KU student disappointed with administration’s handling of her sexual assault case

This investigative article was printed in The University Daily Kansan Tues., Sept. 9, 2014.

The name of the complainant in this story has been changed at her request. The name of the respondent of the accusation is also being protected.

Now four months into University of Kansas administrators’ response to her alleged sexual assault, Ivory is left with one sentiment: “Nobody cares.”

Ivory, a sophomore, filed one of the 17 sexual assault complaints that the Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access (IOA) has investigated so far in 2014.

She went in thinking it would get better if she reported to University administration. She thought IOA would communicate with her the way she had requested.

She was wrong.

According to emails and confidential letters to and from Ivory obtained by The University Daily Kansan, as well as interviews with Ivory, she accused the respondent, a male University student, on May 5 of non-consensual oral sex and attempting to penetrate her in November 2013. On June 30, IOA had finished its investigation, issued a conclusion, and recommended sanctions: that the respondent be put on probation, meet with IOA and pay restitution for out-of-pocket therapy expenses. Student Conduct and Community Standards subsequently decided that there had been no violation, and told Ivory so in a meeting on Aug. 18.

She thought her case was closed. She went home and cried.

Now, her case is being reopened against her will for a Formal Hearing Panel conducted by Student Affairs.

It started at a bar in November 2013, the fall of her freshman year.

She saw the respondent for the first and last time that night. She said she got a text from him the next day with his first name. She said she still doesn’t know anything other than his name, which fraternity he’s in, and the major listed on his Facebook profile.

“I think he was like 6-4, 6-5, over 200 pounds,” she said. “A really large person to try to fight off.”

She said when his fraternity’s designated driver picked them up as the bar was about to close, she thought they were going to take her to her home, not to spend the night at his fraternity.

“That wasn’t my plan,” she said.

Her memory of the night is choppy. She said he took her clothes off at his fraternity. She said she felt uncomfortable, said no, tried to get him to stop and told him repeatedly that she wanted to go home.

“There was no point in the evening where I wanted to engage with this person sexually,” she said. “None. And at every single point I made it clear that I was uncomfortable and that I did not want this to happen.”

The respondent did not return The Kansan’s voicemails.

The Kansan was not able to obtain the full IOA investigative report, which would include witness testimony of that night. Ivory signed a notarized Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act student records information release to allow the University to release records and information related to her sexual assault complaint to The Kansan reporter on Sept. 8. According to the University’s Director of News and Media Relations Erinn Barcomb-Peterson, no records will be released until after her case review is completed, after the scheduled formal hearing, to avoid influencing those involved in the case, including witnesses and panel members. She said Ivory and the respondent have rights to review records that will be presented at the hearing.

After that night, Ivory said she didn’t initially know that she could report what had happened and didn’t know where or how to report it in the University. She had also heard news stories of nothing happening to alleged rapists when other people reported alleged sexual assaults and she did not want to go through that experience. The next day, and for months afterward, she tried to ignore that anything had happened.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said. “And I didn’t think that anyone would help me.”

In April, she finally told someone.

Her friend Amanda Schulze, then a senior from Wichita, knew how to report to IOA and what the University could do because she served on the Title IX Sexual Assault Training subcommittee. She told Ivory that there was a process that could be effective.

If she didn’t say anything, nobody would ever know what she said the respondent had done. That’s what convinced her to report to the University.

“I wanted to feel like campus could be safe for other people and I felt like this person was dangerous,” Ivory said.

After class on May 5, Ivory reported the alleged assault. With Schulze at her side, she sat down in IOA Investigator Jennifer Brooks’s office in Carruth-O’Leary Hall.

According to IOA procedure as well as Ivory and Schulze’s accounts, Brooks took notes as she had Ivory walk through the events of that night. IOA investigators follow a checklist, making sure investigators explain how IOA handles cases and giving complainants a list of resources.

On that checklist is “correspondence regarding investigation.”

IOA normally sends all official documents by both standard mail to the complainant’s listed address and by email to the complainant’s @ku.edu email address. Ivory lived in the dorms as a freshman. Over the summer, her mail would be forwarded to her family’s house.

Ivory hadn’t—and still hasn’t—told her family about her alleged sexual assault.

“I was very, very private about the whole thing,” she said. “And I was hurting a lot.”

According to procedure and accounts, Brooks asked if Ivory wanted both letters and emails. Ivory said to not send letters to her family house. She said to only email her.

“It was reiterated multiple times that she did not want anything sent to her home,” Schulze said.

Ivory said she saw Brooks write down a note to only email and not mail and assured her that she would not be sent any mail to her parents’ home. Schulze also said Brooks said everything would be emailed and not mailed.

The mail came to her family’s house anyway.

Confidential PDFs obtained by The Kansan are all labeled as sent via standard mail and email: a summary of the May 5 meeting saying IOA would investigate, a copy of the notification of investigation addressed to the respondent, a directive that he not contact Ivory, and IOA’s conclusion and sanction recommendations.

Ivory said she received the letters in two bundles, the first in the middle of June and the second at the end of June. She said they looked like any other official KU letters, which startled her. She opened them before her family saw them.

“My dad, very easily, with no bad intention, would have seen that and thought it was a bill or something,” she said.

Ivory felt exposed. But she didn’t contact IOA to make sure no more letters came. She said she was busy, she didn’t know who to contact, and she didn’t think IOA would fix it.

Barcomb-Peterson said Jane McQueeny, IOA executive director, would not be able to comment on Ivory’s case until after the scheduled hearing.

Ivory said no one from IOA was checking up with her and she didn’t understand what she could ask.

On June 30, IOA sent its conclusion. IOA found that it is “more likely than not that [the respondent] assaulted [Ivory] by kissing and touching [her] when [she was] incapacitated and unable to provide knowing and voluntary consent to engage in any sexual activity with him.”

“If somebody is incapacitated, then they’re not able to consent to any sexual activity,” Brooks said speaking in general during a Sept. 5 interview with The Kansan.

IOA’s conclusion did not address Ivory’s accounts that these sexual actions happened when she said no.

IOA recommended the respondent be put on probation—without specifying what probation would entail—for six months, that he meet with IOA staff to discuss alcohol and consent and that he pay restitution to Ivory for any out-of-pocket therapy expense related to the case. The June 30 letter said the Director of Student Conduct and Community Standards, Nick Kehrwald, would be in touch to discuss IOA’s recommendations.

On July 9, Kehrwald emailed Ivory saying he had received IOA’s report and wanted to discuss the findings and recommendations with her.

Ivory responded to Kehrwald’s email on July 15 with complaints about the IOA investigation: that “kissing and touching” while she was drunk is not as serious a charge as her alleged non-consensual oral sex, that the recommended sanctions were not serious, and that IOA had handled the case inattentively by sending letters to her parents’ house after she requested to only be sent emails.

“I will always be proud to be a Jayhawk, but I am deeply disappointed in your department’s clear lack of concern for the safety of other women on this campus by allowing [the respondent] to disappear into university life without poignant consequences for his actions,” she wrote.

Kehrwald responded to her email on July 18 by saying Student Conduct and Community Standards is an office in Student Affairs and had not been involved in IOA’s investigation.

“That is the sole responsibility of IOA,” he wrote.

Ivory never brought those complaints directly to IOA.

She said she had wanted the respondent at least suspended for a semester. She was disappointed. But, moving forward, she assumed the respondent would have to pay for the out-of-pocket expenses for therapy. She set up an appointment with a recommended therapist in Lawrence who wasn’t on her insurance plan.

Ivory emailed Kehrwald with the therapist’s name, contact number and how much each session would cost. At the time, she thought that it was Kehrwald’s job to enforce the sanctions that IOA recommended.

According to standard procedure, when an alleged violation of student conduct is reported, a conduct officer from Student Conduct and Community Standards reviews IOA’s investigation and decides if a violation occurred and what sanctions should be enforced.

On the morning of Aug. 18, Ivory met with Kehrwald in his office.

Kehrwald concluded that the facts as documented did not support a violation of the University’s sexual harassment policy, as later summarized in a Student Affairs notice dated Sept. 5. That notice addressed to Ivory says, “While you were incapacitated at the time of the incident there were not enough behavioral indicators to where the accused student knew or reasonably should have known of your incapacitation.”

According to that document, IOA’s report says that the respondent did not see Ivory drinking, that she was not slurring her speech, had no difficulty walking outside of the bar, that they made small talk in the car, and that she showed no difficulties walking into the fraternity. It said that the first signs that Ivory was drunk are made by another witness that she was swaying, appeared glossed over, and getting drunker as time passed “after the incident in question.”

She said Kehrwald told her no sanctions would be imposed. Even though IOA’s investigation had found the respondent had more likely than not engaged in non-consensual contact with her, she said she was told he would not be punished.

Barcomb-Peterson said Kehrwald, Student Conduct and Community Standards director, would not be able to comment on Ivory’s case until after the hearing.

Ivory said Kehrwald asked if she wanted to see her full IOA investigative report then. According to Brooks, these reports contain any evidence collected, including witness interviews, IOA’s analysis and the recommended sanctions.

Ivory said no, she wasn’t ready to read the report in Kehrwald’s office with him at that Aug. 18 meeting. She said Kehrwald asked if she wanted him to email it to her.

Ivory said Kehrwald gave her one other option at the Aug. 18 meeting. If she wanted, she could appeal his decision to a three-person panel. She said she has never requested or agreed to such a hearing.

She was emotionally exhausted. She had hoped the respondent would be punished by the University. IOA had concluded that he committed a violation, and now she was being told by Student Conduct and Community Standards that he had not. She didn’t want to appeal. She wanted to go home.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to continue with the University,” she said.

After reading about the light sanctions proposed by an appeals panel in another student’s rape case reported in the Huffington Post on Sept. 2, she said she’s glad she didn’t appeal.

“Apparently the people on the panel think that community service is too punitive, so what do you think they would have told me?” she said. “That guy admitted that he raped that girl. What do you think they would have told me?”

She said she thanked Kehrwald for his time, left his office without asking further questions, lay in bed and cried. She said no one followed up with her and Kehrwald never sent her the formal report, despite his offer to do so.

“That meeting killed an investigation of sexual assault and killed a sanction for sexual assault that was supposed to happen,” she said. “And they didn’t even bother to put it in writing and send it to me or ask me if I needed anything or give me a list of steps that I could take.”

She found a therapist in her insurance plan instead. She thought that was the end of the University’s action.

At 9:32 a.m. on Sept. 5, Ivory sent an email to Jennifer Brooks asking for a copy of the IOA investigative report that Kehrwald did not send her. While she said she wasn’t emotionally ready to read it herself, she agreed to give it to The Kansan.

At 9:53 a.m. on Sept. 5, she got an email from someone new.

Joshua Jones, the Student Conduct and Community Standards coordinator who works under Kehrwald, wrote to Ivory that a Formal Hearing Panel of her case had been scheduled for Friday, Sept. 19. A panel of three—a School of Education administrator, an officer manager in the School of Engineering and a student—is scheduled to decide if the Code of Student Rights and Responsibilities was violated and if sanctions, including possible suspension or expulsion, are warranted.

Jones’s email says the hearing was scheduled under section VI.C.3 of the Student Non-Academic Conduct Procedures. Section VI.C.3 says an accused student will meet before a Formal Hearing Panel when expulsion or suspension is a likely sanction, and that accused student disputes facts. Ivory said Kehrwald’s decision was that the respondent faced no sanctions. IOA’s recommended sanctions never included expulsion or suspension.

Tammara Durham, vice provost for Student Affairs, wrote in an email statement, “When a case involves sexual assault, if a complaining party requests that the respondent student be suspended or expelled, Student Affairs will take the matter to a Formal Hearing Panel.”

Barcomb-Peterson said Joshua Jones, Student Conduct and Community Standards coordinator, would not be able to comment on Ivory’s case until after the scheduled hearing.

Ivory said she doesn’t want this hearing to happen. She said she was not asked if she wanted the hearing to happen. She and the respondent have the right to attend and participate.

“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t do it. I can’t be in the room with him again and have to talk about this all over again in front of complete strangers.”

She has a class when the hearing is scheduled. Jones’s email acknowledges this but says the chosen time is the earliest possible date given the availability of the hearing panel. Durham wrote in a statement that Student Affairs works with students to secure an excused absence and “ensure the student is able to obtain information from the missed class session so that the student is not prejudiced by the scheduling of the hearing.”

The formal hearing notice uses phrasing such as “your consumption of alcohol (tequila),” “while at The Jayhawk Café (‘The Hawk’),” and “displayed unusual behavior” in recounting the grounds for IOA’s conclusion that Ivory was incapacitated.

Jones’s email says that he will be bringing the case to the hearing panel on her behalf so Ivory is not required to attend the hearing. She hasn’t decided if she will.

Ivory decided to speak out to start a conversation and get University policy and the structure of Student Conduct and Community Standards changed. She said the Huffington Post report and the scrutiny that the University’s sexual assault policies have come under since made her realize she isn’t alone in being unhappy with how her sexual assault complaint was handled.

“They didn’t care until now,” she said. “How little they care is just becoming so apparent.”

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