In the aftermath of experiencing sexual violence, some students report to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) with the hope of ensuring their safety and finding closure.
However, survivors often find that the reporting process presents a series of new challenges: cases that go unresolved for months; unwanted encounters with their accused perpetrators; and interviews where they constantly have to recount their trauma.
OIE, in accordance with Title IX, seeks to protect students from “unlawful sexual harassment in school programs and activities.” The Office, which employs 12 staff members, is responsible for preventing all forms of discrimination across the nine divisions of the University.
Though OIE purports to follow Title IX guidelines, The News-Letter found that many students feel as though the Office’s sexual assault and misconduct policies do not translate in practice.
Over the past few months, eight students spoke with The News-Letter about their experience reporting their sexual assault or harassment to OIE. The following pseudonyms in the article (Maria, Beth, John, Melissa, Lilly and Lee) are for individuals who requested anonymity to protect their own privacy. The News-Letter offers anonymity to all survivors of sexual assault.
Out of her control
After Maria was sexually assaulted, she told her therapist at the Counseling Center.
Her therapist was unsure of which resources existed and which hotlines Maria could call. According to Maria, her therapist just kept reiterating how the reporting process worked.
Maria insisted that she did not want to report. However, because of the sexual assault, she had been struggling with anxiety in the classroom. Her therapist offered to help by reaching out to the Office of Student Life and asking a case manager to provide Maria with accommodations.
Knowing that the case manager was a mandated reporter, Maria requested that the therapist not reveal that she was sexually assaulted, but her therapist called her case manager and told her some of the details.
“I definitely was like, ‘Don’t get this reported,’” Maria said. “That’s the one thing I had control over in this whole situation, and then they took that away from me.”
According to Maria, the case manager stopped the therapist before she could disclose the details of who the accused perpetrator was, saying she was a mandated reporter and had to file a report with OIE.
“I got an email from OIE saying, ‘We have information about your case, please come in and talk to us,’” Maria said. “That was something that I didn’t want to do.”
Maria’s therapist called to apologize, saying that she had messed up. According to Maria, the therapist, who she has since stopped seeing, still works at the Counseling Center.
As she had not wanted to report in the first place, Maria never followed up with OIE. The Office did not have enough information to proceed with an investigation without the accused perpetrator’s name. But the email from OIE came during a week when Maria had two midterms — one on Tuesday, when she got the call from her therapist, and one on Thursday.
“I spent the rest of my Tuesday night having panic attacks, crying, not being able to focus on anything... I pulled an all-nighter Wednesday night,” she said. “I was screwed for the [Thursday] exam and failed it.”
The Office of Academic Advising determined that Maria failing the exam was not her fault. Advising allowed her to withdraw from the class after the drop deadline without a “W” on her transcript to take it over the summer instead.
“Because I went to talk to my therapist about something that should have been confidential, all of that happened,” she said. “I thought my life was going to get better after seeking the resources here. Anything that the University has done has made it worse.”
Walking on eggshells
Beth’s professor started to sexually harass her around the same time she ended an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship. With Beth’s permission, a case manager from Student Life filed a report with OIE addressing both her ex-partner and her professor.
One month later, Beth met with an OIE staff member.
“The entire time I was having the meeting with this woman from OIE, she wasn’t really even looking at me,” Beth said. “She was constantly writing notes down, which is incredibly terrifying, because I felt like I was walking on eggshells. It felt very clinical.”
“I thought my life was going to get better after seeking the resources here. Anything that the University has done has made it worse.”
Before opening an investigation, the staff member proposed establishing a no-contact order with the abusive ex-partner, a Hopkins alumnus.
According to the University’s Sexual Assault Response & Prevention website, a no-contact order requires “no further communication — in person or otherwise.” The terms and conditions of a no-contact order can vary.
Beth chose not to take action, afraid that the no-contact order might cause her ex-partner to retaliate.
“There was nothing I could do, according to them, to protect myself without him knowing,” she said. “To this day, I’m still terrified he’s just going to show up.”
For the professor, Beth wanted to file an official complaint but was worried about the consequences of attaching her name to it. OIE told her that for complaints against faculty, they had an academic no-retaliation policy, which did not extend to either personal or professional backlash.
“They didn’t explain how they enforce no-retaliation, and it didn’t seem to me that they cared to enforce it,” she said.
Beth said it was unclear to her how OIE would be able to determine if the professor was grading unfairly, especially with classes where grading can be more subjective. As far as Beth could tell, there were no measures in place that could completely protect her during the process of an investigation.
When Beth asked if there was any way to proceed with the investigation against the professor without attaching her name to the complaint, she was disappointed with the OIE staff member’s response.
“She said, ‘Well, you can submit anonymous complaints online about a professor or a staff member,’ but then she told me, ‘But to be honest, we really don’t look at those or really consider them,’ which blew my mind,” Beth said.
Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic, however, said that OIE’s treatment of anonymous reports depends on the action the Office can take based on the information contained in a report.
“We consider every report received,” she said. “There’s no set number of complaints against a person that we need to receive anonymously before we do anything.”
Beth said that if she had given OIE the professor’s name, the Office would be able to send the professor her complaint with her name attached to it without her express consent. The investigation and trial process, she was told, would take around three and a half months.
“[The OIE staff member] kept saying, ‘We have to make sure that what you’re saying is true and what you’re saying actually falls under sexual harassment and isn’t just the professor being rude or an ass,’” Beth said. “It was really ridiculous to me that if someone is coming in to report something, they would put you through three months of making sure that you’re telling the truth.”
Even if the professor was found responsible, Beth was told that all OIE could do was contact the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) for the department, who would tell the professor to stop. In her specific case, the professor in question was himself the DUS, and the OIE staff member was uncertain as to what their next steps would be if the investigation found him responsible.
Gaslevic discussed potential consequences that a faculty member found responsible for sexual misconduct could face.
“It would be the departmental policy that leads to the outcome and the sanctions. OIE would work with them, but it would ultimately be the department that determines those sanctions,” she said.
After the initial meeting, Beth was hesitant to proceed with an investigation. Shortly after, she reached out saying she did not want to take any further action.
For the next two and a half months, she said, OIE persistently contacted her asking for the name of the professor. When Beth didn’t respond, OIE emailed her saying her case was closed.
John felt pressured to report his sexual assault to OIE, mainly because there were very few confidential resources available. Initially, he was apprehensive because of what he had heard about OIE investigations.
“I did not want to go through an investigation, because I know people who’ve been dragged in again and again and again and again over the period of months and being told to tell this really explicit, drawn out, detailed story that’s very traumatizing repetitively to multiple people,” he said.
John wished the University had provided more confidential resources to support sexual assault survivors. Currently, some students are only familiar with the Counseling Center and the Interfaith Center as University-affiliated confidential resources.
Eventually, John decided to report to OIE. He said that, if nothing else, it would show the University how frequently sexual assault takes place.
He made the report last semester but has not yet received a response from OIE beyond the generic automated reply. Over 60 days have passed since the report was first made.
“Do I want to make another report to OIE? Because obviously at this point they’ve kind of shown that they don’t really care,” John said. “Is that someone I want to handle an investigation? No. Is that someone I want to open up to and confide in? No.”
During fall 2017, Anthony Flores, a junior TA, told his professor that a student in the class was harassing him. The professor immediately reported the incident to Student Life, and Flores was called in for a meeting.
After Student Life presented Flores with his options, he decided he wanted a no-contact order, for which he was referred to OIE.
“Do I want to make another report to OIE? Because obviously at this point they’ve kind of shown that they don’t really care.”
After his initial meeting, OIE finalized measures within a few days stating that the other student had to stay away from Flores’ workplace, his apartment and the places where he had class.
“Knowing in the event that the student did not respect the no-contact order I could pursue disciplinary action, I felt a lot more comfortable with that,” Flores said.
OIE told him that if he wanted an investigation, they could open one. However, Flores preferred to opt for an informal resolution of the issue, which meant that both parties would agree to a resolution without having to go through an investigation.
“Personally I didn’t want to get [the other student] in trouble,” Flores said. “I just wanted to remove myself from the situation, and because of that the no-contact order was easiest.”
Through the process, he felt that OIE kept him updated and encouraged him to ask any questions he had, which he said made him feel a lot more comfortable with the process.
The process in total took two and a half weeks.
“Within the same day, I had met with OIE and they had set up a no-contact order as an interim measure. Within about a week, there was a draft of an informal resolution,” he said. “About a week and a half after that, everything was finalized.”
Flores acknowledged the external support he received going into the process that helped make his experience smoother.
“I don’t know how typical my story is,” he said. “But I was really satisfied with the process, and I was lucky to have the support of professors and Student Life going into OIE.”
“A reasonable person”
In December 2016, a male student started to sexually harass Melissa. The OIE investigation for her case was not completed until the end of 2017.
Melissa sought help from the Office of Residential Life, which established a no-contact order between her and the accused perpetrator. Even with the no-contact order in place, Melissa still encountered the accused perpetrator in many of her classes and contacted OIE for additional support.
OIE gave her two options: Either she could settle for a no-contact order where both parties agreed not to interact with each other, or she could go forward with an investigation. Because the accused perpetrator had already broken the no-contact order, Melissa chose to pursue an investigation.
During the investigation, the aforementioned no-contact order would remain in place. If broken, Melissa was told there would be consequences.
However, Melissa said the accused perpetrator broke the no-contact order at least five times. Each time, she emailed OIE and would receive a response thanking her for the update. Each time, the solution OIE proposed was to make the terms of the existing no-contact order stricter, for example, by increasing the distance they should be separated by.
According to Melissa, though, these changes remained ineffective, since the accused perpetrator continued to break the no-contact order.
Melissa said that OIE failed to contact the professor for a class that she and the accused perpetrator shared. Melissa had to tell the professor about the no-contact order herself so the professor could enforce it, but this did little to help her situation.
“The professors even saw and reported it to the OIE,” Melissa said. “The OIE was just like, ‘Oh, well. He just said it was inconvenient for him.’”
According to Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic, the consequences of breaking a no-contact order depend primarily on the circumstances of the specific case.
“Obviously, for a more serious violation, we’d go in and take different steps,” she said. “For another type of violation, we might have a conversation, or we might increase the strictness of measures in place.”
Due to the stress caused by the accused perpetrator’s violation of the no-contact order, Melissa attempted suicide in March. She was exasperated by the delaying of her case: OIE initially said that they would reach a decision by the end of the semester, but then postponed it to June and again to July.
Frustrated, Melissa then emailed OIE, writing that it would have been convenient for OIE if she had succeeded in her suicide attempt, because that would be one less thing for them to worry about. In response, OIE sent three security guards to her apartment, who left soon after determining that Melissa was no longer a danger to herself.
After this incident, Melissa said that OIE ceased direct communication with her and stopped responding to her emails. For her final hearing, OIE did not contact her directly but communicated with her through her case manager from Student Life.
At the hearing, the accused perpetrator was found guilty of breaking the no-contact order but not of harassment. According to Melissa, he admitted to some of the accusations. Consequently, OIE believed he would have no reason to lie about the other accusations.
“They put you through months and months, and for me it was an entire year, of trying to defend why you feel unsafe,” Melissa said. “But if your case doesn’t match up with their definition of whatever stalking or harassment or assault is then the person won’t really get out with anything.”
The final result for Melissa’s case was a no-contact order, which stated that Melissa and the accused perpetrator could not be in the same room as each other. If she entered a room, he would have to leave.
Melissa, however, was frustrated with both the results and the reporting process.
“They basically called me unreasonable in the final report and said, ‘a reasonable person in the same situation would not be scared for their safety,’” she said.
“They put you through months and months, and for me it was an entire year, of trying to defend why you feel unsafe.”
When Lilly reported her sexual assault to OIE in February 2017, the Office was initially very responsive and gave her a clear idea of what to expect. Doing further research on the reporting process, Lilly read on the Sexual Assault Response & Prevention website that “the University will seek to resolve cases, not including any appeal, within 60 calendar days after an investigation commences.”
Very quickly, she realized that this would not be the case. Lilly’s investigation would go on for 161 days. It took three months to make the report and then two months to review the case.
Lilly explained that throughout the process, OIE failed to regularly update her and would respond to her emails by saying that the investigative process was taking longer than expected.
While Lilly’s investigation was still ongoing, she said, another female student filed a report with OIE against the same accused perpetrator shortly before the end of the spring 2017 semester. After the second student’s report, OIE placed the accused perpetrator on interim suspension, starting in the summer.
Though the interim suspension banned him from the Homewood Campus, it did not prevent him from entering the Medical Campus for summer research, and Lilly said the second student ended up seeing him on the JHMI shuttle.
“If he’s a threat for Homewood, why would you let him on the Med Campus?” she said. “They didn’t change his summer at all. It wasn’t any punishment. Interim measures are supposed to keep the victims feeling safe, but what they did did neither of those things.”
As soon as the fall semester started, the interim suspension was lifted, and Lilly found herself sharing a class with the accused perpetrator. As a result, Lilly told OIE that they needed to tell her if he was going to be in any of her classes during spring 2018.
According to Lilly, OIE explained that they could not comply, citing privacy concerns.
“He sat a few rows behind me. I freaked out and was crying throughout the class. I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I had to switch classes, and now I miss every single Wednesday [performing arts group] rehearsal, so it definitely affected my life.”
During the investigative process, Lilly said that OIE did not include evidence she had submitted to them in the final case report, a document which compiles evidence and statements from the investigation to make a recommendation to the resolution panel. After the case report is made, OIE sends it to a resolution panel consisting of non-OIE affiliates, who make the final decision on the investigation. According to Lilly, though, the panel hardly ever disagrees with the recommendations made by the case reports.
To find the accused perpetrator responsible, however, Lilly said that OIE would not just have to prove that he sexually assaulted her. She explained that she felt a pressure to prove that she had not tried to hurt him in retaliation.
“It was frustrating because I was like, ‘I went through all this and you’re going to have to prove why I’m innocent?’” she said.
After 161 days, OIE did not find the accused perpetrator responsible. The second student who accused him, Lilly said, dropped her case after four months. Lilly was frustrated not only with the outcome of her case but also because OIE did not link her case to the second student’s. Doing so, according to Lilly, would have shown more decisively that the accused perpetrator was a threat and that there was a pattern to his behavior.
Generally, according to Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic, OIE considers multiple allegations against an accused perpetrator when implementing interim measures but not during an investigation.
The OIE website states that either party has 10 days to appeal, in a process that Lilly said was not explained to her. Reflecting on it now, she wishes she had appealed and that the accused perpetrator had received consequences stronger than just the no-contact order, which is still in place.
Lilly added that she wished she had known the statistics on how many OIE cases found the accused perpetrators responsible and what consequences OIE applied.
Following a request from The News-Letter for such information, Gaslevic said that OIE is working toward making these statistics public.
“We’re really looking at our options to do that. We don’t do it currently, I think just because it’s not been done yet,” she said. “But I think there are ways that we can likely do that in the future.”
However, Lilly remained dissatisfied both with OIE’s transparency and with the outcome of her case.
“Hopkins refuses to show the statistics. What that says to me and a lot of other survivors is that their statistics are not good,” she said. “You’re saying that you’ll expel someone if they cheat on a homework, but if they rape someone, that’s no threat to campus.”
After April Kim, a junior at Peabody, was sexually assaulted, she went to the Peabody Office of Student Affairs. There, she was told that anything she said would remain confidential and that a report would not be made unless she explicitly asked for it.
Student Affairs, after giving Kim her options, encouraged her to report her sexual assault through OIE instead of through the police. Kim said she would think about it and was told later that day that one of the deans was waiting to speak with her.
“I go up to him and he said, ‘[Student Affairs] told me everything, every detail, so you need to report this, you need to do something about it,’” she said. “I was not comfortable being anywhere near a man at that time.”
Kim did file a report to OIE soon after, and she wanted someone to support her through the process. The Sexual Assault Response & Prevention website defines a supporter as someone who “may accompany the party to any meeting or hearing held,” and states that OIE will help a student who wants a supporter connect with one. Kim, however, was not connected with a supporter.
“I was a freshman. I didn’t really know many people that I could ask for support, but they never gave me a supporter,” Kim said. “I had to go through this entire process on my own.”
During her first meeting with OIE, Kim was asked to recount her assault, but she struggled to recollect and piece her story together because of her trauma. OIE pressed her to recall specific details, even asking her to point out areas of her body that the accused perpetrator had touched and describe exactly what he did.
After this meeting, OIE set up a preliminary no-contact order. When the investigation started, however, the accused perpetrator began to break the no-contact order.
“He kept walking near my dorm tower, sitting in the lounge that’s right next to the stairwell to my dorm tower so I couldn’t take the stairs. Sometimes he would stay up really late and walk around my practice room,” Kim said. “It was like a roadblock.”
Kim took pictures and sent them to OIE, but she said OIE insisted that because Peabody is a small school, these encounters could not be avoided.
OIE then started collecting witness statements from the night of the assault. Kim said that the accused perpetrator convinced his friend to write a statement leaning toward his side. Four days after the assault, this friend cornered her.
“His friend who wrote up that statement also held me against my will in a laundry room, walked me through the entire night and said, ‘Maybe you can take this as a learning experience not to act and dress the way you do around guys and be thankful that nothing worse happened,’” Kim said. “It was basically another traumatic experience after this whole traumatic experience.”
Throughout the process, because she did not have a supporter, Kim found it difficult to parse the legal documents and understand each new report. As a result, she did not know until the middle of the investigative process that she could also provide her own witnesses.
Eventually, though, she did provide her own witness. One of Kim’s friends contacted OIE with a witness statement in support of her. However, according to Kim, OIE failed to get back to her friend and never asked him to come in for a follow up.
As the investigation progressed, Kim said she received fewer communications from OIE.
“I constantly had to go to Title IX and say, ‘Hey, is this still happening? Hey, are you still investigating? Hey, how is the investigation going? Hey, do I need to turn something in?’” she said.
According to Gaslevic, OIE aims to communicate with students at specific points during the reporting process, with additional updates given at the student’s discretion.
“We work with people, hopefully proactively, to see how much they’d like to be updated at the beginning of the case, and then we do it as needed throughout,” she said.
Eventually, Kim’s case was closed, with the final report stating that the accused perpetrator’s story seemed more believable.
“They said that they didn’t find anything of sexual nature,” Kim said. “They didn’t think it was objectively severe enough for it to have affected me in any way.”
Since her investigation ended, Kim has seen the same pattern repeat with several fellow Peabody students. Because the Title IX offices are located at Homewood and not Peabody, she said Peabody cases are not taken as seriously.
“Administrators in Peabody in general don’t take Peabody students seriously when it comes to these issues,” she said. “They want to say that they do, but they don’t.”
All the right things
Two years ago, during Lee’s first year in her graduate program, she was sexually assaulted by a fellow graduate student. Soon after it happened, she called the JHU Sexual Assault Helpline and went to the emergency room to take a sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE).
She emailed her advisors and the Director of Graduate Studies of her department telling them what had happened, not knowing that they were all mandated reporters who had to report to OIE.
A few weeks after the initial OIE report, Lee was still seeing the accused perpetrator everywhere. So she went to the Counseling Center; consulted with TurnAround, a local organization that provides legal services and counseling to survivors of sexual assault; and found a lawyer to support her pro bono.
During the investigative process, Lee’s investigator resigned, and Lee grew frustrated with how many times she had to interview with OIE and retell her story. Lee also reported to the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), which she said had unique advantages and disadvantages in comparison to reporting to OIE.
“The benefit of the police is that if you get with a good detective, they believe you, they don’t try to undermine your story, and they only interview you once,” she said. “But the downside is that they don’t really have power over your perpetrator, who can just decide not to show up to the interview.”
OIE, on the other hand, could ensure that the accused perpetrator was present at meetings. If he failed to attend them, the Office could mark his student conduct record or enforce other consequences. Still, Lee said she had a better experience interviewing with the police.
During one of her OIE interviews, Lee said, her investigator showed her printed out text messages between Lee and the accused perpetrator, asking her to explain the meaning behind certain words she had used.
“It felt like they were trying to trap me into saying that I had wanted sex with him,” she said.
Lee asked OIE if she should use her SAFE kit report in the investigation, but they told Lee that the decision was up to her. The report, she said, found marijuana in her blood.
“It was a very blurred line of consent because we were both stoned from marijuana. I was clearly trying to sleep, but he kept touching me and pressuring me,” she said. “It wasn’t like the rape where you’re punched in the face and you’re screaming. It’s like the one where you say no and they keep forcing you.”
Because the hospital would not fax the report over, Lee would have had to go to the hospital and personally retrieve it. However, it was too traumatic for her to return to the hospital, so she chose not to, assuming that OIE would have no reason not to believe that she was inebriated during the sexual assault.
The final report ruled in favor of her accuser, saying that OIE could not find enough proof that Lee was inebriated. Though she reported in November, Lee did not receive her final report until April.
Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic commented on OIE’s policies for resolving cases in a timely manner, citing potential factors that may increase the complexity of the case and therefore the time taken to address it, such as the nature and scope of the allegations, the number of witnesses involved and the availability of the parties.
“The University remains deeply committed to addressing sexual misconduct in a timely and fair manner,” she wrote in an email to The News-Letter. “OIE resolves a majority of Title IX related cases within this 60-day goal.”
After her investigation process ended, Lee was too emotionally exhausted to appeal her case.
“I didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” she said. “It takes so much time and energy to attend these interviews and prepare for them. In the end they still don’t believe you.”
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you can seek help from the following Hopkins-specific, local or national confidential resources: JHU Sexual Assault Resource Unit (SARU) 24/7 Peer Crisis Support Hotline — (410) 516-7887; JHU 24/7 Sexual Assault Helpline — (410) 516-7333; TurnAround Inc 24/7 Helpline — (443) 279-0379; Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline — 1 (800) 656-4673.
Correction: The original version of this article stated that current confidential resources at the University are limited to only the Interfaith Center and the Counseling Center. Other confidential resources include the Sexual Assault Helpline, the Student Health and Wellness Center, the Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program and University Health Services.