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'It’s hard to find good in Carolina': A look inside reporting sexual assault under Title IX

sexual assault title ix

"R's assault happened in an off-campus apartment in September of 2017. She reported the assault to UNC's Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. Under the current Title IX rules, UNC's policy on sexual assault applies to conduct on-campus and some off-campus incidents. 

But under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed sexual assault guidelines released Friday, UNC would not be held responsible for off-campus assaults."

CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to include Vice Chancellor of Communications Joel Curran's full statement to The Daily Tar Heel, as well as more information on the role of evidence in Title IX investigations.

Content warning: This article contains graphic depictions of rape and sexual assault, violence, blood, sexually explicit scenes and descriptions of emotional and psychological abuse.









She lay paralyzed on the edge of the bed. He wasn’t tall, but he looked monstrous as he stood over her. She only knew his first name and nothing else. It took a few seconds for her to realize, after she became conscious, what was happening to her.

She tried to get up and push him away. But he clawed his hands into her shoulders. She couldn’t move. R, a senior at UNC who wished to remain anonymous, was being raped.

She cried and begged him to stop. But he wouldn’t. 

She fought him. She tried to scream.

“Shh. Be quiet. You’re fine,” he said.

R started to plead. She was in so much pain. She asked him to take the condom off. He did, and she just stared up at the ceiling and waited.

After it was done, she got up, grabbed her black jumpsuit and went into the bathroom. “I’m leaving,” she said.

She texted her friends, “I’m coming back." R left the bathroom and went back into the room. He grabbed her arm and pulled her onto the bed. She blacked out.

“I don't know if it was just that I came to for a minute or if I'm like blocking it from my memory,” she said. “But I seriously don’t remember.”

She woke up the next morning naked in his bed. Blood covered his sheets. He told R she must be on her period. She wasn’t. He wouldn’t let her leave unless she let him rinse her off in the shower.

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R’s assault happened in an off-campus apartment in September of 2017. She reported the assault to UNC's Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office. Under the current Title IX rules, UNC's policy on sexual assault applies to conduct on-campus and some off-campus incidents. 

But under U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ proposed sexual assault guidelines released Friday, UNC would not be held responsible for off-campus assaults.

Under the proposed guidelines, the incident must have occurred within a school’s own programs or activities. This could include off-campus incidents that happened in a building owned by the school or at an event funded, sponsored, promoted or endorsed by the school.

However, an amendment to a 1990 federal law contradicts this part of DeVos' proposal. The Clery Act requires institutions to have a disciplinary hearing process in place if a complaint is filed by students who experience incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking — no matter the location of an assault.

Under the Clery Act, if R filed a formal complaint to the University, UNC would be required to hold a disciplinary hearing. However, her assault would not be counted in the annual report because it was not in the Clery-defined geography.

Laura Egan, senior director of programs for The Clery Center, said the geography includes incidents occurring on campus, in campus residence facilities, on public property adjacent to campus and in non-campus property. 

However, non-campus is different from off-campus, as defined by the Clery Act. 

An example of non-campus property would include classroom space rented out in a building 10 miles from campus for a night class during the week. 

Egan said no matter where an assault occurred, the institution is required to provide information in writing about a victims’ rights and have a disciplinary procedure in place should a complaint be filed.

Although the terms may overlap in certain situations, DeVos’ proposal clarifies that Title IX’s explanation of an “education program or activity” where an assault should be investigated is not the same as Clery’s geography.

As of Monday, UNC has made no changes to its policy. Felicia Washington, vice chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity and Engagement, said in a statement that UNC is reviewing the Department of Education’s proposal. She said once the DOE issues its final rule, UNC will assess its policies and determine if any changes are necessary.

“We take every report of sexual misconduct seriously, and we remain committed to the safety and wellbeing of our students, as well as to ensuring a fair process for all parties involved in a Title IX proceeding,” she said in the statement.

In UNC’s 2015 Clery report, there were 20 rapes reported. In 2016, there were 23 rapes reported. In 2017, 81 rapes were reported. However, according to the report, an individual reported to campus police that they had been raped approximately 51 times over the course of a relationship.

'You carry it with you'

R transferred from a Charlotte community college in the fall of 2017. UNC was her dream school. When she got her acceptance letter, she cried.

Two weeks into her first semester, her dream was shattered. Instead of enjoying the newfound freedom of her first year at UNC, R was compiling a witness list of friends she barely knew. She was emailing professors to explain why she had panic attacks every time she left her dorm. She was trying to rationalize her situation.

“I was telling myself, ‘Everybody has one-night stands. It was probably just a one-night stand. It’s no big deal,’” R said.

Her rationalization didn’t last long.

R’s assailant insisted that he drive her home. Once at her dorm, he placed his hand around the back of her neck. “Put your number in my phone,” he said.

“No, thank you,” R said. She reached for the door handle.

“Do it.” He squeezed her neck.

She did.

R had her first biology quiz on Monday. So, she went straight to the library.

“I was studying with my friend,” she said. “I looked up at her and I said, ‘I think I need to go buy Plan B.’ And she was like, ‘OK. We can go buy it together.’ I said, ‘No. I think I need to go home and take a shower.’”

It hit her in the shower. She was raped. It wasn’t a one-night stand. She sat, wrapped in her towel, on her dorm floor bawling. She rocked back and forth.

R was reluctant to go to the emergency room. She works in her hometown’s emergency room as a certified nursing assistant, so she’d seen rape kits done. But a resident adviser and community director convinced her.

The rape kit recorded that she had scratches on her arms and vaginal cuts and bruises.

R had heard from friends that Title IX was not helpful, but she didn’t want a public trial. Title IX proceedings are confidential. So, she made her report through Title IX.

“I did everything right,” she said. “I went to the hospital. I had my witnesses. I thought I had to report it for myself so the person will get kicked out of school and so that other women wouldn’t be affected.”

Title IX was able to move exams for R, but she still struggled to go to class. Title IX instituted a no contact order and ensured she would not run into her perpetrator, but she still couldn’t go near the apartment complex where it happened.

“It was the worst thing to ever happen to me,” R said. “There’s no words for it. You just have no emotion, and you don’t want to live anymore.”

The decision on R's case came out in March. Title IX asked if there was a certain time the office should send the email so it wasn’t a surprise. R wanted to be with her mom, so she went home to Charlotte.

Her mom sat next to R when she opened the email. The Title IX investigator said her case did not have enough evidence. R just cried.

“My mom said, ‘At least it’s over,'” R said. “But it’s not completely over for me. You carry it with you for the rest of your life.”

R appealed the decision, but a committee found the same outcome. 

“Although we are unable to comment on specific Title IX cases, I can say the University handles every report of sexual misconduct with a commitment to the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff, and to a fair process for all parties involved," Vice Chancellor of University Communications Joel Curran said in a statement to The Daily Tar Heel. "We remain steadfast in providing appropriate care, support and resources, and to conducting impartial, thorough investigations in a timely fashion.”

The policy says that each party has the opportunity to be heard, submit information and identify witnesses with relevant information. 

The investigator gathers and analyzes the information and uses a preponderance of evidence — the legal standard used in civil cases — to determine whether there has been a violation of the University’s policy. 

If an investigator does not have enough evidence to find a violation of the University’s policy, it does not mean that they do not believe the student who reported the incident. 

R's alleged assailant graduated from UNC this summer. R is graduating a year later than planned. R still hasn’t told her dad about the assault. She’s worried it could change their relationship.

“It’s hard to find good in Carolina,” she said. “I had a moment last week where I wanted to drop out again. I just feel like I’m here because I don’t want to let myself down, and I don’t want to let that define me. I want to get my degree, so I’m going to stay.”

Next steps

DeVos’ proposal will not go into effect until the U.S. Department of Education issues a final rule after a 60-day comment period. The comment period will open once it’s published in the Federal Register, according to the DOE.

Elizabeth Boyle, an organizer for Know Your IX, said the organization has a website called Hands Off IX that explains how to submit a comment.

Boyle said the wording of the proposal uses ambiguous language that leaves decisions up to schools. She said it’s important students talk with their school administration about the guidelines.

“Right now, survivors should continue to fight for their rights because they should have them,” she said. “Advocates themselves who feel they have the capacity to keep fighting should push their schools to do the right thing. Begin to have those conversations about what their schools are going to do.”

You can contact the Orange County Rape Crisis Center's 24-hour hotline at (919)-967-7273 or visit their website for more information.

Staff writer Eva Ellenburg contributed to this report.