She tried every excuse, but he saw through them all. She felt like she had no choice but to go up to his room.
He started to make moves on her.
“No further,” she insisted. “No further.”
But he didn’t listen.
Mercyhurst student Jane Doe* was a victim of sexual coercion.
One in four women on U.S. college campuses have had unwanted sexual intercourse, but it is frequently kept a secret, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Mercyhurst University Counseling Center Social Worker Michelle Tobin explains that most victims of sexual violence don’t usually speak up about it because they think it is their fault.
She said that approximately five people a year come in immediately after the incident and approximately 20 talk to the counselors about an incident happening at some point while a student at Mercyhurst.
“Then there are the ones who don’t report it,” Tobin said.
Doe is one person who was able to seek help.
Doe’s experience started as an average Friday night at the Cornerstone.
She had some drinks, but not enough to get drunk.
Doe saw a guy at the bar that she was acquainted with and decided to talk to him. They talked and after a while she decided to go home.
He offered to walk her back to her apartment.
Next thing she knew, she was outside his building on campus and being pressured to go see his place.
She ran out of excuses and felt she had to go with him.
“I told him that I didn’t want to have sex with him, but apparently that didn’t matter,” Doe said.
She kept saying no, but he kept going further with her. He had his way and completed a sexual act.
Eventually, she left his apartment.
“He knew he could convince me after I said no,” said Doe. “He made me feel like I owed him something.”
She explained that in the days that followed she at first felt guilty and upset with herself, but after going to the Counseling Center she realized it wasn’t her fault, and she became angry that he went that far.
“It’s not always going to be a guy with a knife,” said Doe. “It could be a friend who doesn’t know what ‘no’ means.”
She reported her incident to a resident assistant (RA) and she pursued her case, but nothing came of it.
Women in college – and at Mercyhurst – have options when something like Jane Doe’s incident occurs.
According to Mercyhurst’s Compliance Officer and Title IX Coordinator, attorney Meredith Bollheimer, when word of a sexual crime is reported, it is the university’s job to investigate.
Title IX is a piece of federal legislation that sets out rules that colleges and universities must follow when it comes to gender and sex discrimination on campus. One of these areas is focused on sexual violence.
While Pennsylvania state law defines types of sexual violence and their punishments differently, under Title IX, Mercyhurst treats all types of sexual violence the same. These types of sexual violence include rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual coercion. Doe’s case is best described as sexual coercion.
Bollheimer explained that the university only needs a “preponderance of the evidence” in order to reprimand the offender.
Every case is done on a case-by-case basis, Bollheimer said, but the “presumptive sanction” for someone found guilty of any type of sexual violence is expulsion.
If a victim wants to press charges, the case should go to Police & Safety or to Erie Police. Otherwise, according to Director of Residence Life Alice Agnew, if a case is to stay on campus it is the job of Residence Life to investigate it.
If a victim drops the case, according to Title IX the university has an obligation to continue the investigation.
Acknowledging a sexual assault is an important step for a victim.
“Come in and talk to someone,” said Tobin. “It’s just like any other traumatic event.”
She added that, like any other traumatic event, mental side effects can occur such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and acting out.
“Don’t be responsible for ruining someone’s college experience,” said Tobin. “If she says ‘no’ one time, don’t ask again.”
In Doe’s case, nothing happened to the male even though college officials did become aware of the incident through other sources. She didn’t pursue it because she was more afraid of what would happen if it got back to the male who caused the problem.
“It does bother me a little bit,” said Doe. “I do warn my friends about it in case he or anyone else tries to pull something.”
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.
*Name was changed to protect identity of innocent.