Morgan Helfman, a student at Northeastern University, accused administrators of mishandling a rape allegation. Helfman asserted that, as a freshman, she was raped by another student in his dorm after escorting her there from a party.
Helfman pressed charges and obtained a restraining order, but the university allegedly did not make her assailant switch out of their mutual classes or dorm building, and did not take any disciplinary action against the student.
Stories like this one might be unusual on college campuses, but incidents of Title IX crimes don’t seem to be. Approximately 1 in 5 women experience some form of sexual violence during their time at college according to the Centers for Disease control and other studies.
Title IX crimes, which include sexual harassment, rape, sexual assault, battery, and coercion, are reported with increasing frequency at Northeastern University according to the Northeastern Police Department (NUPD) Annual Report. From 28 in 2013 when Title XI crimes became mandatory for the annual report, the number of reports has increased to 119 in 2015. Some people believe that the problem isn’t adequately being addressed on campus.
When it comes to Title IX crimes on campus, “there’s a specific culture at Northeastern that makes it difficult and complicated to report,” said Roxanne Anderson, the president of the Sexual Assault Response Coalition at Northeastern. If you aren’t experienced in navigating the system, or have just come out of orientation, you’ll have trouble getting the help you need according to Anderson.
Title IX was signed into law in 1972 to enforce gender equality in athletics on college campuses. Since then, the law has been expanded to enforce gender equality in all facets of school life, and holds universities responsible for addressing sexual violence on their campuses.
Northeastern releases a campus climate survey annually that provides statistics about sex related issues on campus. According to the most recent campus climate survey, over 3.62 percent of students who responded, which was 21 percent of the school’s population, reported having been raped at some point during their time at Northeastern.
The campus police reports over the last three years show only 38 reported cases of sexual assault or rape. This means that there are a lot of sexual assaults go unreported to campus police.
The NUPD report includes any crime on campus, “regardless of a person’s affiliation with the university,” said John O’Neill, a Northeastern spokesperson, in an email.
The campus climate survey attempts to gauge the relevance of these crimes for students in their lives, not necessarily for students on campus asserted O’Neill.
Some members of the Northeastern community believe that Northeastern’s must be willing to play a central part in dealing with Title IX crimes for students.
“Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes that one could commit, and I think the university for sure has to play a huge role in attempting to eliminate these crimes,” said Viktor Lobov, a second year business administration student.
Some students are unsure if their experience matches the definition of rape, sexual assault, or another Title IX crime, according to Katie Eichle, the director of University of Minnesota’s Aurora Center which provides support to victims of sexual assault. “In one of the most egregious types on the continuum of sexual assault that someone could experience, they didn’t think it was serious enough to report,” said Eichle.
If students knew that what happened to them was criminal, then they might be more willing to report it according to Eichle
Some students believe that the social atmosphere around sexual crimes on campus might be changing. Awareness of sexual violence is improving said Jackson Powell, a member of the LGBTQ community on campus. “People feel like they can come forward and feel safe to do so.”
Northeastern’s policies related to sexual violence on campus might be changing, but they aren’t changing fast enough according to Anderson.
Other members of the Northeastern community believe that the university is improving how it deals with Title IX crimes.
“They’re taking things a lot more seriously. RAs (Resident Assistants) are getting trained about it. All employees are mandated reporters,” said Colleen Duffy, who graduated from Northeastern in 2016.
The Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), Northeastern’s jury-of-peers system that helps dole punishment for on campus crimes might be part of the problem when it comes to sexual assault according to Anderson. “We feel that undergraduate students, while they can be empathetic and caring people, just do not possess the qualifications necessary to handle cases this severe.”
The OSCCR office did not respond to requests for a comment.
Northeastern launched the Violence Support, Intervention and Outreach Network (ViSION), in response to student led complaints that not enough was being done to create a safe environment to discuss sexual violence issues.
“We have expanded our Title IX compliance resources, added more staff, and expanded our prevention efforts requiring training for all students” said O’Neill in an email.
ViSION cut its hours from 9 to 5 on weekdays to only 12 to 5, and there are no councilors to speak with confidentially about Title IX crimes according to Anderson.
“There’s been a lot of renaming and rebranding of how Northeastern says they handle and address sexual assault.” said Anderson. “It’s very much so like a surface level band-aid on a situation that has still not been solved with any concrete policy changes.” She added about the ViSION center.
When it comes to helping students deal with these issues in general, some students think that there’s more work to be done. “I hope they don’t try to put another band-aid on a situation that needs some major surgery.” Anderson said.