Universities Face Fire for Campus Sexual Assault Cases

By Jada Vanderpool

As media coverage of sexual assault and date rape intensifies, colleges and universities are coming under increased criticism for their handling of cases on campuses.

In March, a Morgan State student reported being raped in off-campus housing.

The Baltimore state attorney office investigated the claim and said there was not enough evidence for prosecution.

“The state’s attorney did not desire to prosecute that particular case so they didn’t follow it up for reasons unknown to me,” said Adrian Wiggins, Morgan’s executive director of Campus and Public Safety.

“They have their own reason. There’s a certain amount of probable causes that has to be there, certain evidence and such, so the state declined to take the case.”

Under Title IX gender-equity law, schools are required to respond to assault claims separate from the law enforcement within a semester (approximately 60 days).

Four months later, Morgan did not handle the sexual assault report, and the U.S. Department of Education, which examines how schools handle sex crimes, opened an investigation.

The university is one of  74 schools that are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for mishandling or not reporting sexual assault cases.

Morgan’s case comes at a time when campus officials around the counter are coming under fire for their inadequate responses to sexual assault cases.

For instance, Lincoln University President Robert E. Jennings is under scrutiny after a YouTube video surfaced with him giving questionable advice to female students about sexual assault during an-all women’s convocation at the school on Nov. 15.

“Don’t put yourself in a situation that would cause you to be trying to explain something that really needs no explanation had you not put yourself in that situation,” Jennings said.

Last semester, the university had three alleged cases of sexual assault, but only one was reported to the school. That case could not be prosecuted because prosecutors could not prove that the assault had really happened. Nonetheless, on Nov. 24, the president resigned under pressure.

Weeks prior to Lincoln, Princeton ended a four-year investigation into allegations that it failed to follow up on several sexual assault cases.

The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights ruled that the school violated gender equality under Title IX.

The Ivy League will reimburse some of the tuition and fees for three of the victims.

Title IX authorizes campus security or police departments to handle investigations for sexual assault cases. The 1992 Jeanne Clery Act mandates that campus security also report sexual assault crimes on campus, in areas adjacent to the campus and certain off-campus facilities that relate to the school and mandates that all crimes are reported and publicized.

Wiggins said, “One of our primary objectives is to gather evidence for the university for whatever information they need for whatever investigation they need to do, and of course for the police department to investigate the crime so that we can prosecute offenders, should they be identified and if there’s a probable cause.”

According to the Campus and Public Fire Safety report, students, employees and guests should immediately report incidents to Morgan’s Department of Police and Public Safety.

At Morgan, to file a sexual assault complaint, students are to contact the school department of Police and Public Safety, though students are likely to confide in other officials who they have a relationship with first.

“Your counselors are exempt [from reporting sexual assault] because they have a professional relationship,” said Wiggins. “But they also know that if it’s a sex offense they’re going to encourage the person to go to the police and they will help the person contact the police.”

Wiggins said students are likely to tell student affairs, coaches, trainers, resident hall advisors and faculty advisors before they file crime reports with the police.

In the university’s 2014 safety report, Morgan police reported two sexual offenses on campus residential facilities in 2013, one on campus in  2012, and one on on campus and non-campus buildings or property sexual assault in 2011. 

Morgan’s Women Gender Studies Program works to make women conscious of assault.

“Rape is about power, said Takarra Brunson, history professor and member of the Women Gender Studies Program at Morgan. “It’s about how people choose to exert power over another person. And that could be caused by a range of factors.”

“Peer pressure can also be rape,” said Brunson. “You may not be able to prosecute someone for it but it is rape.”

In September, the White House launched “It’s On Us” to spread awareness to sexual assault.

Dr. OluwaTosin Adegbola, Chair of the Strategic Communications Department in Morgan’s School of Global Journalism and Communications and Brittany Robinson, senior and campaign manager for Morgan’s “It’s on Us” brought it to the school in October and spread awareness to the campus community through several activities.

Robinson said the campaign could have been more successful.

“Sexual assault is a major issue for students who attend a university,” she said. “It had some impact on some student’s life, [but] we wanted to really impact the lives of everyone on campus.”

Brunson believes a clear understanding of the definition of consensual sex is necessary to end sexual assault at colleges.

“People need to be honest with themselves, and just say, ‘I’m getting ready to try to have sex with this person, they don’t seem like they’re 100 percent comfortable but I want it,”’ said Brunson.

“If they don’t seem comfortable just stop and walk away.”