Tuesday, Sept. 19 — This is the second in a four-part series about IU's system of sexual assault investigations. For more information about this series, click here. If you believe you have experienced sexual assault or have an ongoing case and need support, click here for a list of resources. Contact our investigations team if you have further questions or would like to share your story.
All of the women’s stories are different. And all of them are the same.
All of them were IU students who say they were violated. All of them turned to the University to protect them. And almost every single one of them agrees the University failed them.
They talk about how the men who had raped them were allowed to get away with it. Even when the University punished their attackers, the men were allowed to return to campus months later and wander freely. The women describe how IU promised to protect them and how easily that promise was broken. Despite orders to stay away, the men kept showing up again in their lives. One woman remembers her attacker trying to sneak onto her floor of her dorm. Another still talks about the times, not long after IU expelled her rapist, when she found the same message scrawled separate times on her door at Wright Quad.
The University did almost nothing, she said. They moved her to another room in Wright for a couple of days, but then sent her back to her original room. She reported the threats to IU police, but she said they didn’t take fingerprints from the door or even come up to her floor. Instead, they interviewed her in Wright’s parking lot, checked some surveillance video and told her they couldn’t prove who’d made the threats. She was so unsettled, her friends walked her to class for weeks.
Many of the women say that the hearings convened by the University for their cases were also traumatic. They say they were harassed, humiliated and ignored. They were made to defend themselves and were forced to play amateur lawyer and come up with the questions posed to their attackers. Their friends were punished for helping them. One woman says a hearing officer asked her insulting questions about what she had been wearing on the night in question.
For the past year, the Indiana Daily Student has reached out to students – both female and male – who have reported sexual assault, wanting to hear their views on how IU dealt with their cases. The IDS passed out flyers all over campus, posted notices on social media and published announcements in the paper’s print version. To embolden others to share their stories, IDS staffers tweeted their own experiences with sexual assault.
No male students came forward. But the IDS interviewed a dozen female students who have reported sexual assault to the University’s Office of Student Ethics, recently renamed the Office of Student Conduct. Of these 12 women, only one uniformly praised the University’s handling of her case. The other 11 women – six of whom agreed to be identified – returned again and again to recurring problems with the system, many of which are within IU’s power to change.
Here are some of the problems the women repeatedly described in the system:
Sara Hutson complained to the University after she caught another freshman hiding in her room in McNutt, watching her undress. In the past, she said, this same student — who lived on her floor — had grabbed her around the waist just outside of the floor’s bathrooms, biting her neck and breast. The man had apparently been eating pistachios while he peeped at her from behind her bed. For months after she reported the incident, Sara found pistachio shells where he’d hidden.
As investigators pursued her complaint of sexual assault, the Office of Student Ethics transferred the male student out of McNutt and into another co-ed floor at Forest Quad. The office also issued a no-trespass order and a no-contact order, informing him that he had to stay away from McNutt and that he could not call, text or email Sara.
Not long after the orders were issued, Sara says, the man tried to sneak back onto her floor at McNutt in the middle of the night. In a panic, Sara immediately emailed the IU investigator handling her complaint, but the investigator didn’t respond for several days.
When the investigator finally did reply, she told Sara she had talked to the male student and he had claimed he didn’t know he was supposed to stay off of McNutt property. The investigator told Sara she’d warned the young man to not violate the order again.
The University’s inaction left Sara feeling angry. Didn’t the no-trespass order count for anything? What was the point of the University warning him again, if the original warning wasn’t enforced?
“It couldn’t have been more clearly stated on the order,” Sara said. “I just don’t see how that got confused.”
Until later that semester, when IU ruled the man had committed sexual assault, Sara avoided common areas on campus such as Wells Library, knowing the University orders carried no authority to protect her if the two students ever met again.
IU suspended the man in October through the end of the school year, but he stayed on campus for one of those two semesters as he appealed the decision. A few months after he lost the appeal, he was back.
His presence on campus that next fall came as a surprise to Sara, who said IU gave her no warning before his return.
“If you commit a sex crime on campus,” Sara said. “I don’t think you should come back to a campus ever.”
Then he violated the no-trespass order again. Sara was stocking shelves at the Gresham Food Court in Foster Quad when he walked in, made eye contact and sat down to eat dinner. This time, knowing the Office of Student Ethics would be of little help, Sara went to her supervisor’s office, where together they called IU police.
It took 10 minutes on the phone to convince the dispatcher to send officers to the food court. Again, she discovered the no-trespass order was essentially meaningless. The dispatcher, she says, told her the officers could not make the other student leave unless she had a printed 8½-by-11 copy of the order on hand.
“Why would I have this two-page document with me at all times?” Sara remembers asking them. “That’s ridiculous. Of course I don’t have it with me.” She’d hit another gap in the system: IU’s Office of Student Ethics can issue no-trespass and no-contact orders. But the office doesn’t routinely share the orders with IU’s own police department. Unless a student has filed for and been granted a separate protection order in criminal court, the police say they have no jurisdiction to arrest someone for violating the University’s order.
“There are two completely different systems,” former IUPD Captain Andy Stephenson said. “There’s IU’s judiciary system and there’s the criminal justice system. We can make an arrest based on criminal justice system things, but if they violate University orders, then they’ll get further punishment through IU’s judicial process.”
In Sara’s case, though, IU’s judicial process never mustered more than a tepid warning.
IU’s rules allow for students to be expelled when they violate no-trespass orders, but the University almost never levies such a strong punishment. IU Title IX Coordinator Emily Springston said in the past few years only a couple students have been sanctioned for violating such orders.
Springston also said IU’s Office of Student Conduct does communicate with IUPD, but acknowledged that coordination could be improved.
Sara couldn’t believe IU let the student violate the University's own order not once, but twice. Though she has since graduated, she still sleeps with the lights on. She never closes her eyes in the shower. And she can no longer bring herself to eat pistachios.
Many of the women interviewed by the IDS said the no-contact and no-trespass orders issued in their cases offered no real protection. One remembers seeking counseling at the IU Health Center’s Sexual Assault Crisis Service for the emotional trauma of her rape. But as she left one appointment, she ran into the man who had raped her.
Other women describe repeatedly how IU’s no-contact and no-trespass orders are meaningless when they venture off-campus. After Stephanie Chinn reported her rape to IU, she felt unsafe in Bloomington. IU suspended the man who she said raped her. But he did not move away. During his two-year suspension, he lived in the same off-campus apartment building as Stephanie. His suspension didn’t stop him and his friends from verbally harassing Stephanie at bars. Last year, she was out with some friends when she saw the men at Kilroy’s Sports Bar.
“You’re pathetic,” she remembers one of them saying. “You should kill yourselves.”
The Maurer School of Law has a program that Provost Lauren Robel helped develop where law students assist others in obtaining legal protective orders effective both on- and off-campus. Some of the women interviewed by the IDS said this alternative was barely mentioned, or not mentioned at all, when they reported their assaults to the Office of Student Conduct.
When investigating student reports of sexual assault, the University routinely issues threats to ensure the cooperation of potential witnesses. If students with knowledge of the incident in question don’t cooperate with investigators, the University cuts off their ability to register for classes, request transcripts and even graduate.
The University says it never places these holds on students who have reported sexual assault — only on those who have been accused or could serve as potential witnesses. But students who have reported say the holds have placed an unwanted burden on them for coming forward. Others say the holds have struck fear in witnesses who would have readily cooperated with investigators regardless of the additional threat.
When Josie Levine reported being raped in Collins as a freshman, the Office of Student Ethics talked to several of Josie’s friends around the time class scheduling had begun. At least six witnesses in her case had holds placed on their accounts, she said. One friend had to waitlist classes that semester.
“It just became such a hassle,” Josie said, “and made me feel guilty for something that I should not feel guilty about.”
Eleven of the women interviewed by the IDS decried IU’s lack of transparency in sharing evidence. Throughout its investigations, the Office of Student Conduct collects witness statements, physical evidence and text messages. One student said her file was nearly 90 pages long.
But students aren’t allowed copies of these files. They are only allowed to take handwritten notes and review the file with one other support person of their choosing at the Office of Student Conduct. Students are given copies of their file during their hearings, but the University takes back those copies before the students leave the hearing.
Josie Levine was so determined to have all the facts of her case that she broke the rules by taking cell phone pictures of her file. She then looked over the documents and witness statements, making a list of the lies she says the man who raped her told investigators.
IU administrators say access to the files is restricted to preserve the investigations. Springston, the Title IX coordinator, says she worries about the spread of evidence collected in these files, and said federal law only guarantees students a right to inspect, but not keep, student files kept by the University.
“There are limits because it’s more than just their student record involved,” Springston said. “Not only are they student records, but they’re also very sensitive information for both parties.”
Hailey Rial, who reported sexual assault in her first semester at IU, sat through a four-hour-long hearing with no access to her file. Overwhelmed with IU’s investigation, Hailey dropped out of classes.
She chose not to return to Bloomington for her January 2016 hearing, instead Skyping in from home in South Bend, Indiana. But because she did not appear in the office, she wasn’t allowed access to her file. Her adviser, an IU student advocate, attended the hearing in her place and communicated with Hailey via email throughout the proceedings. When panelists referenced certain pages in the file, Hailey was unable to follow along.
“It was really hard for me to dispute things witnesses said. All I had were my notes,” Hailey said. The file contained not just personal information about her, but also testimony from other people talking about her. “If it’s about me, it should be something I can have in my possession."
Speaking for the University, Springston said there is a way students can view their files — through a court-ordered subpoena.
“It sounds big and scary,” she said. But subpoenas, she added, are relatively easy to obtain.
Most students, however, have no idea what a subpoena is. Even if they did, they’d have to hire a lawyer to ask a court to issue one.
IU makes clear that its sexual misconduct hearings are not criminal trials. When a student walks into the Office of Student Conduct for their hearing, they are only allowed one person to sit alongside them as an adviser. These advisers cannot pose questions or speak on the student's behalf.
In her IU hearing five years ago, Sara was put in the position of defending her own case. The three IU panelists allowed her to directly address the other student she reported had sexually assaulted her.
“I felt like I was playing lawyer,” Sara said. “And I didn’t want to play lawyer at all.”
The one question Sara felt sealed the case was one that she and her advocate thought of on the spot: “Did you ever ask my permission, or did I ever give you my permission, to kiss and bite my collarbone and my breast?”
“I don’t have a lot of stage fright, and I can talk in public,” she said. “So I was able to ask him those questions. I highly doubt that everybody who goes through these hearings can sit there and ask those kinds of questions.”
Later that year, IU changed its rules for how students pose questions in the hearing. Now questions must be submitted to the panel in writing. The panel’s chair will select, edit and read any questions he or she feels is appropriate.
IU still allows students to directly question witnesses — something one student said made her feel uncomfortable when every witness in her hearing was a friend of the man she had accused of rape.
Josie’s case was heard nearly a year after Sara’s and after IU changed its policy. Despite this, Josie was still disgusted by the panel’s inability to keep the man she accused of sexual assault from peering around the temporary room divider, directly taunting her and disputing her claims. “I absolutely think that they need to figure out a way to separate the room better,” Josie said.
“That’s not the way that’s supposed to work,” Springston said when asked about the incident. She said the University attempts to minimize student interaction as much as possible.
Even when the accused student was found responsible, IU’s sanctions were too light, students said. Some students who had been suspended returned to IU in a matter of months.
In Josie’s case, the student found responsible of sexual assault was suspended for a year. Only a freshman, Josie felt the punishment was not enough. What if her attacker returned?
“There’s no way that I should have to see him,” Josie said. “I would have had to change schools if he came back because there was no way I could do it. I wouldn’t have been able to stay here after this.”
Springston said the University doesn’t consider how long a student who reported a sexual assault may be on campus when deciding the length of suspensions. And students are rarely expelled.
It would be inconsistent and unfair to those accused of sexual assault if the University made decisions on this basis, Springston said. A student in a report among freshmen might be suspended for four years, while in another case, a senior might only be removed from campus for a year.
“This is a really difficult process for everybody involved,” Springston said. “We want students to utilize the process and know this is a place to come, but we can’t guarantee it’s not going to be a difficult process or go exactly the way they want it to go because we have obligations to everybody that has a role in it.”
Now, Josie wishes she had pursued criminal charges. The Office of Student Ethics, she said, could have made her options for reporting outside of the University system more clear from the start.
“I really have no memory of them telling me that I should go any further than just the school,” Josie said. “I really think that he should have been charged criminally.
Disgusted with how her case was handled, Hailey Rial — who reported rape at an off-campus fraternity party her freshman year — filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the government office in charge of seeing that universities meet federal guidance for response to reports of sexual violence.
She says in her hearing she was never looking for an educational experience.
“I was looking for justice.”