The Annual Security Report recently released by the UNC Charlotte Police Department, showed 32 reported instances of rape and 7 reported instances of fondling on campus in 2014, a significant increase from the previous year’s combined total of 3 reported forcible sex offenses. According to Title IX Coordinator Dawn Floyd and Interpersonal Violence Prevention Specialist Nicole Madonna-Rosario, the increase does not mean that more of these incidents are occurring, just that victims and survivors feel more comfortable reporting.
As Title IX coordinator, Floyd is responsible for making sure the university complies with the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act and Title IX. Some aspects of that compliance include training for necessary employees, overseeing the investigation of complaints and reports and educational programming. Education is one of the ways Floyd ad Madonna-Rosario come together achieve campus-wide goals.
Madonna-Rosario organizes Title IX education, events and outreach programs related to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. She speaks to entire classrooms, but she also offers confidential one-on-one consultation with students who are considering reporting and aren’t sure where to turn.
Madonna-Rosario also helped coordinate an upcoming free screening in McKnight Hall of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary highlighting sexual assault on college campuses and lacking responses of some universities. The screening and subsequent panel discussion featuring Floyd and several other speakers occurs Nov. 9 at 5:30 p.m.
Q: Why do you think there’s such a high increase of reports from 2013 to 2014?
Nicole Madonna-Rosario: I think that the concerted effort from the chancellor down to make this a priority on our campus – meaning education, providing care and concern accommodations, having a fulltime Title IX investigator, more staff in the counseling center, providing the services that are necessary for survivors to come forward and feel safe – I think that’s why more people are reporting. It’s not that it’s happening more. It’s just that now people know where to go.
Q: How does the Title IX Office handle the reports it receives?
Dawn Floyd: If there is a report of sexual assault or other sexual misconduct or dating violence, domestic violence or stalking, those reports are forwarded to my office and we coordinate the response. That response really involves a lot of folks. In part, the response involves coordinating the connection for the student with Assistant Dean of Students Larry Gourdine who can help them with academic accommodations or work accommodations or housing accommodations. What a lot of people don’t realize is that he can help students who miss an assignment or can’t get to class because of an incident. He coordinates with the faculty member to accommodate them in that area. We also coordinate connection of the student with people like Nicole who can help them with understanding sort of what’s happened and working through it and doing some safety planning and making sure that they’re safe. We talk to the student about going to the police. It’s ultimately the student’s choice whether to report their incident to the police, but we tell them that that is an option and we offer to help them if that’s what they want to do.
Q: How does the Title IX Office go about investigating?
DF: To what extent we investigate it depends on the victim or complainant’s wishes. Sometimes, we have victims who come in and report who don’t want there to be a full investigation; they just want some kind of accommodation. But sometimes we get folks in who really want us to do a full investigation, and they want us to take their case through the student conduct process and see that the accused person is sanctioned in some way for what he or she did. A lot of our response depends on what the victim or survivor wants. There is an exception to that, though. As the Title IX coordinator, I have the discretion to override the victim’s wishes if not investigating would put other folks or that particular victim in harm’s way – if we think we have a predator, for example. If a victim or survivor comes in and gives me a report about somebody and this is the second or third report I have on this person, and they seem to be engaging in a pattern of behavior and there seem to be multiple victims, I can override those victim’s wishes and move forward with an investigation and put that case through student conduct. The university has an obligation to do that when we feel like the safety of the community is threatened.
Q: On the one hand, it’s good to see the numbers go up, because people feel more comfortable reporting, but would you ultimately like them to go down?
DF: Part of the expectation that we have as a university receiving federal funds from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice is that we’re doing prevention awareness and education programs that actually make a difference – that really change the culture to where you are educating students about healthy relationships and how to be a safe and effective bystander. We really are taking very seriously this obligation to prevention programming that is effective in changing the culture here at UNC Charlotte. And what we hope to see is what you just said. As we step up our prevention awareness and education programming, we hope that our numbers will go down because what we’re doing through our prevention programming is preventing these incidents from happening in the first place. So yes, I think it’s going to take us a little time to get there, but hopefully, we’ll see a plateau and then a drop in our numbers.
NMR: And this is the first part of the cultural shift, though, because the victim blaming that’s embedded in the culture has prevented people for years from coming forward. For example, when I was an undergrad, no one talked about this. You didn’t come forward, and if you did, you were most of the time talked out of it because there were the questions of, ‘What were you doing? Were you drinking? Why were you out?’ There were lots and lots of questions from our peer groups. Now, the questions are shifting when people are talking to their friends. In fact, a lot of the students that I see either come from my presentations and programs directly or they come from someone who attended who was told by their friend, ‘You need to go talk to this person. She can help you.’ That’s a really good feeling to know that that’s what’s causing this ripple effect of increased reporting. It’s not that we have an increased problem – the problem has been there – we just haven’t had the resources to provide them a solution, and I think that’s what we’re doing.
DF: I’ll add, too, that I think our resources are effective. I think that people are learning that if they come to the Title IX office or to Nicole’s office that there won’t be any victim blaming and that we will take them seriously and that we will treat them with respect and treat them fairly. You can build the structures all day long but if within your structures you have people who continue to victim blame and the resources aren’t very effective because they don’t follow up and they don’t do everything that they need to be doing. We are really creating very positive places, under very difficult circumstances in many offices around campus. That is another reason why victims and survivors are coming forward.
Q: Sometimes police departments or colleges around the nation offer tips for safety – like what you should or shouldn’t wear – what kind of message do you think that sends?
NMR: To me, that takes the responsibility of the act away from the person who does it and makes the victim – him or herself – be the sole person in charge of the event, which is not true. In fact, several of my programs have that built into it, where we talk about the things that we’ve heard as prevention and safety tips growing up, some of which are fine. I mean, it’s fine to walk with a buddy or stay in well-lit areas. The issue is not necessarily words they’re saying; it’s the delivery of it. If you meet that whole checklist and you still get sexually assaulted, then the victim blames himself or herself completely. Instead, we should change the conversation to, ‘Why are we not talking about why this person is doing this to begin with?’
DF: That’s a huge part of what we’re doing in the Title IX office, particularly with investigations. One of the requirements under federal law is that we approach our investigations in a manner that is trauma-informed. Part of being trauma-informed includes understanding the neurobiology of trauma and understanding the impact that victim blaming can have – training investigators that accusatory questions about things that are irrelevant are not appropriate.
Q: One of the ideas introduced in “The Hunting Ground” is that serial perpetrators are often to blame for instances of sexual assault. What does your experience tell you about the typical perpetrator?
NMR: One person who has spearheaded that research is Dr. David Lisak. From his research, he came up with the term called “the undetected rapist,” and I believe he talks about that in this film. What he said was that the majority of men on college campuses are not committing these offenses at all. It’s the minority that tends to do it multiple times. He does give certain characteristics. One of the things that he says that stood out for him in his research is people who express disdain or hatred towards women in many different forms – jokes the language that they use … He also said they tend to be more confident, “Type A,” almost narcissistic in their beliefs about themselves and what they can offer the world. The groups in which they’re located have a huge influence. He tended to see a lot of rapes happening out of these surveyed men from athletic groups and fraternities. That’s also highlighted very much in this documentary.
Q: With perpetrators being overwhelmingly male, what do you think is the most important message to send to society if we want to reduce the numbers?
NMR: There is a male survivor in “The Hunting Ground,” and I think it’s important to have a wide lens when we look at the issue of sexual assault and sexual trauma because before the age of 18, one in six men are also victims compared to one in four women. That’s not a huge difference. The statistics drastically change for adulthood because men stop talking about it. Yes, documented, they tend to be in much greater numbers as perpetrators of these acts. But they’re also victims and survivors as well … There’s not really a space for male victims, and one of my longer term goals is to create a movement on campus to talk about healthy masculinity and what that looks like in your particular subset of friends or team or frat or whatever. What does that look like to go against the grain? Those other guys are out there, and no one is pushing against them to stop what they’re doing.
Q: How does the film take on the culture of fraternities?
NMR: “The Hunting Ground” is a very controversial film, and it’s meant to be, but it does not paint fraternity life in a very good way.
DF: Nor athletics.
NMR: And that’s one of the reasons why we’re cosponsoring with the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life. It’s about challenging thinking. They feel like they’re on the defensive – that they shouldn’t have this reputation nationally. One of the first pieces of conversation I’m hoping will come out of this screening, especially with the panel discussion after, is that some of the fraternity members that are going to be there will say, “This angered me. I don’t want to be that. I don’t want this to happen.” How do you check some of the behaviors that happen within the culture of your organization and change that? It’s not all fraternities or all athletics, but groupthink makes it such that they have very high statistics. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the tide of it.
Q: The documentary highlights a lack of response by some universities, how does UNC Charlotte stack up to those claims?
NMR: The way that we’ve structured where we have confidential resources – the entire Student Health Center, my office, the entire Counseling Center – provides an enormous amount of options for students to report confidentially and at least talk about it and get the help that they need. Some of those students are never going to be ready to report it. They’re never going to want to report it, and that’s OK. When someone is sexually assaulted, specifically, the trauma reaction is so intense that they often feel like they’re going to lose their life in that moment, even if there’s not a weapon. The idea of taking away that person’s rights completely as to what they want to do is completely unhealthy for that person. One of the main things that we’ve done is provide safe spaces and places where people can go and talk about it and figure out what they might want to do, if anything.
DF: Probably the biggest group that we’re trying to get involved is the students. Research shows that the most effective prevention and bystander education programs are student-led. It goes back to this whole conversation that it’s on all of us to stop this stuff from happening. If we can get students involved and interested and educated, then I think we can all do a better job … We are totally open to ideas about how we can reach students and get their participation on these issues.