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Among those who study and try to prevent sexual assault at America's colleges and universities, the fall semester period between the first day of classes and the last day before Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone.
Statistically, it's the time during the school year when young women have the greatest chance of being the victim of a sexual assault on campus. There's a number of factors that might help explain why that's so, including an influx of freshmen and the collegiate pastime of binge drinking in large groups. But the real reason, the most honest reason, is because there is a small but significant contingent of students on every campus who are either confused about the meaning of sexual consent or, more disturbingly, predatory enough to just not give a damn about it. The aftermath of that ignorance or callousness can be life-altering. A 2015 survey by the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 19 percent of women students are the victim of a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault before their freshman year of college is done. One in five women will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate.
At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, once a student relates a sexual assault to any person at the university who has been designated a "responsible employee" — including all deans, department heads, all program directors, coaches, librarians and student Resident Assistants in the dorms — the process of investigating the allegation moves forward, whether the victim wants it to or not, even if she doesn't choose to report it to police.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is the federal law against gender-based civil rights violations and discrimination at federally funded educational institutions. The law prohibits sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic or dating violence and stalking and discrimination based on pregnancy, among other things. Under Title IX, once an allegation of gender-based misconduct is brought to the university's attention, if the Title IX coordinator believes there is a safety threat to the campus, officials are obligated — even without the alleged victim's consent or cooperation, if need be — to investigate, reach a decision as to the validity of the claims, whether the accused violated the university's code of student conduct and mete out punishments up to and including expulsion of the alleged perpetrator. While not a criminal proceeding, many universities handle these proceedings in a manner that can mimic criminal hearings, including bringing in witnesses and admitting evidence. At the UA, an investigator questions all parties involved to build a case, which is then presented — usually by way of testimony from the accuser, the accused, eyewitnesses and character witnesses — to a three-person panel whose members are selected from a pool of specially trained hearing officers among the Office of Student Standards and Conduct, university housing hearing officers and the UA's Student Conduct Board.
While the number of student victims reporting a sexual assault on campus has risen sharply in recent years, up 84 percent between 2009 and 2013 according to the U.S. Department of Education, the vigor and quality with which some universities have followed up on those accusations under Title IX has been uneven, and — some victims say — discriminatory. The outcry over Title IX has been such that the federal government has taken action. Since January 2012, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has initiated investigations of complaints about the way sexual assault allegations were handled under Title IX at 192 colleges and universities nationwide. On April 21, the University of Arkansas joined that list, when the OCR informed officials at the UA that it was investigating the handling of three 2015 complaints.
In one case, an unnamed male student alleged that the university had discriminated against him by failing to respond to his allegations that he was sexually harassed and also that the university had mishandled a sexual harassment complaint against him. In the second case, former UA student Kayla Kimball said that the university had discriminated against her by failing to adequately respond to her allegation that another student, her former boyfriend, had assaulted her during their relationship. The OCR investigation into those cases is ongoing.
Kimball and another student who went through the Title IX hearing process at the UA spoke at length to the Arkansas Times. While both spoke glowingly of the help they received from Dr. Mary Wyandt-Hiebert — who is the only full-time paid sexual assault victim advocate for a student body of 25,000-plus students — both described an investigation and hearing process that was, by turns, belittling and humiliating. One called her hearing the worst experience of her life, including the alleged rape that brought her there.
We'll call her Susan.
Speaking to the Arkansas Times on condition of anonymity — because, she said, she doesn't want to be labeled as a victim of sexual assault for the rest of her life — Susan said that in spring 2014, when she was a 20-year-old sophomore at the UA, she was working as a resident assistant in a dorm when she experienced a medical incident that left her incapacitated. She said a male student and fellow RA she knew offered to help her. Then, she claims, he assaulted her in her dorm room while she was semiconscious.
Reached on Facebook, the young man Susan accused was given the opportunity to comment for this article, either by phone interview or in response to a series of questions via email. He did not respond to that offer.
Confused and unsure of what to do following the alleged assault, Susan said she went the next day to a trusted older person she worked with to ask her advice. The friend stopped her in the middle of her story. "Before I finished even explaining it, she said, 'What you've explained to me is a sexual assault, and I am a mandated reporter under Title IX, so you'll have to go through the Title IX process,' " Susan said. "Right then and there, it went from getting advice to me being in the Title IX process."
Having been trained as an RA, Susan said she had heard of Title IX in connection to sexual assault before. "The training is about 10 minutes long," she said. "It's like, 'if somebody discloses a sexual assault to you, you have to disclose it to your boss and then they disclose the details.' It's this pass-along game thing."
By the next day, she was meeting with the school's Title IX coordinator. Susan said she was told at the meeting that the hearing process would go on with or without her consent.
"The meeting basically looked like, 'So you're in this, and you have the chance to have a voice. If you want out, you can go out, but the process is going to go on without you and your name may get dragged through the mud in the process, so if you want to stand up for yourself, you need to be there,' " Susan recalled. At the time, Susan's whole life was tied to her job as a resident assistant. The position provided her a place to live, a scholarship and a paycheck. Without the job, she said, she couldn't continue at the university, so she couldn't quit. The alleged perpetrator, she said, lived one floor below her and worked on the same staff, which forced her to see and interact with him in the days following the alleged assault. Susan points out he had access to master keys that would open any door in her building, including hers.
Given those factors, Susan asked for and received "interim action" from the university, requesting that he be removed from the building. "I was told by the Title IX coordinator, 'We can't tell your bosses what's happening, they will just be told he needs to be removed, but if you want their support and you want them to know what's going on with you, you will have to tell them. Then I was told if you tell them, it could be viewed as slander or you gunning for his job."
Susan went ahead and told her bosses what was going on, and they removed the young man from the staff, then sent around an email to the RA's in the building announcing that he would no longer be working there. Within days, Susan said, her co-workers had figured out the story and taken sides, with many supporting her alleged attacker and ostracizing her. Later, she said, a co-worker asked her out for a milkshake, only to secretly record a conversation that would be used to try to attack her character at the student conduct hearing later.
Experiencing what Susan called "significant intimidation" from her co-workers over coming forward with her assault allegation, she said she reported the harassment to her boss on multiple occasions. "I was met with, 'I don't know what you expect me to do about it. I'm not even supposed to know about the case,' " she said.
As the student conduct hearing approached, Susan stayed in touch with the Title IX coordinator's office, which tried to prepare her for the hearing. She said she was told by a Title IX investigator who worked on her case that she needed to wear makeup and a dress that couldn't be seen as provocative. "I looked like shit. I really did," she said. "I lost like 30 pounds, I was skin and bones. ... My health was way down and I was not eating. I had to pick out a dress that didn't show any cleavage. I had to wear a cardigan and my glasses and have my hair down so I looked all nice. A friend of mine came over and we spent an hour and a half picking out how I should look so I didn't look like a vindictive bitch who was trying to take his future away."
When the hearing came, Susan said, she went to a conference room in the Office of Student Conduct and Standards and appeared before a three-person panel of two women and one man. She said the next hour was a trial by fire.
"It was, to this day, the worst experience of my life," she said. "I say it's worse than the assault. It truly was. I have flashbacks of the panel, honestly. ... I kid you not, I actually had one man on the panel question me for 20 minutes, until I broke down in tears, about something I said, something in my statement. I kept saying, 'That's not in any of my statements. It's not in any of my statements, I never said it. It's not in any of my statements.' He kept repeating it until one of his other panel members cut in and said, essentially: 'That's not in her statement. That's in [another statement].' " Susan said the panel member was actually referring to a statement made by a character witness for the accused.
Throughout the hearing, Susan said, she had the feeling that her account of the alleged assault was not just being questioned but "aggressively denied" by the panel. "It was assumed from the beginning that I lied," she said. "My only response to that was, 'Why would I report it in the first place? I didn't even intentionally report it.' I said that to the panel multiple times, and they were like, 'What do you mean?' Then I had to explain to the panel what mandated reporting was, and that I had accidentally reported."
She said she believes the hearing was never about whether the alleged sexual assault happened, only about determining who "deserved" to be believed.
"The panel was about, am I a good enough person to have been sexually assaulted? Am I worth more than he was? Am I the better person? ... This law was written to protect us, and they are using it against us. Title IX was written to protect and shelter us from these assaults and discrimination, and instead it puts a magnifying glass over us in front of the sun and we just fry."
The week after the hearing, Susan was informed that the young man she had accused had been found "not responsible" — the equivalent of not guilty — by the university. She was given five days to write an appeal. She did so, but her appeal was denied. The following semester, Susan said, the man she had accused continued working as an RA.
Though she now works with other student sexual assault survivors, the trauma of the hearing she experienced, Susan said, was enough that she actively counsels students to avoid reporting sexual assault to any member of the university staff, specifically to avoid entering the Title IX hearing process. "I've told every survivor that I've talked to from the University of Arkansas: It is your choice, and I know it's something that could improve our society on campus, but if it was me, I would not report it," she said. "It ruined my senior year. It really, truly did. It ruined the university for me. I wanted to go to the University of Arkansas. I chose the University of Arkansas over Harvard. That's how much I wanted to go to the University of Arkansas. And it failed me so badly that, to this day, I have a hard time going on campus. I want to feel that lovely nostalgia. I graduated from here. But all I remember is how awful it was."
Samantha Baker is a student currently enrolled at the University of Arkansas School of Law. A sexual assault survivor herself, Baker has become involved in victims' rights and advocacy since moving to Fayetteville from Colorado in 2011, including serving as an advocate for students facing the Title IX hearing process on campus. She said she believes the university doesn't have its priorities straight when it comes to sexual assault.
One indication of that, she believes, is the revolving door at the UA Title IX coordinator's office. According to Steve Voorhies, a spokesman for the University, the UA has had four Title IX coordinators or interim coordinators since the fall semester of 2014, and the position was recently vacated again. The university just hired a candidate to fill the position, who will start July 25, but Voorhies said more details about the candidate couldn't be released at this time. In spring 2016, four new deputy Title IX coordinators also were added.
"A friend of mine and I have joked that the Title IX position is kind of like the Defense Against the Dark Arts position in Harry Potter," Baker said. "It just seems to be cursed. It doesn't make any sense why they can't find someone to stay there."
While Baker said she doesn't feel like the university is purposely trying to sweep sexual assault allegations under the rug, she points to a number of nationally high-profile civil lawsuits filed after alleged perpetrators were expelled following student conduct hearings to make the point that there is a monetary incentive for a university to give an accused student the benefit of the doubt.
"The people most likely to sue the university and cost the university money are those found [responsible for] sexual assault who don't think they did anything wrong," she said. "I truly don't want to believe the university is purposely covering things up and cutting people slack where that's not supposed to happen, but I'm also not completely naive. I do believe that people look the other way sometimes."
Baker, who is interning with the D.C.-based sexual assault survivor advocacy nonprofit SurvJustice, said part of the problem is that both students and officials seem to be confused about the Title IX hearing process, what the school is investigating and how to go about it. "I think in Arkansas, the main issue that I personally see is a disconnect between what the university thinks it needs to do under the law, the purpose of the law and what survivors really need," Baker said. "On the one hand, you have the school thinking it's all about protecting students from bad people, and almost playing this police and prosecutor role. From the survivor's standpoint, it's really about [the fact that] when someone has been subjected to sexual violence, that makes going to school extremely difficult, especially when it's someone you may have a class with or you may run into. That's where the disconnect is. The school may think they're doing everything they can to keep the bad people away, but I feel like they're kind of failing on supporting survivors."
SurvJustice, which provides legal assistance, support and representation for survivors of sexual assault during campus, civil and criminal proceedings, was founded by Laura Dunn, who is its executive director. As a law school student, Dunn wrote the amendment to the 2013 Violence Against Women Act that changed Title IX law to require schools to allow an "advocate of choice" to accompany accusers into student conduct hearings. Dunn has since served as a student advocate during Title IX hearings at the UA, including the hearing against Arkansas track and field star Raymond Higgs, who competed in the long jump in the 2012 Summer Olympics. Accused of an October 2014 sexual assault, Higgs was found responsible in December 2014, but criminal charges were never brought against him. In February 2015, the victim in the case was told Higgs would be expelled, but not until May, the day after he graduated from the university. SurvJustice filed a letter of objection in that case. After being contacted by Huffington Post to comment on why Higgs wouldn't be expelled until May, the university reversed course, telling the alleged victim that the letter she'd received had been sent "in error" and that Higgs would instead be expelled immediately.
"While they came to the right conclusion in that case," Dunn said, "finding the student responsible, initially the school wasn't going to expel him until after graduation, which really doesn't mean anything to anyone at all. It was very upsetting and devastating to the survivor."
The issue of due process for the accused always comes up during discussions of Title IX hearings, but Dunn said students facing an allegation that they violated rules governing student conduct shouldn't receive or expect to receive a "criminal level of due process." She said the stakes aren't as high as they are in a criminal proceeding.
"Under the law, in an administrative setting, due process is a balancing act," she said. "You don't get all the due process rights that a criminal defendant does. That's the highest level. That's because jail, death sentences, life sentences, are huge limitations on liberty and freedom, so there's increased protections. On campus, the worst thing that can happen is expulsion. People always say if they're expelled, they'll have no future. That's not true. I know students who were expelled for sexual violence who were accepted by another school the next year."
Dunn said that in her experience, there is good and bad with the student conduct hearing process at the UA. She said that the university has established "a bifurcated system" in which the accuser and accused are questioned separately, with the process very much about fact-finding and avoiding an adversarial atmosphere. Asked whether the federal government needs to step in to bring uniformity in the Title IX investigation and hearing system nationwide, surprisingly Dunn said no, noting that it would be unconstitutional for the federal government to usurp state control over education, including how they want to conduct student conduct hearings and enforcement.
"Education is a state right. It's not left to the federal government," she said. "You can't have a federal law that micromanages state level education. The only reason there's federal law at all is because of funding. Title IX only applies because of the spending clause: Schools get money from the federal government and, as a result, have to abide by federal law."
Dunn said she believes the huge spike in reporting of sexual assault on campus in recent years is a good thing, even if the victims in some of those cases feel like little is being done.
"Before there was this amount of reporting, the exact same level of violence was happening, but people were choosing to deal with it privately or were discouraged and turned away," she said. "Now we're actually saying to survivors, you still have the option to deal with it privately, but if you want to come forward, we're going to make sure these systems are getting better. ... The reality of not reporting is, harm perpetuates. It goes on. So being brave and speaking out is better if you have to make a choice."
The Arkansas Times submitted a series of questions to the University of Arkansas for this story, including questions about university policies and procedures concerning sexual assault, sexual assault prevention and hearings conducted under Title IX.
Of the efforts to combat sexual violence on campus, university spokesperson Voorhies said the school has zero-tolerance for sexual assault and devotes "considerable effort to building a strong program of support, training and awareness about preventing and addressing sexual assault and related misconduct." Information about sexual assault and Title IX is provided to all incoming freshmen, as well as transfer students, the university said, and is included in a video shown during freshman orientation.
"Sexual assault prevention education," the UA said, "is built into the fabric of our campus community from the moment students and employees arrive on campus. The University of Arkansas takes great care to educate our community about sexual assault prevention and services. The campus investigates all reports of sexual assault and takes seriously the responsibility and opportunity to educate the campus community about appropriate behaviors and actions."
Responding to a question about the Title IX-related investigations by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the UA said it has and will comply with any OCR requests. "Generally speaking," the UA said, "the University has investigated all reported cases of sexual misconduct and feels that it has responded appropriately and in a proactive manner."
Asked about the Raymond Higgs case, the university said that under the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, it could only provide the "final results" of a disciplinary hearing where a student was found responsible for violating university rules and policies.
Asked specifically about the contention by "Susan" that she was reduced to tears by the hearing process in her case, which she described as more traumatic than the sexual assault she allegedly experienced, the university said, in part: "[W]e are required to provide an equitable process for both parties involved. This can be stressful for those involved but we must be equitable and thorough as we take this responsibility very seriously. We strive to ensure fairness and equity in every situation. Further, neither party is required to participate in the process and may choose not to appear before the Hearing Panel. The complainant and respondent are interviewed and questioned separately and are not allowed to personally question or cross-examine each other during the hearing. Questions that may be asked during the hearing may elicit an emotional response, given the highly sensitive nature of these cases."
A professor in the UA's Department of Health, Human Performance and Recreation, Dr. Kristen Jozkowski is working with Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) to craft a campus climate survey to sample attitudes about sexual assault and sexual consent among the state's college students (see below). Specifically, she studies sexuality and sexual health, with a particular focus on sexual assault prevention and sexual consent among college students.
Speaking generally about universities nationwide and not specifically about UA policies, Jozkowski said that while universities could do a better job teaching their students about consent, education on the subject needs to start years before a freshman arrives. "That education or additional education really needs to start long before students get on campus," she said. "It should be part of a grammar, middle school, high school education — talking about gender issues [and] healthy relationships. As kids get older in high school, there really should be some type of sexual health education that includes a component of boundaries, respect and consent."
While cases of sexual assault on campus often include some element of binge drinking by the victim or perpetrator, Jozkowski said that the way alcohol gets discussed when it comes to sexual assault is often in a "victim blaming context." She points to the high-profile case in which an intoxicated young woman was raped behind a dumpster after attending a frat party at Stanford University in January 2015. Chased away and apprehended by two passersby, her rapist, Brock Allen Turner, was eventually convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.
"There was a lot of victim blaming going on: 'If she hadn't gotten so drunk she wouldn't have been raped.' " Jozkowski said. "Well, there's a lot of people who get very drunk and pass out every day, unfortunately — and that's a separate issue we could discuss — but on a daily basis people get so intoxicated they black out or brown out and they don't get assaulted. So there's a lot at play here that doesn't get discussed, and we tend to frame this in a victim-blaming context: 'Well, she shouldn't have got so drunk."
Jozkowski said that when you begin examining how sexual assault on campus happens and why, all the pieces add up to, she said, "a system that institutionally supports rape." While she admits that sounds harsh or dramatic, she believes the climate on many campuses perpetuates sexual violence and then hinders the efforts of those who want to hold those who commit sexual violence responsible.
Though cases of false sexual assault allegations always make the headlines, Jozkowski said research across the board has found that false reports account for between 3 and 8 percent of allegations. "Are those 3 and 8 percent of cases terrible? Absolutely, and I'm not denying that," she said. "But it doesn't make it the majority of the cases. By and large, when someone says they've been sexually assaulted, they've been sexually assaulted."
While the number of students who report being sexually assaulted while in college is staggering, Jozkowski said studies show that the number of perpetrators committing those rapes is actually very low. A 2002 anonymous survey of 1,882 male college students by researchers David Lisak and Paul Miller found that 6.4 percent of the students sampled reported either engaging in or attempting to engaging in acts that fit the criminal definition of rape, with the vast majority of those (80.8 percent) saying they had raped women who were unable to give consent because they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. The study also found that those who admitted committing rape were also likely to be repeat offenders, with 63.3 percent of the admitted rapists in the study saying they had committed more than one rape. In the group that admitted to committing rape more than once, the average at the time of the study was 5.8 rapes each. While the percentage of men committing rape on campus is probably low, Jozkowski believes perpetrators are often insulated from being held responsible by campus culture.
"I think we've got a small percentage of men who would actually commit sexual assault," she said. "But you also have a lot more men and women who participate in a system that basically provides that 6 percent of men a license to operate. You have people who endorse a victim-blaming culture. You have the 6 percent of men who see a drunk woman passed out behind a dumpster — like the guy from Stanford — and see that as an opportunity to sexually assault her. But you might have a lot more people who walk by and do nothing, or say, 'She shouldn't have gotten so drunk,' or 'it's her fault and she must be wanting this because she's had sex before, or has posted a picture to Facebook that shows her cleavage.' A lot of these cultural undercurrents perpetuate the idea that women or victims do things that call people to sexually assault them, rather than that we need to hold these people responsible."
Student conduct hearings under Title IX, Jozkowski said, take a crime on campus and then refuse to treat it like a crime. The result, she said, is like putting a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging wound. The better course, she said, would be putting time and resources toward adequately implementing prevention measures and making the Title IX issues more equitable, including putting experts in sexual assault on panels that hear student allegations of sexual assault.
Like Dunn, she believes claims that the due process rights of the accused aren't respected are overblown. "I think it needs to be kept in mind that this is not a criminal justice system, therefore the burden of proof doesn't have to be beyond a reasonable doubt," she said. "I think this whole concept of providing them with 'beyond a reasonable doubt' due process is blown out of proportion. I think universities are so concerned about being sued — and rightfully so, because individuals who were found responsible for violating conduct are now turning around and suing universities — that we culturally still endorse a victim-blaming mentality."
Another area Jozkowski finds concerning is the mandated reporter system, which takes the decision of whether to go forward with a student conduct hearing out of the hands of the alleged victim. While universities have an interest in knowing when assaults or sex-based discrimination has happened on campus, she said she doesn't think it's in the victim's best interest to do something they don't want to do.
"There's actually a term in the scientific literature called 'Second Rape,' which is the idea of, you were sexually assaulted, then you told someone who basically required you to press charges when you didn't want to. That's a problem. But, at the same time, we are technically mandated reporters. I understand why that process is in place. Universities want to understand what's going on."
The case reported to the university by student Kayla Kimball is one of those currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. A native of Fayetteville, Kimball grew up near the campus.
Kimball has since befriended "Susan." The thing that brought them together is simultaneously disturbing and heartbreaking, even though, if true, it would appear to dovetail perfectly with what's known about on-campus sexual assault: They claim that they were both assaulted by the same person.
Between March 2014 and March 2015, when she was 20, Kimball had a relationship with a fellow student. As chronicled extensively on her blog, Kimball said that through introspection and therapy, she came to see that many of the sexual encounters she experienced during that relationship constituted sexual assault, including their first sexual experience, which she claims occurred while she was intoxicated to the point of blacking out.
"He would get me drunk, then take advantage of me while I was drunk," she said. "Later on in the relationship, I stopped drinking because I didn't want that to happen anymore. He would still do it. In the middle of the night, he'd wake me up and have sex with me and I would not consent. That was a big problem. He made me think it was OK that this was happening, that because we were in a relationship this was OK and that this was supposed to happen."
Kimball said the young man "took over every aspect of my life," including isolating her from friends and family and convincing her to resent those she had trusted. After they broke up in March 2015, Kimball began seeing a therapist, who she said helped her see that many of her encounters with the her former boyfriend were nonconsensual. On April 21, 2015, she filed a complaint with the university alleging dating violence and sexual assault and met with the UA's Title IX coordinator.
During the process leading up to her hearing, Kimball said that she often felt in the dark about proceedings in her case, never sure where things stood. "[A Title IX coordinator] told me that I needed to stay in town, because if I missed a meeting, then I just wouldn't have a say in what happened," she said. "I would have just missed it and wouldn't know what was going on. I had canceled all of my plans for the summer and I stayed here. He studied abroad."
Her hearing in the case was held on Aug. 14, 2015. Like Susan, Kimball said that she felt "accosted" during her hour-long hearing, which was held before a panel of two women and one man.
"Any time the women would ask something, the man would repeat the question multiple times," Kimball said. "During the whole meeting I just felt like I wasn't being believed and that I was being invalidated. ... He'd ask me to repeat myself multiple times. I didn't feel like that was OK. He said that he just wanted to understand what happened, but I was saying the same things over and over again."
Mainly, she said, the panel focused on the first sexual encounter between Kimball and her former boyfriend. Kimball, who said she suffers from an anxiety-induced heart condition, said that as the questioning continued, "I could feel my chest tightening and I felt I was having palpitations. ... I felt like these people were stressing me out with the constant repetition of questions," she said. "It felt like if they had asked me one thing and then moved on, it wouldn't have been as stressful as asking me over and over and over again."
Susan said she wrote a statement detailing her own previous allegations about the young man, but wasn't allowed to submit it to the hearing panel in Kimball's case, saying she was told that because he had been found not responsible in her case, she wasn't allowed to submit such claims. "So the panel never found out. They never knew," she said. "One thing that happened over and over again was me being told, 'It's not your experience anymore.' "
On Aug. 21, 2015, Kimball received a letter saying that the student she had accused had been found not responsible, with the university saying there was no compelling evidence to support Kimball's claims. "In their response, they mentioned one of the reasons that they said that he was found not responsible was that, based on witness statements, I had a considerable tolerance for alcohol," she said. "I felt as if that was something that they can't judge based on witness statements. Even witnesses don't know how much I've had to drink. That really bothered me."
Like Susan, Kimball appealed the decision, but her appeal was denied. She began blogging about the Title IX hearing and her alleged sexual assault in September 2015. Three days after her first blog post appeared, Kimball was summoned to the office of the Dean of Students, where, she said, she was told that while she wouldn't be in trouble for the posts "at this time," she could face future consequences if she didn't stop blogging about the issue, because it could constitute retaliation against the young man she had accused.
Kimball eventually filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, with SurvJustice filing an additional complaint over the harassment Kimball allegedly endured in class from her peers following her hearing. In a personal statement attached to the SurvJustice complaint, Kimball told the OCR, "I am scared to walk to class, go to the dining halls, or even go to our student union. I have begun to feel unwelcome on my own campus, in a town I grew up in." She went on to say that her heart condition had caused her to fall ill on several occasions since the hearing. "All I would like to do is take the classes I want to take, walk around my campus without being scared, and not feel like I'm being punished for reporting the physical, sexual and emotional abuse I endured for a year," Kimball wrote.
Kimball said when she heard the OCR had decided to investigate her case, it made her hopeful that the hearing process at the UA might be reformed to better serve victims. "I'm extremely hopeful that there will be some sort of change in the system — some process enforced that isn't so traumatizing, and proper training for people involved in hearings," she said. "I really hope that before the investigation is concluded that the university will do something to change the system."
When the Arkansas Times asked her why she decided to speak out so publicly about her case, including writing about it on her blog and participating in articles like this one, she said it's because she believes it's important for people in her hometown to see the face of someone hurt by sexual assault.
"People need to know that this is happening to someone," she said. "I grew up in Fayetteville. I went to high school right down the street from this campus. I grew up pretty much next door to the campus. People need to know this is happening to someone who grew up in this community."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said that Kayla Kimball is a former student of the UA. She is still currently enrolled there, and will graduate in December. We regret this error.
Given that his district includes the state's flagship university, Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville) speaks to classes there often. For a while now, he said, he's been conducting an informal poll.
"I started asking, when I spoke to classes, regardless of what the subject was, if the students had ever felt unsafe on campus," he said. "Without fail, every woman in the classroom would raise her hand and no man in the class would ever raise his hand. That just struck me as something I needed to look more closely at."
Leding said what moved him to action as an official was — ironically — the since-discredited November 2014 Rolling Stone article called "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which detailed an allegation of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. "The story, before it was proven to be false, prompted some students and parents to reach out to me about what the University [of Arkansas] was doing," he said. "I honestly didn't know. So I started talking to some university officials."
What Leding found was that universities and colleges across the state had little current survey data from students on the issue of sexual assault and their attitudes about sexual consent — information that's crucial if legislative or educational solutions to the issue of rape on campus are to be found. At a chance meeting at a panel discussion Leding attended with UA professor and campus sexual assault researcher Dr. Kristen Jozkowski, Leding found that Jozkowski was willing to construct a survey based on recommendations released by the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault in April 2014. Last August, Leding fielded an interim study proposal on the issue, asking a subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council to conduct a survey examining "sexual awareness, prevention and response on the four-year and two-year college campuses in Arkansas." With the questions on the survey soon to be finalized, Leding and Jozkowski hope four-year and two-year campuses statewide will be on board to have their students complete the survey in early 2017.
"We have some national statistics," Leding said. "But we want to know what's happening on our own campuses. I thought it would be a good opportunity for all legislators, but particularly those who have campuses in their districts, to learn about what their campuses are doing — what they're doing well, what they could be doing better."
Jozkowski said she and Leding come at the issue of sexual assault from different perspectives, but with overlapping agendas. "We both want some kind of prevention mechanism to come out of this," she said. "That's both of our hopes. What that will look like, neither of us know, but what both of us agree on is that having a sense of the current climate on campus is imperative for whatever prevention mechanism, whether it's going to be more education programming, other types of programming or policy shift or legislation."
Jozkowski said questions on the anonymous survey, which will be conducted online, will include whether students have ever been the victim of a sexual assault; when and where assaults happened; who survivors told about their assault and why; whether they recanted their allegations or not; and other questions related to rape and consent. She said there will also be questions about false reporting, including whether students have ever made a false sexual assault allegation, or feel they have been the subject of a false report. "I think the statistics [on false accusations] will be quite low," she said, "but we are asking about that because it's a concern for some people."
Jozkowski said the construction of the survey is in the final stages. Though they currently don't have commitments from any universities in the state to administer the survey to their students, Jozkowski is hopeful that Leding will be able to convince campuses to participate, including the UA.
"He's been sort of spearheading that," she said, "but we need to get universities to buy in and be willing to conduct the survey. We're hopeful that universities will be willing, because I think that it's in everybody's best interest."
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