Did you know that one in four college-aged women report experiences that meet the legal definitions of rape or attempted rape? Sexual violence is an underreported crime, which is why it isn’t uncommon for people to think it does not happen as frequently as it does.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the goal of which is to raise awareness about sexual violence and educated people about how to prevent it. This year’s campaign focuses on promoting healthy sexuality to prevent sexual violence, and a major component of this is understanding consent.
Three campus safety officers spoke to 15 students about consent and reporting sexual violence on campus on April 18 at an Allies meeting.
Students at the meeting learned that consent is more than the absence of the word, “no.” It cannot be assumed for any reason that consent is given between sexual partners, and the only way to be sure is to say, “yes.”
They emphasized that the Department of Campus Safety is there to keep students safe, and therefore, if a student has been sexually violated, it does not matter what alcohol or drugs were in that person’s system at the time.
“DoCS would like you to know that even if you were drinking or using illegal drugs, it was not your fault and we believe you. Reporting a sexual assault takes courage and can be an important step on the road to becoming a survivor,” posted the Department on Facebook.
Three-fourths of sexual assaults and rapes involve alcohol, and substance use blurs the lines of consent. An intoxicated person cannot legally give consent.
At the meeting, Campus Safety Officers explained that if you were drunk, it was rape, by legal definition. However, it depends on how you feel about it. They also noted that if you don’t remember what happened, you can still go through the reporting process.
Ofc. Kristen McGeeney explained what happens when a student reports a sexual assault or rape. First, the officer takes a report, and then either she or Lieut. Joshua Bronson get called in to go over the incident verbally and obtain a written statement. The victim/survivor is given an information packet from Rape Crisis Intervention Service (RCIS) of Carroll County before discussing some options:
- The victim/survivor can go to the hospital for medical treatment, and will be accompanied by an RCIS STAR volunteer. If the victim/survivor does not want the crime reported to police, they can go in as a Jane or John Doe.
- The victim/survivor can go through the campus disciplinary process. He or she does not have to go to the hospital, but doing so is necessary for collecting evidence. The Honor and Conduct Board will conduct a hearing, and the victim/survivor has the choice to testify over the phone. The accused can be found either responsible or not responsible. The minimum sentence is a semester of suspension, but in cases of first degree rape, the accused could be expelled. Any disciplinary consequence becomes a part of his or her academic record.
- The third option is to pursue outside legal action. Again, he or she does not have to go to the hospital, but doing so is necessary for collecting evidence. After the school process, the Westminster Police Department will take the victim/survivor’s statement, followed by the Carroll County Advocacy and Investigations Center. The State’s Attorney’s Office will get involved to determine whether the student has a case.
Whatever process the victim/survivor chooses, Campus Safety will be supportive, according to Ofc. McGeeney.
She explained that it is more common that students keep the reporting “in house,” because it is less stressful for the survivor.
The reporting process is a “necessary evil,” Ofc. McGeeney said.
“Nothing about law is streamlined or easy…it tears me up that they [the victim/survivor] have to go through something like that,” she said about victims/survivors having to relive the experience through the stages of reports and trails.
There is a greater chance of finding the assaulter responsible when going through the Honor and Conduct Board. The Student Code of Conduct doesn’t specifically call out sexual assault, so it falls under physical assault, explained Lieut. Bronson. This means that sexual assault does not specifically need to be proven, so evidence of physical assault is enough.
“Social forces play a huge part in what people decide to do,” said Ofc. McGeeney. “I would encourage anyone to report their assault, but I understand why some people don’t.”
Lieut. Bronson agreed, explaining that both he and Ofc. McGeeney understand these pressures and situations because they both attended McDaniel as undergraduates.
Regardless of whether or not a victim/survivor chooses to report the crime, it is important for students to know that Campus Safety is a resource. Ofc. Bronson and Cpl. Adam Reid, who was also at the Allies meeting, are both trained RCIS STAR volunteers. In addition, both Cpl. Reid and Chief Michael Webster are Safe Zone trained, which means that they are prepared to handle cases of non-heteronormative individuals in an accepting and nonjudgmental way.
RESOURCES (courtesy Department of Campus Safety)
Rape Crisis Intervention Service of Carroll County
24-Hour Hotline: (410) 857-7322
RAINN National Sexual Assault Online Hotline
1 (800) 656-4673
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland
MD Crime Victims Resource Center
McDaniel College Wellness Center