Letter to the Editor: Title IX needs to change
An MU student retells her experience with the Office for Civil Rights and Title IX.
Mar. 14, 2018
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May 18, 2017. My day started as a day filled with friends, drinking and fun. That night, however, is fuzzy in every sense of the word. I remember going in and out of consciousness in an apartment that was not mine while repeating, “I don’t want to make out.” The next morning, I woke up naked. My rapist told me he had had sex with me. I thought this was the most devastating thing that could happen to me, but the level of trauma associated with my Title IX case proved me wrong.
My Title IX hearing had arrived after months of hearing the things my rapist had said about me: “She’s only doing this because I didn’t want to date her,” “I feel she is using her status as a woman to claim that I mistreated her and sexually assaulted her,” “I don’t believe that if you got sexually assaulted you would communicate with someone about getting belongings back” and “She filed the report because I’m black.” I came to Title IX terrified of the process but wanting justice for myself. In spite of the anxiety leading up to the hearing, I stood up to my rapist and had told my truth. Then, to even better news, I received the news that the panel had found him responsible, 2-1, for sexual misconduct, underage drinking and failure to comply with directions of university officials. His sanctions were expulsion from all four UM System schools, meaning he was not allowed to step foot on these campuses unless it was for medical care. I had gotten justice, and I was heard and supported. I could finally heal from the depression, self-harm and lack of self-worth I experienced after my rape. I finally felt some relief. Just a few months later, however, that relief was taken away from me by the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX.
Dec. 7, 2017. I was sitting on my couch with my friends before work, feeling genuinely happy and well. I had celebrated my victory; I was starting to feel safe again and I wasn’t feeling so empty anymore. Then, I received an email that sent my body into panic. In my inbox was an email saying that my hearing was completely appealed. I was informed I was going to have to go through an entirely new hearing. The Title IX office made a mistake in including the rapist’s past Title IX misconduct, earning him a completely new case. I was devastated. Title IX is meant to support me as a survivor, but instead they made a mistake large enough to result in me having to relive the hardest three hours of my life over again. To read that all the strength you had put into something and all the trauma you had faced was not enough is a feeling I struggle to put into words. It was like reliving the trauma all over again. I felt betrayed by a system made to help me. That is not fair.
Before my second hearing, I felt powerless. Title IX had given my rapist weeks to prepare for a hearing, meaning he could prepare exactly what to say. He made up new information that was never mentioned in the first hearing. However, I could not make any mention of the first hearing or that he was changing his story. I could not offer new information about my experience because I was completely incapacitated and in a blackout state at the time of the rape. This man could say anything he wanted about that night and could frame it how he wanted without any repercussions. He rambled on for over an hour, repeating that he’s “not a rapist” over and over again. I was grilled about my Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner exam because they did not understand how to read one. SANE is an exam that should be thoroughly understood by a Title IX hearing panel. I was asked questions that suggested they already had decided that they believed my rapist, ignoring any of my accounts of what happened.
3-0. After all of this additional trauma, the panel found him not responsible for sexual misconduct. He was found responsible for underage drinking and failure to comply with directions of university officials. Despite him being found not responsible for sexual misconduct, he was conveniently suspended from campus until the semester after my graduation. My rapist appealed the finding and stated that the sanctions were too strong considering what he had been found responsible for. He was denied this appeal, and the process is now officially final. His sanctions still stand. While I am elated that my rapist no longer attends the university, he was not expelled for raping me. His expulsion was degraded to a suspension, all because of the mistakes made during the first hearing.
I cannot change what happened to me. The trauma associated with losing any sense of bodily autonomy is done. But what I can do is speak up. I cannot sit idly by while the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX makes mistakes like these. The office is supposed to support victims. No victim deserves to be put through this psychological abuse because of mistakes made by this office. So here I am, writing this in order to start a conversation at MU that will fuel change. We cannot let these mistakes slip through the cracks. Future victims are in danger. No one should feel this kind of pain. Please help me make change, because victims should always be supported.
Thank you for your time,
The MU Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention center provides services related to decreasing the ubiquity of rape, sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking and can be contacted at (573) 882-6638 or in room G216 in the Student Center.