The Health Center, just one of the many resources available to survivors of sexual assault, offers medical care and psychological counseling.
Safer is fighting a misconception that college campuses don’t reprimand students found guilty of sexual assault.
“That has been thought, but we’re trying to change that,” Safer Coordinator Christina Kaviani said.
Jean DeCosta, Dean of Students and Cal Poly’s Title IX coordinator, has the responsibility of taking a statement from the survivor (also know as the complainant) about what occurred and letting the student know what can be done to help him or her.
For example, if the alleged perpetrator has classes with the survivor, lives in the same residence hall or frequently sees them on campus, DeCosta’s job is to do what she can “so the complainant can resume their education without feeling additionally harassed,” DeCosta said.
DeCosta focuses more on safety and education, while reprehension falls under the jurisdiction of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, DeCosta said.
At that point, the investigation moves to Adrienne Miller, director of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
“The way that works is I receive a report, then I would conduct an investigation based on (DeCosta’s) investigations, then I would move forward with the disciplinary process,” Miller said.
Expulsion, a permanent separation from the whole California State University system, is rare. It would take something that “really endangers the entire community” to warrant an expulsion, Miller said.
DeCosta said she has seen approximately 10 to 12 cases of sexual assault since she became the Title IX coordinator in late 2011. The majority of these cases were “alcohol-related non-stranger sexual assault,” which is probably why these cases don’t go to the police, she said.
“Many times a survivor doesn’t want the person removed from campus,” DeCosta said. “They just want to be left alone.”
For legal cases, the standard of proof is 98 percent, or beyond a reasonable doubt, Miller said. The standard of proof for Cal Poly is 51 percent — meaning that it happened more likely than not. So, if there is not enough evidence for a legal case, Miller said the school provides a back-up and can impose solutions to make the survivor safer.
“The reason the federal government has given the university so much responsibility for responding to these cases is that so many times these look like ‘hook-ups,’ Miller said. “And looking like a hook-up makes legal action really hard.”
The number of cases that cross Miller’s desk is less than 10, she said.
“But the number is increasing all the time as we get the word out about reporting and as the university is taking more action,” she said.
The alleged perpetrator can defend themselves and explain their part of the story because they have the same due process rights as the survivor, DeCosta said.
“The intention is that we get them educated on respect and boundaries, appropriate behavior and the impact of alcohol on one’s decision making,” she said.
DeCosta’s office is also always open for answering any questions.
“My job is to support both students equally and I hope I do that well, because that’s important to me,” she said.
Health and Counseling Services at the Health Center provide both medical care and psychological counseling for the survivor, Dr. Karen Hord, interim head of Medical Services, said.
Students have two options: they can go to the health center for counseling — where they have the option to report the incident to the police. They may also use the center for health services; however, the clinic is required to report sexual assaults to the police.
“That does not mean that you have to press charges, take an exam or anything more extensive,” Dr. Hord said, “it just means we have to make a report.”
The Health Center does provide screenings for STIs, treatment for STIs and a rape kit if the victim chooses, which is effective up to five days after the attack, she said.
Counseling services usually consist of four to six visits. If the survivor wants to continue, counseling services will establish long-term counseling with an agency in the community, Dr. Hord said.
Safer offers crisis counseling. Safer’s main role is to make sure the survivor is safe and create an action plan, Kaviani said. For example, she will sit down with the survivor and talk with them about how are they going to get through that week or month. She will also help them make counseling appointments or coach them on how to tell their parents.
“And I’ll walk by their side through it,” Kaviani said.
What is sexual assault?
The Campus Administrative Policies website defines sexual assault as “any sexual act or attempted sexual act in which a person is threatened, coerced, or forced to comply against his or her will, or he or she is incapable of giving consent or is unconscious of the nature of the act.”
There were between 45 and 50 assaults reported to Safer during the 2011-2012 school year, and a majority of those were sexual assaults, Kaviani said. The numbers this past year were similar, she said.
However, less than 5 percent of survivors report incidents, so the numbers are never truly accurate, she said.
“What’s circled around sexual assault is silence,” Kaviani said.
Many students who have been accused of sexual assault see the incident differently, Kaviani said. Instead of receiving clear consent, people sometimes take non-verbal cues. They assume, since they aren’t being directly told “no,” they can continue, she said. When alcohol is thrown in, it “can be a disaster,” she said.
“The clarity would happen if there was more communication on both ends,” Kaviani said, “because, really, it’s the responsibility of both people to communicate what they want and what they need when you’re being intimate in a situation like that.”
What is consent?
According to the website, the California Penal Code Sec. 261.6 defines consent as “positive cooperation in act or attitude pursuant to an exercise of free will. The person must act freely and voluntarily and have knowledge of the nature of the act or transaction involved. A current or previous dating or marital relationship shall not be sufficient to constitute consent where consent is at issue in a prosecution (for sexual assault).”
Students may feel they can’t relate to survivors because they don’t know anyone who has been assaulted, they would never do it or would never be assaulted, Kaviani said. However, students should challenge themselves to stand up when they see bad things happening, she said.
“That personally is active for them,” Kaviani said, “and it needs to happen if we want to make that bigger change.”