By DARCY SPICER
One of the first resources students learn about when they begin attending any university are the services offered by the Office of Title IX. This office handles issues pertaining to gender-based discrimination and violence such as sexual assault and rape. Due to the severity of these issues, Title IX matters should be handled in the fairest and most effective manner possible. However, there are some procedural issues within Title IX nationwide regarding their transparency about case procedure.
Title IX is a federal program that is required for all schools, universities included, that receive federal funds. Some of its requirements include policies that are to be implemented by all universities, but also requires that schools form their own “grievance procedures” that are created by a designated coordinator who represents the university. This means that each school is slightly unique in how it handles it’s reporting process. While this is so, Title IX procedures state that, “schools can use general disciplinary procedures to address complaints of sex discrimination. But all procedures must provide for prompt and equitable resolution of sex discrimination complaints.”
The following story comes from a UMW student that has been granted anonymity due to the nature of the story’s content. The student in question was sexually and physically assaulted by her then partner in 2018. After filing an anonymous report, she was contacted about her report. After discussing the incidents with Title IX coordinator, Stefanie Lucas-Waverly, it was determined that what had occurred was indeed sexual and physical assault. The accused was brought into the office to share their side of the story.
“From there, it was up to I, as the complainant, to try to provide as much evidence and witnesses for the two main situations to backup my accusations as much as possible. I was able to photograph bruises that my ex-boyfriend, the respondent in the investigation, had left behind during the physical altercation,” said the complainant.
After a 42-page transcript detailing the events of these separate occasions and the accused had given their side of the story, the evidence was reviewed. When reviewing the evidence and hearing from mutual friends of the two, the Office of Title IX determined that because the complainant had scratched her attacker in self defense, regardless of the physical damage she had received during both altercations, both individuals were equally in the wrong and Title IX decided that the complainant did not have a case against her attacker.
“Stefanie Lucas-Waverly sent the transcripts of all the witnesses to the respondent and I for review, and to dispute. We did, and sent our disputes back to Stefanie for another review and consideration. After some time and consideration of all the evidence and witnesses testimonies, Stefanie Lucas-Waverly determined that there was not enough substantial evidence and that since both the respondent and I had injured one another during the night of the sexual assault… and the physical assault… that the case would be dropped and neither the respondent or I would be held accountable for any actions taken against one another,” said the complainant.
The anonymous source, the complainant in this case, stated that they are not the only person who has dealt with these problems with Title IX.
“I know that there are others who have dealt with similar issues with Title IX but are not yet ready to share their stories,” said the source.
Students at UMW are required during freshman orientation to attend talks and take an online course hosted by Title IX. During these informational sessions, students are taught about consent, but also how to avoid unwanted sexual encounters. Title IX advises students to make excuses towards the perpetrator to allow them a chance to leave such as asking the person to brush their teeth, or say that they forgot to call their mom. As can be observed, there are no suggestions to use self defense against these unwanted sexual encounters.
Lucas-Waverly was contacted to answer questions about this very serious issue, and was asked questions such as “Does Title IX discourage victims of sexual assault from seeking a case against a perpetrator if they acted in self-defense?” and “In a situation where a victim of sexual assault uses self-defense against their abuser, are they justified? Will this cause an unfounded case?”
Lucas-Waverly said, “University of Mary Washington takes all instances of sexual misconduct seriously and is committed to fully supporting students who experience such acts. We encourage all members of the university community to report in whatever avenue they choose to go down first- University Police, the Title IX office or a confidential resource.”
Although she responded to questioning, Lucas-Waverly’s answers lacked specificity. In a follow up email, she was asked to specify about cases of self defense, to which she did not respond. When questioned in the office of Title IX, she again stated that she encourages everyone to report instances of sexual violence and that “every incident is unique and we tailor our response to each one; that’s why we have a team of professionals who support our community.”
It is important that the office of Title IX be as open as possible with students regarding case procedure and policies surrounding self defense.
The story discussed previously is a sad example of a student feeling as though justice was not served against her attacker, specifically due to her use of self defense. No student should feel guilt or lose their chance at justice for defending themselves when they are in danger. Rather, students should be encouraged to defend themselves through programs such as Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) System courses provided by the UMW police department. Self defense is something everyone should practice, and no student should be punished for doing such.
Title IX does some great things, but issues and procedures like this should be transparent. As of now they are not.
Community resources for survivors include Empowerhouse and Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA).