Zoe McGhee • Managing Editor
Sweaty palms, shaky hands and tears streaming, a vulnerable student sits in a seat awaiting questioning by a Title IX coordinator. After reliving an emotionally scarring experience and mustering up enough courage to speak on the issue, the victim is met with the first question and assumption thousands of others have had to endure: “What did you do wrong?”
After being pushed into the dark for too long, sexual assault survivors are now taking justice into their own hands by speaking out and demanding change.
Following the recent sexual harassment lawsuit against the university and Betsy Devos’ changes to the Title IX policy, a UT Tyler student and staff worker came forward to talk about how they were failed in their own sexual assault case.
Wishing to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from the university and a number of its departments, the victim recounted their experience of a late night at work in which they were sexually assaulted by one of their coworkers.
“I had substantial bruising,” the victim said. “It wasn’t something that you could just brush off. [However], I didn’t originally want to report it all because I didn’t want anybody to get further hurt by the situation. I actually didn’t end up reporting it. My aggressor ended up reporting it to the police in order to try and save face.”
After the incident, the source underwent three investigations: one with UTPD, one with the victim’s HR department, and one with Title IX -- none of which resulted in justice.
The victim claimed that UTPD was the most helpful throughout the entire process, as they “were the only ones that took me seriously” and reported the incident to the victim’s employers.
“When they did my work investigation, it was really late at night [when] they called me in,” the victim explained. “[They] sat me down with a lady I had only met once before, my supervisor who actually fell asleep when I told my story and my boss who later told me that ‘I should have known better than to have hung out with a coworker so late.’”
After the investigation conducted by the victim’s HR department, they never heard from anyone in higher-up positions involved in the investigation, despite assurances that contact would be made.
“[My HR] told me that [my aggressor] would be put on paid leave and that I was to still work,” The victim said. “I couldn’t tell anybody what happened even though I had close friendships at work I really needed to talk to, but I wasn’t allowed to.”
The victim was later given paid leave, though the effort was tainted with the sting of betrayal due to the delayed timing.
“Immediately I felt like I didn’t have the support of my workplace anymore,” The victim explained. “I eventually went down and talked with my boss [because] I...was completely in the dark. That’s when [my boss] sat me down and brought religion into it and talked as if I was upset because my aggressor wasn’t sharing feelings for me, and that I should keep work and personal life separate. It was one of those very victim-blaming situations. It went on for an hour, I was lectured on what I should have done or shouldn’t have done.”
The victim was given the option of their aggressor being fired, themselves being fired, both of them being fired, both of them working together, or the victim transferring to another campus job.
“I transferred. Nobody once said ‘sorry this happened to you’ or anything,” the victim said. “The position I was in, we were heavily trained to notice when students are in crisis and to support students and are taught relentlessly how to provide support for people that have gone through traumatic experiences, and it amazed me that not a single person in that department helped me.”
Following the department HR investigation, the victim underwent a Title IX investigation that failed to produce any sort of emotional support or closure for the victim.
“I went in and told them what happened, and the first question that was asked of me was ‘Do you bruise easily?’” the victim said through tears. “It was like ‘what were you wearing?’ It was the same judgement. Immediately I was like ‘it’s a lost battle. I’m just gonna have to get through this one on my own.’ The university that I have loved and that I have worked for and I’ve given so much time to, doesn’t care about what happens to me.”
Despite feeling hopeless, the victim made a singular request to Title IX that they email their professors and explain they were underperforming academically due to undergoing an investigation. Their request was never fulfilled.
“You’d think with three different investigations, I would have felt better with what happened,” The victim said. “With every single level that the school was supposed to help me, they hurt me so much more. It was one of those moments where I was like, ‘I get why people don’t report.’ It felt as if the whole system was against me.”
Later that year, there were interviews conducted in the victim’s old department for promotions, and their aggressor was promoted, resulting in the victim quitting their position altogether.
“I left that department completely after two and a half years because they promoted someone that should have gotten fired,” the victim explained with a trembling voice. “[My aggressor] never got any sort of repercussions for what [they] did to me, and instead got rewarded with a nice promotion.”
The victim was inspired to come forward about their experience due to the recent lawsuit against the university due to the mishandling of allegations against the Dean of the College of Education and Psychology Dr. Wes Hickey.
Two UT Tyler female staff members Laura Owens and Dr. Jennifer Jones filed a Title IX complaint against Hickey, resulting in the university finding that he had engaged in sexual misconduct but not to the point of it being considered harassment.
In an article published by KETK and Fox51 by Katie Carver, it was stated, “according to the Director of the Office of Compliance, the investigators were ‘rushed,’ under a ‘ton of stress,’ and ‘pressure to get it done’ by University Administration because of the then ongoing search for a new Dean, which resulted in Hickey’s promotion.”
“At every step it got worse when it should have gotten better, and it’s all the university’s fault,” The victim said. “It makes you really scared to speak up when you’ve been wronged when no one in the past has seen what’s been wronged. I didn’t say anything until I saw the post with Dean Hickey, and it infuriated me that the same thing that happened to me is happening to Laura Owens. I don’t think I would have ever come forward if it hadn’t been for Laura Owens being so brave about the wrongs that she’s been given and how she hasn’t backed down from it.”
Spurred by the trauma caused by the multiple investigations and the incident itself, the victim has had to have undergone numerous therapy sessions, praising the counseling center for “being the only place that hasn’t let [them] down.”
“It’s affected a lot of personal relationships,” the victim explained. “Even when I was transferred, I kept everybody at a distance. I was very scared to be alone in the same room as another coworker. I have an off-campus job now and I have issues of [people] flirting with me and I couldn’t even bring it up to my boss now because I don’t feel like anything will happen. I feel like the university set this standard in my head that the world just doesn’t really care about the victims being hurt by the system.”
By coming forward, the victim is hopeful that their experience will open people's eyes.
“I think if enough speak out, you can’t turn a blind eye anymore,” the victim said. “You can’t go home and say it was a job well done anymore. You’re required at that point to evaluate the system that’s in place and say ‘it’s not working.’”
Victims feeling failed by their universities and by Title IX is no anomaly, and due to the new policy changes to Title IX by Betsy DeVos there have been further actions taken by students to raise awareness about the injustices.
According to an article published in May by The New York Times, the new regulations “adopt the Supreme Court’s definition of sexual harassment as ‘unwelcome conduct that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,’ and they require colleges to hold live hearings during which accusers and accused can be cross-examined to challenge their credibility”.
The rules also “limit the complaints that schools are obligated to investigate to only those filed through a formal process and brought to the attention of officials with the authority to take corrective action, not other authority figures like residential advisers” and “schools will also be responsible for investigating only episodes said to have occurred within their programs and activities, not, for instance, apartments not affiliated with a university”.
UT Tyler alumnus Katie Hickens shared a petition fighting for alteration of the new Title IX changes on Twitter in order to try and spread awareness and make a difference against the policy.
“[It was started] once the news broke out about the education department trying to change the Title IX rules and basically trying to extend more protections to those being accused of sexual assault,” Hickens explained. “On a lot of college campuses it’s already hard for victims to get taken seriously and to get justice or to get investigated adequately.”
The petition itself was originally started by Carla Ramazan at The University of Texas at Dallas who distributed it to numerous student leaders at all of the schools within The University of Texas system.
Ramazan did not comment on the matter despite numerous attempts for comment.
“I think a lot of us understand what it’s like to be a female on a college campus and we want to protect our fellow students,” Hickens said. “Whenever they have an accusation, they deserve to have it investigated and taken care of rather than have their abuser protected by the university. I would go so far as to say that [UT Tyler] has even more of an obligation to combat those [changes] because they’re already catching heat for mishandling Title IX investigations and not protecting victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
The petition resulted in the various universities agreeing to maintain seven policies: keeping the preponderance of evidence standard, not maintaining a 60-day timeline, continuing to work remotely with COVID, establishing a separate process for off-campus and study-abroad violence and guaranteeing interim measures, barring the use of informal resolutions, and following the Obama administration’s 2016 guidelines on LGBTQ+ issues.
“If those really are implemented, it would be all the more reason for victims of sexual assault not to come forward, and all that does is create an environment where abusers can continue to abuse,” Hickens explained. “That creates the problem where people in general, not just women, are not protected on campus.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators will walk free, and 4 out of 5 college-age females do not report sexual violence.
“I think they can just do better,” the victim said as a final remark. “I hope that people realize that while I may have been brushed over in terms of paperwork, I’m still holding this every day. There needs to be more accountability.”