a resolution, the woman and accused men all concluded Loyola’s process for handling allegations had faults, which made an already stressful situation worse.

The woman, who spoke to The PHOENIX on the condition that she remain anonymous, said of sexual violence, “I don’t want to discourage people from talking about it and coming forward.” But she said as far as Loyola’s investigation process goes, “I would not go through this again, and I would not recommend it for other people.”

Members of the Loyola administration who were involved in the female student’s case refused to comment about her case specifically, citing privacy concerns, despite the fact the woman gave The PHOENIX permission to discuss her case with the university.

This isn’t the first time the school has faced complaints in the wake of gender-based violence. In one alleged off-campus rape in 2016, a student complained after a Campus Safety officer failed to properly file the report of her incident to Loyola’s administration, leaving the report lost for several days, The PHOENIX reported.

Headlines have been dominated for weeks by sexual misconduct allegations because of revelations about powerful men in politics and entertainment, but it’s been a long-standing problem on campuses around the country. One in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

In the case of the woman who filed two simultaneous cases during the spring semester of this year — one being alleged non-consensual sexual contact, otherwise known as sexual assault, and the other being alleged non-consensual sexual penetration, which is otherwise identified as rape — she told The PHOENIX she felt the system is flawed.

The female student said she felt the process by which her case was handled was idealized from the beginning. When she visited the Wellness Center following the incidents, a social worker there who deals with sexual assault survivors suggested she file reports with the Title IX office — which handles cases involving gender-based violence. The woman said she felt assured there would be justice.

“[The Wellness Center] kind of portrayed [Title IX] as being like the solution, that it was going to fix all of my problems, is what I got from my meetings,” the woman said. “I just felt like they were not as straightforward as they could have been about how difficult it is to prove the respondent to be responsible, at least under our community standards.”

Before moving forward with the investigation, Jessica Landis, Loyola’s Title IX deputy coordinator, told the female student the cases would remain separate and she could pursue both at the same time, according to the woman. The woman said she took this to mean each man wouldn’t be able to serve as a witness in the other’s case. Since the men knew each other, she said she worried they would work together against her to discredit her testimony.

Once the reports were filed, the female student was called in to give a testimony recounting the events that occurred with the male students. She said she was told to describe everything that happened verbally, without being told that she could submit a written report instead.

“I think it’s just extremely unrealistic to ask a victim of rape and sexual assault to verbally recount exactly what happened. I have legitimate symptoms of [post-traumatic stress disorder] from my experiences,” the woman said in an email to Landis, which was released by the woman to The PHOENIX. “Putting myself back in that situation is just more painful than my brain can comprehend and it makes it difficult to remember the smaller, but still very important details, of what happened.”

At the time when these cases were filed, Loyola’s policy called for a hearing board process, consisting of an investigation by trained investigators, a hearing board selection, a hearing and deliberation, which delivered an outcome that could then be appealed by either the victim or respondent.

It’s not part of Title IX’s practices to request accusers submit testimony using other methods such as written testimony, Landis told the woman in an email obtained by The PHOENIX. But Landis told The PHOENIX if someone requests it, she can arrange information to be provided in other ways beside the verbal interview.

Gathering testimony was the job of the cases’ investigators, who are university employees. They conducted the interview process for all those involved in the case, prior to the hearing board, and drafted a final report for each case.

Once the woman was able to review her testimony, she discovered the two accused male students were allowed to serve as witnesses in each other’s cases, which the woman said she had understood wouldn’t happen after voicing those concerns to Landis before the process began. The female student saw the same problem when reviewing the final investigation report, which she said she saw five days before the hearings were supposed to take place.

“It was really, really horrifying to read that, and I was really upset,” the female student said. “I contacted [Landis] and asked how this had happened, and she said it was a misunderstanding. She didn’t really say on whose part, but I got the sense that it was a misunderstanding on my part.”

Landis also said it’s the investigator’s responsibility to identify and interview any witnesses who may have relevant information about an incident. However, both the accuser and accused are allowed to review all information gathered and refute any of the information, including witness statements.

Each party involved also has the opportunity to request additions and clarifications to their testimony — but the investigators have the final say whether to include the additional information or not, according to Landis.

The woman said she felt frustrated some of her additions, called amendments, weren’t included in her final testimony.

“I should have more power to add to my own statement in an effort to get the best representation of the truth,” the female student said. “It feels like I was set up to fail.”

The woman said she closed both cases before they reached hearing boards because she felt the problems with the process made her feel like she wasn’t able to properly convey her whole story.

Both investigators involved in the case declined to comment.

One of the accused men, who spoke to The PHOENIX on the condition that he remain anonymous, said he felt the Title IX process was inconvenient and unfair because he wasn’t notified of the specific accusations right away.

“I was notified that there was an ‘investigation’ on [a Friday],” the man said in an email to The PHOENIX. “Meaning, I was not able to get any information on what it was pertaining to or anyone to talk to or anything. [The investigators] also made it seem as if I already knew what they were talking about.”

The other accused male, who also requested that he remain anonymous, said he was initially worried by the accusations because he was also not told what incident the investigation was specifically about until after the case was closed. But he said he thought the process was fair and the investigators listened to his side of the story.

“I felt like I was walking into an ambush,” the man said. “In reality … it never felt like it was biased at all toward either side.”

Loyola’s staff and faculty go through training in order to properly address students’ reports of gender-based misconduct, according to Mira Krivoshey, Loyola’s assistant director of health promotion.

“We can never guarantee an outcome because no matter what we may hear from one person, one has to evaluate all of the evidence before us,” Krivoshey said. “What we train staff and faculty to share with students is that the process will be equitable … we emphasize that both parties will be treated with respect and parties will get equal treatment in terms of the ability to put forth evidence and respond to allegations.”

Now, the university uses an investigative policy called a grievance process, which changed at the beginning of this semester after gender-based misconduct reports rose 109 percent and created a lack of resources in the last year, according to Landis. The new policy uses one investigator to gather all information about a case, and that investigator will come to a conclusion without a hearing board, which minimizes the amount of people who know about the confidential information of a case. Once a decision is made, both parties involved can appeal and then a hearing would take place.

“Considering feedback from students, the staff members involved in the resolution of cases, and changes in the availability of many of our volunteers during this time of increased reporting, the Office of the Dean of Students submitted a proposal to transition to a new resolution model,” Landis said in an email.

Landis responded to the female student’s concerns after she’d shared them in an email to Landis, according to records obtained by The PHOENIX. Landis stated that she wanted to be able to share the woman’s feedback with the correct individuals and possibly address these problems in future staff and faculty training.

“I appreciate your suggestion regarding written statements. If there were other specific aspects of the interview that were challenging or could be improved, please don’t hesitate to share this feedback,” Landis wrote. “I want to be sure that I fully understand your concerns so that they can be addressed moving forward.”

The woman said Landis informed her that she could reopen the case at any time and it would resume where it left off, with the testimonies remaining the same.

While the woman said she’s changed her routine to avoid seeing the men, sees a therapist regularly and avoids certain areas of campus, she isn’t planning on reopening the cases or pursuing them criminally.

If you or someone you know has been affected by gender-based violence, call 800-656-4673 to reach the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network’s 24-hour helpline.

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