By Holly Walsh & Heather Pearson
Content Warning: detailed description of sexual assault, thoughts of suicide.
*Pseudonyms used throughout.
This fall, Willamette admitted a student-athlete found responsible of a sexual misconduct charge at his previous university. This occurrence comes in the midst of nationwide dialogue over the prevalence of sexual assault everywhere from Hollywood to the Oregon State Capitol.
On Nov. 3, a student at a small university in the Pacific Northwest decided to share how her assailant ended up at Willamette.
“I really wanted my voice to be heard,” Jane* expressed.
The circumstances of Jane’s assault are both intimately personal and unnervingly familiar: the transformation of an acquaintance to an assailant one night out, a report filed through the university failing to provide justice, and skepticism and harassment following her throughout college.
The morning after the assault, the assailant apologized to Jane via Instagram Direct Message, writing:
Hey Jane I just want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for what I did last night. I was really drunk but I know that there is no excuse what so ever [sic] for my actions and being drunk isn’t an excuse. I’m sorry for what I put you through I did not me [sic] any of that please believe me. I just want to apologize and say that I will never bother you look at you or talk to you again. Please forgive me, I’m not asking for you to talk to me or anything I just want you to know that I am sorry from the bottom of my heart you do not deserve that. And if you can’t forgive me for, [sic] I understand that too, I’m an idiot. I’m really really sorry.
Jane, a sophomore at the time, reported the attack to the school which led to a formal conduct hearing nearly a month later. According to the official written document summarizing the decision of the conduct hearing, it was “concluded that it is more likely than not that Mr. . . engaged in sexual activity without consent. Therefore, Mr. . . has been found responsible for the sexual misconduct charge.”
In addition to explaining the charge against the assailant, the document details parts of the attack. According to the document, the assailant did not have consent but touched Jane sexually while she “communicated through clearly understandable words or actions — verbal requests to stop and attempts to resist the [assailant] — that the [assailant] did not have consent to touch [her] body.” Afterwards, the assailant “locked the door [,] standing in front of it, preventing [Jane] from leaving.” The assailant then “grabbed [Jane’s] wrists and trapped them on the wall while [he] told [Jane] that [he] ‘is stronger than [Jane] is.’”
As a result of the conduct hearing, the assailant was suspended from the university for one year. Upon his return to campus, Jane pushed for the perpetrator to face justice — if not through her university, then through police action. The court awarded her a protection order, but another judge dismissed this protection order because the assault had happened a year earlier.
When asked why she didn’t transfer herself, Jane stated, “I didn’t want him to feel like he won. I didn’t want him to feel like I was giving up. I didn’t want him to feel like he had power over me . . . He ruined my college experience and . . . I didn’t want to give up because I knew what was happening was so wrong.”
Yet, what happened when Jane’s assailant chose to transfer from the university he had been attending?
He ended up at Willamette.
“The reality is there are so many assaults that don’t result in any disciplinary action. It’s frustrating to know that the few that do just end up moving locations of a student,” commented a survivor of a separate incident to the Huffington Post. “We’re not talking about stopping their behavior, we’re talking about changing their geographic location.”
Additionally, it isn’t uncommon to find that individuals who commit sexual assault on college campuses can be repeat offenders. In a study of male respondents, Lisak and Miller (2002) found that while only about 6% of their sample had attempted or successfully raped someone, those who had each had committed on average four acts of sexual violence.
There is no evidence to suggest that Jane’s assailant has committed more violence at our school. However, his example brings to light broader problematic trends within institutions of higher learning: when individuals transfer away from the institutions where they have a prior disciplinary violation of sexual misconduct, they are potentially able to evade disciplinary protocol and may put students at the new school at risk.
When contacted, Jane’s university reported that they do not have a set system of what behavioral information is shared with the university a student is transferring to. Instead, it depends on what that receiving institution requests. According to their registrar, only academic information shows up on transcripts. Further information about conduct processes is only shared if the receiving university solicits it.
However, Willamette Admissions does solicit information about conduct from prior institutions. Previous schools are required to fill out a Registrar Report through the Common App, according to Vice President and Dean of Willamette’s Office of Admissions Jeremy Bogan. This report has a section for the prior institution to disclose conduct issues, including whether an applicant has ever been found responsible for a disciplinary violation at the school. This includes any behavioral misconduct that resulted in the applicant’s probation, suspension, removal, dismissal or expulsion from the institution.
Bogan stated that it would be shocking for a transfer student’s previous institution to incorrectly or dishonestly report an applicant’s disciplinary violation on this report. If such negligence did occur and Bogan became aware of it, he shared that he would feel obligated to report that institution’s unethical actions to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
If an applicant is identified to have previously been found responsible for a sexual misconduct charge on this report, a committee of Willamette Student Affairs employees would review the applicant and assess the threat to campus they present and whether to admit them or not. Bogan reports that a candidate who has previously been found responsible for sexual misconduct would be difficult to admit.
When asked, Bogan stated that he is not aware of any student currently who has been reviewed by a committee to discern whether or not they should be admitted. Due to the lack of a universal transfer application processes among institutions, it is very possible that Willamette was kept in the dark about this student’s prior disciplinary violation.
Somewhere between Jane’s assailant’s past university and his current time at Willamette, knowledge of his prior disciplinary violation of sexual misconduct slipped through the cracks. Jane’s courage to speak out interrupts the fresh start her assailant has found at our university.
In addition to enrolling in classes at Willamette, Jane’s assailant also plays on a varsity sports team. Director of Athletics Rob Passage stated, “the Title IX team would be involved in any case where . . . we are notified in the application process of a prior behavioral concern regarding sexual misconduct.” He outlined how Willamette’s student-athlete code of conduct leads to, “depending on the circumstances . . . interim or permanent action regardless of the outcome of the conduct process or criminal proceedings” for incidents of behavioral concern that occur involving current WU student-athletes. However, no language in the code of conduct specifically outlines procedure for when these instances occurred at an athlete’s past institution.
The assailant did not wish to comment when contacted.
To those who don’t know his previous disciplinary violation for sexual misconduct, Jane’s attacker is just another transfer student this year, a fellow student in class, a new teammate, a friend to get to know. Yet Jane states that the violence he committed felt so extreme that “there were times [after the assault] when I would see him and . . . would literally have to run into the bathroom to throw up” and “when I literally just didn’t even want to be alive anymore. . . [and] I had nightmares for a year of what had happened.”
There’s little reason not to believe Jane. According to the FBI, only 2% of rape and related sex charges are false, the same rate as for all other violent crimes. Furthermore, an estimated 60% of instances of sexual violence are never reported, possibly because victims fear repercussions for doing so.
Moving Forward: What We Call For
While it can be difficult to recognize that an individual in our community has previously committed sexual misconduct, it is on us to speak out. If any of us are aware that an individual has engaged in sexual misconduct now or in the past and yet we do not act, we, too, are complicit in enabling a culture that accepts this behavior.
We ask now how all of us – from admissions staff to sports coaches, from teammates to fellow individuals at parties, dorm rooms, classes and throughout our whole Willamette community – respond to sexual assault. We encourage everyone to hold space for difficult conversations with those they know, to speak up when they hear rumors about a friend’s actions, and to hold each other accountable.
We condemn this individual’s presence on campus and on a Willamette varsity sports team, we condemn Willamette for admitting a student with a past violation of sexual misconduct and we condemn the flawed system that has enabled his presence here.
To those who know these stories too well, we see you and believe you.
To those who doubt such occurrences happen here, you have been sharing campus with this assailant for nearly half a year.
To Jane, thank you for your bravery. We stand with you.
*Pseudonyms used throughout.