Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 9, 2022

Sexual violence survivors report a lack of support from the University

By MOLLY GAHAGEN | March 12, 2022

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Content warning: The following article includes topics some readers may find triggering, including sexual assault.

Last semester, survivors of sexual violence protested to call attention to sexual violence on campus. In interviews with The News-Letter, three survivors shared their stories with sexual violence and discussed the reasons which contributed to their decisions about whether to report their experiences. The News-Letter granted them anonymity to protect their privacy.

Peggy

Peggy was sexually assaulted by a perpetrator several times on campus. In one incident, she recalled that the perpetrator and several of his friends were under the influence.

“He had me sit on his lap, and I didn't really want to, but he just made me — and then when I said that I wanted to get up, he wouldn't let me. I just remember being absolutely humiliated,” she said. “I'm really angry at myself, especially because I didn't even want to be there to begin with... He made me feel like such shit for not wanting to go.”

She elected not to report her perpetrator because she feels she lacks sufficient evidence to support her claims and wants to preserve her privacy, as she has chosen not to tell her family.

Peggy fears the repercussions of an investigation that fails to find her perpetrator guilty.

“He said explicitly that he was all about enthusiastic consent. It's a little funny that sort of those are things that he said, knowing that it was a damn lie,” she said. “I know that he goes here, and the backlash that I could receive from him if I report it and it goes nowhere is terrifying... and I have no real proof.”

She stated that the language used by the University in response to the report of a intentional drugging incident at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which many felt insinuated victim-blaming, also dissuaded her from reporting.

“I'm afraid of my anonymity being breached... and my family finding out. I'm afraid of the repercussions of what he would do to me, or what he would say about me,” she said. “The only example [of University response] that I have to go on is the email that they sent out about the alleged drugging, and that didn't paint a very good picture for me.”

She feels that dialogue about sexual assault on campus stopped quickly after the Not My Campus protest last semester, which has presented an impediment to systemic changes.

“It shocked me how quickly the conversation died out after the protests, because... this is still happening. I'm still here dealing with this problem, and I'm not the only one, either,” she said. “The goal isn't to have a protest; the goal is to make a difference.”

Violet

Violet was a freshman at the time of her assault, which was committed by someone she had been seeing prior to the incident. The incident occurred a few days before students were sent home from campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She discussed how the timing of the incident contributed to her response to it.

“Part of me is happy that I was at home right after it, because I may have tried to make some poor and unhealthy decisions to cope,” she said. “Part of me is really upset about it because I didn't have my support system from school.”

After being sent home, she used TimelyMD, a telehealth resource the University partnered with, to help cope. However, she claims that the therapist she was connected with expressed judgment because she started using medication and accused her of “acting like a victim.”

Seli Fakorzi, Director of Mental Health Operations at TimelyMD, described TimelyMD’s goals in an email to The News-Letter.

“Our mission at TimelyMD is to improve the well-being of college students by making virtual care accessible anytime, anywhere,“ she wrote. “We are committed to helping Johns Hopkins University students get the support they need, when they need it.”

She encouraged students to contact customer support if they encounter any issues.

“Any time a student’s visit does not meet their expectations, we want to know about it so we can address it, provide additional training or take appropriate actions,“ she wrote. “Without having specific information about this student’s experience, we invite him, her or them to contact our customer support team, which is available 24/7.”

When Violet felt that she was ready to report her case, she met with OIE to discuss investigation procedures. She was told that she would be able to choose whether or not her case was investigated, but if she named her perpetrator, he would likely be deemed a threat to campus and she would have no say in him being investigated.

Violet chose to omit names to protect herself and did not report her case, as the lack of evidence seemed to be an impediment to her perpetrator being convicted.

“That was just myself trying to protect myself from really admitting how real it was,” she said. “I didn't have much evidence, and it's just frustrating to hear in that situation when you are a survivor — and you know what happened, and other people know what happened — that if you don't have written-out evidence, there's not much they can do.”

Violet discussed how the OIE investigative process places weight on testimonials from witnesses, which can be unreliable due to the time elapsed between the incident and the investigation process.

She was told she had little evidence to support her case, as she had deleted text messages and other records from the night of the assault.

“I had nothing to go off of, so at this point only my friends really know about what happened, and my therapist and my family,” she said. “It will never be reported. He'll never be punished. And he's just walking around.”

Violet discussed how she feels that a lot of cases go unreported at the University for a variety of reasons.

“I definitely am under the impression that a lot goes unreported. I'm not sure if it's just OIE and the Hopkins reporting system, because so many survivors will choose not to report for other reasons,” she said. “I'm also under the impression that a lot of people get away without sanctions or that a lot of people begin, like I did, with having a consultation meeting and then choose not to investigate because the process is so taxing.”

Alexis

Alexis graduated last spring. She met her perpetrator at a party and hooked up with him several times, but in one instance he did not ask for her consent and pressed forward regardless.

She was initially unsure if she had been sexually assaulted, but she realized she had been after revealing what happened to her friends.

“I talked to my friends about it, and they definitely made me realize I wasn't crazy, or I wasn't a prude or anything, just because I really doubted myself,” she said. “I thought it was my fault something wrong was done to me.”

She reported her case a little over a year after her assault. Initially, she met with an OIE investigator to discuss the procedures of investigation. She gave her perpetrator’s name and both were given notices of investigation, and both had several meetings with OIE investigators. They were asked to have people testify for them and present evidence.

Alexis was given an opportunity to submit changes to the OIE report prior to it being officially filed and stated she had many, including disputing what was considered consensual.

“What happened was the guy started doing things to me without my consent, and then afterward he asked, ‘Hey, do you want to do this?’ — but he already started. I said, ‘Okay, but do you have a condom?‘“ she said. “They considered that to be consensual. I strongly disagree with that. He was already assaulting me at that point; how could I have given consent under that condition?”

She criticized OIE for inadequate support, citing how the office did not keep her informed about what stage of the investigation it was in and disregarded details she shared.

“I don't think OIE does a good job of supporting survivors, which is why a lot of people don't report, especially if they're going to blatantly disregard explicit details that I have in an email to them,” she said. “They're not transparent about the process.”

Vice President for Communications Andrew Green wrote about OIE’s investigations in an email to The News-Letter.

“Investigations involving alleged violations of the university’s Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures are often complex, and each case is unique,” he wrote. “OIE analyzes each one thoroughly and fairly, with opportunities for input from all parties.”

Alexis and her perpetrator were given the opportunity to speak to a panel, but only Alexis did. Two weeks later, the decision was released that her perpetrator was found guilty of rape. He was subject to several sanctions, including a campus ban, deferred suspension, having to complete online modules about sexual assault prevention and meeting with the director of the Center for Health Education and Well-Being (CHEW).

Green stated that OIE reports are reviewed by both parties prior to submission to decision-makers and outlined the University’s investigation structure.

“For matters involving a student respondent, a panel of three trained individuals (two university employees not affiliated with OIE and an outside attorney) serve as the joint decision-makers,” he wrote. “The panel determines whether or not a policy violation(s) occurred using the preponderance of the evidence standard (i.e., more likely than not).”

He elaborated that the parties involved are notified via written communication of the investigation’s conclusions and their options to appeal.

Alexis voiced dissatisfaction with her perpetrator’s sanctions, as his campus ban occurred while classes were virtual. He was still permitted to access campus for COVID-19 testing, and he was a second-semester senior at the time, so his deferred suspension took place after graduation.

“His campus ban lasted until May 15, and he got to graduate on May 27 with me on a football field. I had to see him at graduation,” she said. “The campus ban was ridiculous... He couldn't go to any University-sponsored or affiliated events. I don't know how they were going to keep track of that because frat parties were happening.”

She appealed his first and second sanctions as she felt they were insufficient, but her appeal was denied. 

She chose not to press charges, citing being disheartened by the investigation.

“I was just so mentally exhausted from the whole OIE process, and I didn’t want to fight anymore,” she said. “I also figured that if I couldn’t get appropriate sanctions through OIE, there was no chance anything would go my way through the legal system.”

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