What happens next? Uncovering the problematic issues behind reporting sexual assault
Updated at 10:02 p.m. on Oct. 14
*The map below depicts crimes on SMU campus from January 2016 to September 2016. Certain crimes where a mappable location was not given is not represented in this map. The marker locations are based on the address of the location on the crime log and not the exact position that the crime took place. The different categories were chosen by the map creator. A sexual crime was categorized as any crime containing the word “sex”. A violent crime was categorized as any crime containing the words “harassment” or “stalking”. A substance abuse crime was categorized as any crime containing the words “consumption”, “alcohol”, “marijuana”, “intoxication” or “drug”. A theft crime was categorized as any crime containing the words “theft” or “burglary”. A fire crime was categorized as any crime containing the word “fire”. All other crimes were categorized as “other”. Graphic by Jacquelyn Elias.
On Oct. 9, the SMU police department crime and fire log showed a student reported sexual assault on 3050 SMU Blvd. at 3:11 a.m. The case is an active disposition and the incident is filed as a sexual offense, yet there was no crime alert issued later that day, week, or at all.
According to the SMU police department website, crime alerts and SMU Aware emails are issued to notify the campus community about “certain reportable criminal incidents the institution believes may pose a continuing threat to the community” and “hopefully aid in the prevention of similar crimes in the future.”
But when certain crimes, especially ones related to sexual assault, are not apparent to the public, how will SMU community members stay informed and know what to do in case it happens to them?
Moreover, for the ones who choose to report a crime, updates are seldom available, leading us to wonder: “what happens after SMU Aware reports are sent?”
SEXUAL ASSAULT DEFINED
According to Dr. Joanne Vogel, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student life, sexual assault continues to be an underreported crime across the country, despite the multiple preventative task forces implemented on campus.
At SMU, Vogel said policy states sexual misconduct is a violation of SMU’s Title IX Harassment Policy, Policy 2.5.1 and of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex.
“SMU defines two forms of sexual assault: non-consensual sexual contact and non-consensual sexual intercourse,” Vogel said.
“Non-consensual sexual contact means any intentional sexual touching, however slight, with any object, by a man or woman upon a man or woman that is without consent and/or by force. Non-consensual sexual intercourse means any sexual intercourse, however slight, with any object, by a man or woman upon a man or woman that is without consent and/or by force.”
In addition to violating SMU policy and federal law, Vogel said sexual assault is “a punishable crime under Texas law by two to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.”
SMU police chief Richard Shafer said while different agencies define terms differently, SMU police classifies sex offenses by the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System of the Uniform Crime Reporting program. Federal law requires SMU to use these FBI definitions in its Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, or Clery report.
Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, as follows:
Sexual assault is defined as an offense that meets the definition of rape, fondling, incest or statutory Rape as used in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, as follows:
Sex offenses – Forcible
Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent.
- Forcible rape – The carnal knowledge of a person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity (or because of his/her youth).
- Forcible sodomy – Oral or anal sexual intercourse with another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
- Sexual assault with an object – The use of an object or instrument to unlawfully penetrate, however slightly, the genital or anal opening of the body of another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will, where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.
- Forcible fondling – The touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or, not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her youth or because of his/her temporary or permanent mental incapacity.
Sex offenses – Non-forcible
- Incest – Non-forcible sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law.
- Statutory rape – Non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent.
This punishable crime is still an issue exists on campus, and based on SMU police crime logs, has increased within the past two years. While quantitatively these numbers have increased, this also could be attributed to more victims reporting the crime.
RECENT HISTORY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT ON CAMPUS
In 2015, three sexual assaults were reported to SMU police; in 2016, five sexual assaults and two reported sexual offenses were reported.
The 2015 sexual assault reports were filed on Aug. 26 and Sept. 26 by SMU police with one delayed reported to authorities on Oct. 2.
The 2016 sexual assault reports were filed on Jan. 1, Jan. 22, Feb. 12, April 8, June 21, July 19 and Sept. 5. One report was delayed to police. Two were reported to campus security authorities forwarded to SMU police.
The most recent sexual assault on Sept. 5 was the first reported case for the fall 2016 semester, said Shafer.
“[The case was] also was the first SMU police report of a sexual assault by two assailants in many years,” he said.
HOW SMU POLICE HANDLES SEXUAL ASSAULT REPORTS
“Once a person reports an on-campus sexual assault to SMU police, the immediate priority is the victim’s safety and well-being, as well as the safety of the campus community,” Shafer said.
SMU police officers trained in supporting sexual assault victims provide information about resources and take the victim to the SANE program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital where the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center (DARCC) also has confidential counselors at the hospital.
“When a victim makes a report to police, the police will request information about the circumstances of the sexual assault and the alleged perpetrator in order to aid the investigation and build a criminal case,” Shafer said.
SMU police also notifies the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office that a sexual assault has been reported and is under investigation.
Crime alerts are issued if the University believes that the alleged perpetrator may pose a continuing or serious threat to the community, or that the alert will aid in the prevention of similar crimes in the future.
In their operations and criminal investigations, “SMU police follow state and federal rules of procedure and evidence,” Shafer said. The investigation includes gathering evidence, witness statements, and obtaining search warrants and arrest warrants from a judge.
SMU police also notify the SMU Title IX coordinator that a sexual assault has been reported. The coordinator will provide information about the victim’s option to also pursue an SMU grievance process under university policy, in addition to the criminal process.
PURSUING CRIMINAL CHARGES OR OTHER ACTIONS
When an alleged sexual assault victim decides to pursue criminal charges, a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office determines whether sufficient evidence exists to press charges and present the case to a grand jury to obtain an indictment after SMU police present findings from the investigation, Shafer said. “This is called prosecutorial discretion.”
The procedure decides whether to present the case to a grand jury to obtain an indictment and proceed with a trial in a Texas criminal court. At trial, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime.
At any time throughout this process, the alleged victim can choose to not proceed, according to Shafer.
“The alleged victim has the right to decide at any time not to pursue criminal charges and can sign an affidavit of non-prosecution,” he said.
There are also alternative options outside of pursuing criminal charges.
Shafer said the alleged victim also can report the incident as an internal SMU grievance without taking legal action.
“These two different investigation act independently of each other, so one or the other or both can be pursued simultaneously,” he said.
Once a student files a complaint, the SMU Office of Institutional Access and Equity (IAE) starts an investigation independent of the legal investigation. This includes interviews with the alleged victim, the alleged assailant and witnesses. IAE also notifies the alleged assailant of his rights throughout the process.
“Students reporting sexual assault are encouraged to share as much information as they are comfortable sharing,” said SMU Title IX coordinator Samantha Thomas.
At the end of the investigation, both the alleged victim and the alleged assailant receive a decision from IAE.
If the alleged assailant is found guilty, the SMU office of student conduct and community standards will host a hearing with the alleged victim and the alleged assailant and give sanctions, which can include up to expulsion from the University.
According to SMU records, within the past five years only one case involving an alleged sexual assault on-campus went to trial in 2013.
However, the next year, there were also two lawsuits that involved allegations of sexual assault naming SMU as a defendant or co-defendant, according to Shafer.
“These lawsuits are part of the civil court system,” Shafer said. “It is another available avenue to sexual assault victims, in addition to the criminal court system.”
Victims may choose to file a lawsuit in a civil court in order to determine whether an offender or third party is liable for injuries sustained as the result of a crime and to seek monetary damages.
SMU GRIEVANCE PROCESS
While the legal and criminal processes include many steps, SMU offers a variety of support systems for the alleged victim or alleged assailant.
“SMU can assist students by providing no-contact orders, letters to professors requesting leniency, escort and transportation services, classroom and housing accommodations, assistance filing protective orders through the district attorney’s office and assistance contacting local law enforcement if the sexual assault occurred off campus,” Thomas said.
Legally, crime victims in Texas are also guaranteed certain rights by the Texas Attorney State General. Some of which include:
- A sexual assault victim can apply for a protective order, which is a civil court order that orders a person not to hurt or threaten to hurt the protected person, and not to contact or approach the protected person. SMU police can provide information about the application process.
- Texas Penal Code 36.06 “Obstruction or Retaliation” makes it a crime to harm or threaten to harm a victim or witness to a crime.
- Alleged assailants have protections under the U.S. Bill of Rights and the Texas Bill of Rights. Section 10 of the Texas Bill of Rights contains the full rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions here.
SAFETY AND PREVENTION
No crime nor legal system is perfect, even on the small scope of a college campus.
However, at SMU, police put in efforts to protect students on campus. A few examples include 24-hour patrol every day of the week, coordinating actions with neighboring agencies and criminal investigations with the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office and installing emergency blue-light phones connected directly to SMU police.
SMU police also provide security assessments, crime prevention education and self-defense training, and are available upon call request. Campus security is thoroughly trained on the matter, from meetings with Dallas County Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), which focuses on serving victims’ needs and on crime prevention and education. SART includes officials with the Dallas Police Department and Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, as well as forensic specialists, victim advocates and sexual assault nurse examiners.
In reality, there is no quantifiable amount of safety knowledge, procedures, statistics or information that can prevent sexual assault from occurring. For students who choose not to file a lawsuit, police report or are unsure what to do, there are other on-campus solutions.
Jacqui Jacobi, a Not on My Campus rep, said the organization is a “resource for other resources, where we can help victims find the next step, whether that’s reporting to the university, going to the hospital, talking with a counselor or other professional, or taking legal action.”
“We are not here to provide medical attention or counseling ourselves,” Jacqui said.
“[But] we are a stepping stone to all of the resources available to victims, both at SMU and in Dallas.”
Jacqui said a few great on-campus resources are SMU’s Office of Psychological Services for Women and Gender Issues (214-768-4765), Counseling Services (214-768-2277), the Health Center (214-768-2141) and the Office of the Chaplain (214-768-4502).
IN CASE OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Call police as soon as possible.
SMU police, 214-768-3333 from cell phone, 911 from campus phone, or pick up a blue-light campus phone
If off-campus, 911 to reach police in your area or 214-768-3333 for SMU Police
Seek medical care immediately and preserve evidence.
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, 214-345-6203
For confidential counseling and assistance, contact:
SMU Counseling Services, 214-768-2277
SMU Chaplain’s Office, 214-768-4502
Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, 972-641-7273
Know your rights under Title IX.
SMU Title IX Coordinator, 214-768-3601
And know that other SMU resources also are here to help.
Office of the Dean of Student Life, 214-768-4564
Office of Violence Prevention & Support Services, 214-768-4512
Women & LGBT Center, 214-768-4792
Residence Life and Student Housing, 214-768-2407
Learn more at smu.edu/GetHelp