SAVANNAH, Ga – For many students, sexual assault isn’t just a statistic, but a personal reality.
“it is something that is in the back of your minds be it you have your keys in your fingers as you’re walking to your car,” Armstrong State University Senior Victoria Klein said.
While Klein says she hasn’t been a victim, she says she has friends who have been sexually assaulted.
“Knowing what they go through and what they still go through every day like it definitely makes it a bigger more important issue than just maybe they don’t feel comfortable talking about it. So maybe I can help spread awareness as well,” Klein said.
Klein is a member of Feminists United, a student group on Armstrong’s campus that raises awareness about equality and justice when it comes to domestic and sexual assault.
“It could happen to anyone pretty much, ” she said.
According to a recent 2015 survey, more than ten percent of all college students – male and female – say they’ve been sexually assaulted. The study revealed, in most cases, the attacker is not a complete stranger to the victim. It was also revealed
If a student is assaulted on campus it’s important to know their options for what’s next. WSAV spoke to both Armstrong State University and Savannah State University.
Savannah State University:
In 2015, Savannah State had six reported cases of sexual assault on campus. So far in 2016, it has had four cases.
If a student, “goes to a faculty member, staff member, or a student even there is a reporting process. And that reporting process starts with our Title IX coordinator who from that point conducts the investigation,” Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. F Carl Walton said.
New this school year, if an incident happens on campus students will be redirected to the Title IX office. From there the student would sit down with a Title IX investigator to first assess the well-being of the student. From there the student would be made aware of his or her options. According to S.S.U.’s Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management and Dean of Students Bonita Bradley, the alleged victim has a strong influence in the forward action. It would be up to the student if they want to report to the police. By coming forward to the Title IX office an internal investigation would be initiated regardless of a person’s intent to press criminal charges. That investigation would be surrounding university related affairs including possible suspension, expulsion, living arrangements and other request brought forward by the alleged victim and made aware by the Title IX office.
The internal investigation would be compiled of gathering evidence of the alleged incident. The Title IX office would also conduct interviews with both the alleged attacker and alleged victim to determine whether the incident is able to be substantiated.
From there a university board would review the case and make a determination for further action. The alleged attacker does have the right to know the circumstances and developments of the investigation. Once a decision has been made Bradley says the alleged attacker has three days to refute the decision of the board. The alleged victim has five to ten business days.
Bradley said the university, barring external involvement, looks to have each investigation completed within 90 days.
Bradley said if the victim wants to involve the Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department, the student would also be put in contact with the Rape Crisis Center of Coastal Empire, which provides support, advocacy, education and prevention services to students as well as members of the community at large. From there, students would be able to choose full or partial police sexual assault investigation. More below on details of police involvement.
Armstrong State University:
In 2015 there was one reported case of sexual assault on campus. In 2016 there is one currently under investigation.
“One is too many. Two is certainly too many,” Dean of Students Andrew Dies said. “It’s a problem that every campus is struggling with not only with the reports that we do get but the reports that we don’t get. So really we all have to work together.”
Students at Armstrong, like Savannah State, have options if they choose to speak out of not. Both schools follow guidelines and policies as part of the University System of Georgia.
“There are three different options,” Dies said.
“One is to do nothing. To not report it to university police or Savannah Metro, depending on where it happened. So that’s option one. Option two is to report it to someone at the university. And that could initiate our student integrity process. Or Title IX process. And then third is going to the local police department,” he said.
Dies said if a student comes forward to the university they can either go through the Dean of Student’s office or through A.S.U.’s Title IX office. The most important thing to him is that the individual comes forward and speaks out. More than half of all students around the country don’t report if they are sexually assaulted.
“Please come talk to us. You as a complainant have a large part in the decision making process on what the university does,” Dies said. “So we’ve had students come and report and don’t want the university to do anything. They just wanted somebody to know.”
Dies said Armstrong looks to have a majority of it’s cases completed within 60 days.
Again if a student chooses to go through the Title IX process, it is still up the individual to decided whether to press charges. The two actions are separate from each other.
To learn more about the Title IX process and the schools misconduct policy as well as who someone would report to should an incident occur on campus, click here.
Savannah Metro Police Department:
In 2015 there were 190 sexual assault incidents reported to the Savannah Metro Police Department. 35 involved people between the ages of 18 to 23. So far in 2016, at the time of this report, there have been 135 cases reported with 35 of them being between the ages of 18 to 23.
If someone chooses to get the police involved whether by choices or the incident occurred off campus, Special Victims Unit Sergeant Tiffany Manuel answers the call.
“As a victim if you’re assault, get to a safe place first. Get somewhere safe and then call 911. From there the officer will come get the report. He contact myself and we’ll get you a detective and get you over to a hospital and rape kit,” Manuel said.
Manuel and metro say they treat rape or sexual assault claims with the utmost sincerity.
“If you were raped five years ago and you report it today, well still look into it,” she said. “The statute of limitation on a rape is very different that other criminal charged it’s treated more like a homicide.”
But there is another time limit.
“To do a sexual assault exam we go off about 120 hours. It kinda varies case to case but that the estimate we use to do a sexual assault kit however we can do a report for much longer than that but we can do a kit,” she said.
While Manuel admits a police investigation can be daunting she says it has exponential benefits.
“During a police investigation, you will have to repeat your story. Unfortunately it will be more than one time. With a rape victim you recall different things in the night of you’re going to recall certain things and then a few days later they say about three sleep cycles you actually will remember more information,” she said.
Despite an increase in reports and resources over the past decade, Manuel says, “there’s much to be done” especially with education.
“It’s important for male parties to understand that you’re all out drinking and she’s really intoxicated and she says ‘yes,’ that it also doesn’t mean ‘yes.’ And when she says ‘no’ she mean ‘no’ and I should just say she, because males are also victims. We’ve had more reported here recently but it’s still under reported because males are afraid to report,” she said.
Both Savannah State and Armstrong State have educational opportunities for students and staff.
“I just feel like it’s a big issue nationwide, not really here on campus but it’s better to start somewhere here so it’ won’t spread out into the community,” Savannah State Junior Latonia Hunt said. Hunt is the leader of The Lighthouse Project which advocates for assault victims on campus.
Dies admits that there’s work to be done not only on campuses but in the minds of everyone.
“As a country we’re not that understanding of complaints of victims of sexual assault. So I think there’s just a lot of this societal and social pressures and some self-blame has a piece of it,” she said.
Klein says she understands why people stay silent but still seem room for improvement.
“I can see why a lot of people, a lot of victims don’t come forward because if they do they believe nothing’s going to happen. So I think that not just Armstrong or a community but the national in general we could do better on that front,” she said.
By raising awareness about the important of speaking out, Dies and all parties interview hope there can be a change in culture.
“With safety and with sexual assault is keeping the conversation alive so that we’re not only taking about it when something happens,” he said.
The 24/7 Crisis Line for the Rape Crisis Center of Coastal Empire is (912) 233-7273 and the office number is (912) 233-3000.