Here is what you missed from a conversation about sexual assault

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The Taylor cultural hall before the "Conversation about sexual assault" event. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

On a Wednesday evening, I walked into the Taylor Cultural Hall. I was thirty minutes early so the room was still dark, but ready to go with rows of chairs and three microphones. I shared a few smiles with others who slowly started to trickle in as I snapped photos of the empty room.

I have to admit I felt a bit nervous. This topic was sensitive, especially for a school like BYU-Idaho. Many other students felt the same as I talked with them, feelings of excitement, anxiousness and some uncertainty.

Nick Rammell, the BYU-I Title IX Coordinator, met with students, faculty and staff for a conversation about sexual assault. As someone who has been researching the topic all year long, I found myself surprised by how much I learned.

Here are some of the questions asked at the event and the answers to them:

What is considered sexual assault?

At the event, Rammell shared parts of BYU-I’s Sexual Harassment Policy.

According to the policy, “Sexual Harassment means any sexual act directed against the Complainant without the Complainant’s Consent. Sexual Assault includes fondling, incest, rape, sexual assault with an object, sodomy, and statutory rape.”

Nick Rammell, the BYU-Idaho Title IX coordinator, speaking at the "Conversation about sexual assault" event.
Nick Rammell, the BYU-Idaho Title IX coordinator, speaking at the “Conversation about sexual assault” event. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

What is consent?

How do I know whether my date has consented? How do you define consent? Is pressuring someone into sex after they said “no” considered rape?

Rammell shared in his presentation that consent is “the affirmative, voluntary agreement by word or action to engage in specific sexual activity.”

He also explained that consent to any sexual activity or prior consensual activity between or with any party does not mean that the consent still stands with future or any other activity. Consent can also be withdrawn, even if it was initially given, through words or conduct at any time prior to or during sexual activity.

Rammell’s presentation also points out that, “An individual who is asleep, or mentally or physically incapacitated, either through the effect of drugs or alcohol or for any other reason, or who was under duress, threat, coercion, or force, or was otherwise incapable of consenting under applicable law, would not be able to consent.”

Matt Maroon, part of BYU-I faculty, asking a question about the percentage of sexual assaults at BYU-I.
Matt Maroon, part of BYU-I faculty, asking a question about the percentage of sexual assaults at BYU-I. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

What can I do to prevent myself from being assaulted?

“You can’t do anything,” Rammell said.

It isn’t possible to control the behavior of another. He explained that although we can’t control whether or not we are assaulted, we can reduce the likelihood of it happening. This doesn’t mean that it is ever a victim’s fault for being assaulted, but things can be done to decrease the risk of it occurring.

So what can we do? Rammell said dating apps are commonly involved in the reports he receives—a student matches with someone they don’t know and end up in a secluded place with no one around to help when it’s needed. In many cases he deals with, students have typically been assaulted while alone in cars, hot tubs or bedrooms.

He provided several suggestions, the same that were sent out in an official notice at the start of the semester, for students to consider:

— Don’t allow yourself to be talked into anything. Be independent and aware in social settings. Express opinions on where to go and appropriate places to meet.

— Meet in a public place with good lighting. If the person you meet online insists you meet at his or her apartment or somewhere private, this is a red flag. A busy daytime location may not seem the ideal setting for a first date, but others will be around if an unsafe situation arises.

— Tell at least one friend where you are going and who you are meeting. Getting your date’s first and last name prior to a meeting is always a good idea.

— Remember that it takes time to build healthy relationships and to truly get to know an individual. Arrange group or double dates to give you time to get to know someone well.

— If possible, make your own travel arrangements to/from a first date.

— Avoid situations where alcoholic beverages or drugs are available. If you unintentionally find yourself in a difficult situation, leave immediately and encourage your friends to leave with you.

– Do not hesitate to leave if you are in a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous, or afraid, even if an early departure seems rude. Exercise good judgment, and above all, trust your instincts.

Emily "Frank" Herron, a BYU-I student studying creative writing, asking a question to Rammell.
Emily “Frank” Herron, a BYU-I student studying creative writing, asking a question to Rammell. Photo credit: Julia Brunette

Will I be kicked out of school for being a victim of sexual assault?

The BYU-I Sexual Harassment Policy states, “Being a victim of Sexual Misconduct is never a violation of the CES Honor Code.”

But there is still uncertainty with some students. How does the campus respond and treat students when they are intoxicated or weren’t dressing modestly and are sexually assaulted? Do they blame the victim or focus on the perpetrator? And what about the relationship between the Title IX Office and Student Honor Office — can a victim of sexual assault be kicked out of school for being a victim?

To answer these questions Rammell discussed a section of the sexual harassment policy that talks about confidentiality, amnesty and leniency. The university wants to encourage students to report sexual harassment because they recognize the fear that many students have regarding Honor Code violations, like drug or alcohol use.

The Title IX Office will not share the identity of a victim or witness who reports sexual assault with the Student Honor Office unless requested by the student. Amnesty means a victim or witness will not be disciplined by the university for any related honor code violations arising out of the same facts or circumstances as the report. And to encourage the reporting of sexual assault, the university will also offer leniency to victims and witnesses for Honor Code violations that are not related to the incident but which may be discovered during an investigation of a sexual assault.

What else is important to know?

Supportive Measures are available to students. According to BYU-I’s Sexual Harassment Policy, “Supportive Measures means non-disciplinary, non-punitive, individualized services offered as appropriate, as reasonably available, and without fee or charge to the Complainant or the Respondent before or after the filing of a Formal Complaint or where no Formal Complaint has been filed. Supportive Measures are measures designed to restore or preserve equal access to the Education Program or Activity of BYU-Idaho without unreasonably burdening the other party, including measures designed to protect the safety of all parties or the university’s educational environment or deter sexual harassment. Supportive measures may include counseling, extensions of deadlines or other course-related adjustments, modifications of work or class schedules, safety escorts, mutual restrictions on contact between the parties, changes in work or housing locations, leaves of absence, increased security, and monitoring of certain areas of the campus, and other similar measures.”

What are the steps for reporting abuse or assault? This process is explained well in the Sexual Harassment policy and Rammell referred to its contents when answering this question. The decision of whether to report an assault is a difficult one for most people, and Rammell acknowledged the confusion described by many students about what to report and where.

“Sometimes a student doesn’t want to talk about what happened to them, and that’s ok, but what they’re really looking for is someone who can help keep them safe and explain their options,” Rammell said as he explained that there are supportive measures to students even in the absence of a report.

When a student comes to the Title IX Office, Rammell said he’s usually focused on the student’s safety and support.

“It’s hard to focus on making a report if you don’t feel safe or have the support you need,” Rammell said.

When those issues are addressed, Rammell will explain all reporting options to students and answer any questions they have about those processes. Rammell welcomes the opportunity to visit with any student with any question, and they don’t need to share their name or identity until they are comfortable sharing it.

Resources for students:

— Nick Rammell, the Title IX coordinator: 290 Spencer W. Kimball Administrative Building, 208-496-9209, rammelln@byui.edu.

— Emily Brumbaugh, sexual assault support counselor: BYU-I Counseling Center, 285 Student Health Center, 208-496-9370, brumbaughe@byui.edu.

BYU-I’s policy on sexual harassment.

— The RAINN website for hotlines and crisis help.