Each year 207,754 people fall victim to sexual assault and rape, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Many cases, though, never get reported, leaving the perpetrator to go free.
This did not happen for Jane Doe* and several other women at Mercyhurst University. A federal law and university action taken as part of that law made sure of that.
In the Oct. 24, 2012, issue of The Merciad, an article titled “When she says ‘no’ and he says ‘yes’” reported on the types of sexual violence as well as what students should do when faced with this situation.
One victim of sexual violence, Doe, also told her story.
While Doe talked to Police & Safety, a resident assistant (RA) and other members of ResLife, her case was not pursued. According to Tobin, based on initial reports, no action was warranted.
After the Oct. 24 issue was published, several other students came forward about their own situations, each naming the same perpetrator and providing new information.
According to Vice President for Student Life Gerry Tobin, Ph.D., the situation has now been resolved. He said the university launched an investigation in November 2012 after the students formally made their accusations about the alleged perpetrator. The university completed that investigation in recent weeks, convened a hearing and expelled the person. That person is no longer connected with Mercyhurst.
A major part in this decision was the federal law known as Title IX. While Title IX is credited with expanding collegiate sports for women to have the same athletic opportunities as college men, it actually has a broader reach. Tobin explained that Title IX also emphasizes the need to protect people of both genders from becoming future victims.
Thus, Mercyhurst was obligated under federal law to look into the matter of Jane doe and the others. Enforcing university compliance is the U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights.
“Title IX will be with us for a good long time so we need to understand it well and apply the principles,” Tobin said.
Looking ahead, Tobin explained that students also need to look out for each other, particularly when consuming alcohol.
Tobin states that nationwide there are over 100,000 reported sexual assaults attributed to alcohol involvement, but that is only what is reported.
“Some of the perpetrators may be doing something drunk that they would have never done sober,” said Tobin. “There’s a responsibility we need to take for ourselves and our friends need to take for us as well.”
Tobin currently meets with every freshman and sophomore after their first alcohol offense to talk about taking responsibility and to highlight the number of incidents involving death and sexual assault.
He additionally suggests that all students have a friend who will remain sober or below the level of intoxication who will make sure his or her friends get home safely, and stay out of trouble.
“Probably one of the saddest stories I listened to when I was Director of the Counseling Center,” said Tobin, “was a student who was being criminally charged with sexual assault who wept in my office and said that he had no idea what he had even done. Now his life and someone else’s life are changed forever. That is avoidable suffering.”
If it happens to you, contact Erie Police Department, (814) 870-1125; your RA; Police & Safety, (814) 824-2304; Title IX Coordinator attorney Meredith Bollheimer, (814) 824-3363; Counseling Center, (814) 824-3650. A counselor is always on call even when the Counseling Center is closed.
*Editor’s note: The name of Jane Doe was changed to protect identity of innocent.