This is an interview with an anonymous (A) female student at the University of Delaware. She was sexually assaulted while abroad by another UD student. The student goes through what happened, how she filed her Title IX suit, and the subsequent events that followed in the coming months.
Her Campus: Walk me through the actual incident. What happened? Was anyone around? Did you tell anyone?
Anonymous: I didn’t realize until two weeks after that what happened was sexual assault. I knew that it was wrong because I was very uncomfortable with it. While I was in London I told my friend from home about what happened and she said that it was sexual assault, so I started texting a few of my friends from my site and explicitly asked if what happened to me was sexual assault. They all said yes. I had a panic attack in the London airport, and I just cried for the next two weeks. Three weeks after it happened, I took a pregnancy test and it was negative. After, I had a conversation with him and told him “What you did to me was sexual assault and it wasn’t at all okay”. I didn’t want to report it, but I felt it was necessary to do so because I could tell he didn’t understand the implications of his actions. He was very angry about what I said to him; he said “I don’t appreciate this” and I said “I don’t appreciate it either”. I finally reported the assault the Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
HC: It is my understanding that the assault happened during your study abroad. Did the university at which you were studying provide any assistance after your assault?
A: I reported it to the Title IX office at my host university. I met with their Title IX coordinator and she was very helpful and sweet. She offered to issue a no-contact order between him and I in which neither of us could reach out to each other in any way, directly or indirectly. I initially didn’t want to do that, but then I realized that I didn’t want to get a text from him saying “What the hell, why would you file this suit, etc.” I had to reach out to the Student-Life Coordinator – her name was Marta – to get that done, and she advocated for me the most during the whole situation, far more than UD did. She was the first one to ask me if I was comfortable in my room, which I wasn’t because my roommate was on his side and didn’t believe me. She was rude and awful to me. Marta called UD to see what could be done about getting me out of that room and into a host family, even though it was December. One thing that I thought was really weird about the whole process was that no one had asked me the details about what happened, and two weeks after I reported it, I still hadn’t heard back from UD. When I did hear back from UD about the housing situation, they said if I didn’t live in the study abroad housing provided by the institution at which I was studying, then I was not a UD student. The options that UD gave me were not great, and I ended up having to move in with a girl who had bullied one of my friends earlier in the semester. It wasn’t ideal, but the day that I moved in Marta came into the city and spent an hour at the dorms sitting with me and making sure I was okay. Bottom line is the university at which I was studying did a better job advocating for me than UD did.
HC: How did you go about filing your Title IX suit? Did you file it while still in Madrid or when you first arrived at UD?
A: I asked our Program Coordinator how and where I would file a Title IX suit, and she said that I should reach out to the Title IX coordinator at my study abroad university. I scheduled a meeting with her, and told her I wanted to report my sexual assault. I went to her office, but I felt very awkward talking about my assault to someone that I barely knew. She gave me resources, and then told me she would reach out to the Title IX coordinator at UD. She told me they could discipline the assaulter, but because I was only going to be there for another month, there wouldn’t be enough time to get everything done. Then it became weird because the study abroad university wouldn’t have enough time to carry out a full case there, but UD didn’t know how to carry out a case at a satellite location; I was told by UD that they didn’t know how to handle my case. The first time someone asked me exactly what happened was when I scheduled a Zoom meeting with the Title IX coordinator at UD, and this was about three weeks after I talked to the Title IX coordinator at the study abroad university.
HC: How did your friends support you during this time? Were there those that did not support you?
A: Everyone realized a couple weeks after my assault that the guy was a total asshole, and he’s not actually funny. There was a group of twenty of us that were really close at the beginning of the semester, and after my assault only three of them talked to me. My two friends were the first two I talked to about it, and they helped me navigate being terrified that I was pregnant; he had talked me out of taking Plan B after my assault. I opened up to a third person, but I was hesitant to do so because they had known each other their entire lives. She completely supported me, and gradually a few people came around, but I didn’t really have a huge support system for a while. After my assault, I was very much “Please don’t tell anyone about this. I don’t need people gossiping about it”. By December, when I hadn’t heard anything from UD, when I was so fed up with people not talking to me, I just said “Tell people what happened. I don’t care, and I can’t keep being afraid of going down to the lunch room” I did have a few people come up to me after and apologize, saying “He had me thinking you were insane. This is what he told me”. Toward the end of the semester, things started to get better and people were angry the school wasn’t doing anything for me, but none of us really knew what to do about it.
HC: In your opinion, how has UD been handling your suit?
A: After that Zoom conference with the UD Title IX Coordinator, I was told that by the Friday before Christmas (the conference was in early December) I would have an email with a short summary of what happened and a letter charging him, so I could look it over and give the okay for the letter to be sent to him. I did not get that email until after New Year’s. One week after I okayed the letter, it was sent to him. The next email I got included a 40-page attachment detailing the process and everything that was going to happen. It was accessible, but much longer than I expected it to be. Because our winter break is so long, I was told that I would have a Zoom meeting with the attorney. I wanted it to be done as quickly as possible because I was so tired of talking about it; the assault happened at the end of October and this was mid-January. I didn’t get to meet with the attorney until the first week of classes; the week of February 10th and it was an in-person meeting. She wasn’t an attorney just for UD though, she was an attorney for schools in Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland.
HC: So she is a regional attorney for most public schools?
A: Yes, so she’s handling so many cases and that’s why it’s taking so long. So I met with her, and then I haven’t heard anything from them until last week, the week of March 15th. That was the email saying that they’re suspending all cases until further notice due to COVID-19. A few days ago, I got another email saying the attorney may reach out to me because they finished their witness interviews and needed to complete a follow-up interview with me.
HC: Obviously, COVID-19 has impacted all departments of the University. Do you think that you might be more successful in seeing results with your case?
A: I honestly don’t know. The communication from the Title IX office has been really sub-par. The only thing I have heard about the case between when I met with the attorney and when I got the COVID-19 email was from my friends telling me about the emails they were getting from the attorney about the witness interviews. I don’t know what progress has been made or what else needs to be done. I don’t even know what I’m expecting from them anymore. My friend told me she was asked about what she knew of me being a lesbian in the interview. I don’t even know what the investigation is about or what people have been saying about me in these interviews.
HC: So these witnesses could be saying anything about you.
A: They could be saying anything about me and influencing the attorney’s opinion about me. I don’t get a chance to discredit it or deny it until she’s heard everything from everyone. I don’t know how many other cases she has at UD or even at other schools, so I have no idea what to expect. I think my case might’ve been completed faster were it not for COVID-19, but I also have no idea. I wasn’t given a timeframe or timeline.
HC: Do you think you will see results in the near future regarding your Title IX case? Maybe within the next six months?
A: They said that from the time I reported it, the process should take one to two months. But because of Winter Session and COVID-19 – I first reported to UD in December and it’s now almost April; that’s four months. I am hoping to see results by the end of the semester, but I don’t know.
HC: How do you think UD would handle a case in which a male student was sexually assaulted?
A: I don’t know. The guy who assaulted me claimed that he was sexually assaulted by another student about two months earlier.
HC: And he never said anything?
He didn’t want to report it, but mentioned to a friend for some reason, and he got a Title IX email immediately the next day. He didn’t choose to pursue it, but got an email with the resources the next day. That is the only difference. I think men are less likely to report sexual assault cases because of the stigma against it. I think no one knows enough about sexual assault on campus; it’s not really talked about.
HC: Right, it’s not even reported.
A: It’s not talked about with friends. I think it would be handled in that the university would take it more seriously to prove they are serious about Title IX suits. But I really don’t know.
HC: Any other comments you want to make about your story, the case, or how you believe Title IX cases should change?
A: Report it if you want, but I almost wish that I didn’t because nothing has been done to benefit me. I would have had just a hard time switching out of a class with him as I did. The Title IX department doesn’t coordinate with anybody.
HC: So when you ended up in that class with him for the spring semester, they
didn’t know anything about it because the Title IX department is its own separate entity.
A: My advisor didn’t know not to put me in that class.
HC: So the advisors don’t have any of that information.
A: The advisors don’t have any of that information. He’s in my college, so for orientation back to UD, the program coordinators didn’t know to not have us in the same group.
HC: So the Title IX department doesn’t work with other academic departments of the university to ensure that students feel secure.
A: Right, so I shouldn’t have to see him around campus, but because we’re in the same program and Title IX doesn’t coordinate with anybody to make either of us more comfortable, it makes the whole situation more awkward and complex.