This article is the third in a series of articles devoted to investigating sexual assault at Swarthmore College. In this series The Daily Gazette speaks with survivors, explains Title IX and federal law, analyzes college disciplinary processes, describes changes to college policies, researches sexual assault statistics and their meanings, and looks at educational programs and survivor services on campus. Read Part One and Part Two.
Trigger Warning: This article addresses issues related to sexual violence.
She never had the chance to bring her case to the College Judiciary Committee (CJC).
The date for the hearing was set. The hearing committee was selected. She had submitted a formal statement, prepared herself emotionally, and asked a friend to testify on her behalf. Her friend also submitted a formal statement. Then, two days before the hearing was supposed to take place, he withdrew from the College.
He graduated from another university. Nothing is on his transcript. Nothing is on his criminal record. No one will ever know he was accused of sexually assaulting two women during his time at Swarthmore.
“That was the end of it from the College’s perspective,” said M ‘08, who asked to remain anonymous. “He wasn’t there anymore, and there was nothing really they could do.”
M says she doesn’t blame the administration. She says she thinks the administration handled it the way they were supposed to, but still, she says it was hard to see the case dropped after going through the process of reporting her assault and preparing for the hearing.
“The worst part of it for me was getting really worked up, getting ready to do it, writing the statement, and then finding out that he withdrew,” M said. “It felt like we were being cheated out of telling our story and what had happened.”
M wasn’t bringing her case against him alone. He was supposed to go through two CJC hearings for sexual assault that week, one on Monday, one on Wednesday.
Ana Raquel Grullon Valdez ’10 also filed a CJC case against him for sexually assaulting her.
M says she was sexually assaulted in Fall 2007 of her senior year. It happened during reading week, the time after classes end and before finals begin. M says she didn’t know him well but started talking with him at a party, then invited him back to her room. M said they both had had a couple drinks but she told him they wouldn’t be having sex.
Back in her room, M says he began pressuring her to do more than she was willing to. Then, it went beyond what she wanted.
“It escalated from there where he asked if he could do more and more and I kept saying I’m not going to sleep with you,” M said. “It just got to the point where he did things, and I didn’t have control over it.”
The next day she went to Worth to get the emergency contraceptive pill, Plan B. M says she had multiple friends who had been assaulted before who were able to help her through the process of going to Worth and processing her trauma.
As in P’s story, M says she didn’t want to go to go through any formal procedures.
“I didn’t go to the administration. I just wanted to take my finals, go home, deal with it,” M said.
Then she met Valdez.
A month into the following semester, Spring 2008, M heard that there had been a sexual assault in his dorm. She said she had a strange feeling that somehow it was her perpetrator who did it. Through a chain of connections she was able to figure out who the survivor was.
Valdez can’t remember exactly what happened to her. She was taking heavy painkillers to cope with extreme back pain caused by what would later be diagnosed as sciatica.
Unlike M, Valdez says she knew him well. They were in the same circle of friends. They lived on the same hall. The reason he came to her room that night, she says, was for emotional support.
“He texted me one night and said he was really upset and just needed to be near someone that cares about him,” Valdez said.
Valdez says she let him come over even though she was really tired. She fell asleep within minutes, but was going in and out of sleep. She says she remembers waking up two times.
“I just remember his hands being somewhere they weren’t supposed to be,” Valdez said. “Then he got up at some point, and his pants were down. And I remember seeing that and being like what just happened.”
She can’t remember if he left then or later. She says she shut down. She doesn’t believe he raped her, but she knows he assaulted her.
“After that I shut down. I didn’t bathe for two days. I didn’t eat. I didn’t go to class.”
She told two of her friends who she says supported her in reporting her assault, seeking legal protection, and going through the CJC. Valdez said in the days following her assault, she was living moment to moment. Her friends helped her move forward.
“[One friend] came and saw me and was like, I know it’s terrifying for you, but you need to say something about this,” Valdez said. “I didn’t want to say anything about this at all. I was just in shock and horrified and scared.”
The second day after the assault, one of her friends drove her to a hospital to have a rape collection kit taken. It was the last day evidence could still be collected, since a rape kit must be taken within 72 hours of the attack. They stayed with her and held her hand throughout the entire process.
Because Valdez didn’t shower before going to the hospital, most of the evidence should have still been intact. She’ll never know; she says her rape kit was never processed.
Worth does not provide rape kits because the process is federally regulated. Not even every hospital provides them. But where they are available, rape kits are free.
According to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Deliquency, in Pennsylvania, survivors do not need to pay for the examination. They also don’t need to file a criminal complaint or cooperate with police in order for it to be paid for by the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP).
During an examination that can last hours, trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) do a complete physical examination, collecting samples of urine, blood, and and other bodily fluids. They inspect the genitals for signs of penetration and swap for DNA. They collect hair and fiber samples. They take numerous pictures and take the survivor’s clothing for further examination. They also do tests for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and evaluate the risk of pregnancy.
After the evidence is collected it’s labeled as evidence in a criminal investigation and must be transported to a forensic lab for testing. Kotarski says it’s important that students go to a hospital that is federally licensed so that the evidence collected will hold up in court.
Rape kits take months to process, and not all jurisdictions require every rape kit be tested. According to a 2010 study published by the U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women , although 50 to 60 percent of rape kits will test positive for DNA from another person, evidence isn’t always collected properly, and when it is, it is usually backlogged for several months.
The Delco Times published an article yesterday detailing the national backlogs of rape kits.
After she had a rape kit taken, things moved quickly. The day after the rape kit was taken she says she had a long emergency meeting with her counselor at CAPS who she says was incredibly supportive. That afternoon she met with a dean. That weekend she received an emergency 48-hour order of protection to keep him from contacting her or coming near her.
Her friend found an advocacy agency in Media that helped her file for the restraining order and drove her to the courthouse.
The College moved him out of her hall.
“I don’t know if everybody was super accommodating and super nice to me because I had a rape kit done, and because the police were involved, and because I had an emergency order of protection,” Valdez said. “If I hadn’t done those things, and just gone through the process on campus, I don’t know if they would’ve moved him.”
When the College moved him to a new dorm, they moved him onto M’s hall, not knowing that he had assaulted M as well. This is where M and Valdez’s paths crossed.
M says she approached Valdez after finding out the same man had assaulted both of them. They went to court together to file for a joint temporary order of protection.
Since Valdez’s rape kit hadn’t been processed, the prosecutor told her there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against him. They were, however, granted an order of protection.
Then, M and Valdez started the process to take him to the CJC.
Valdez says she didn’t want to take him to the CJC. She didn’t want to punish him or make him go through a hard disciplinary process. She cared about him. She says she knew he was going through a rough time and was struggling with substance abuse. She says she remembers asking the deans if they could just make him take a leave of absence to attend therapy. She says his parents were unwilling to take him out of school and didn’t believe that he had hurt anyone.
“I didn’t want him to have to leave Swarthmore, but I also knew that I couldn’t have him there while I was there,” Valdez said.
Valdez says she thought this may be the only way for him to get help and for her to feel safe.
In terms of Valdez and M’s cases, by the time they moved to the CJC, the writing was on the wall. M and Valdez had a restraining order against him. Valdez had had a rape kit and already filed a police report. There were two of them, and they were both upperclassmen.
“I felt like they did the things they had to do,” M said. “My story was never questioned. I was never asked are you sure that he raped you, anything like that. In that way, I felt supported.”
M says if she hadn’t met Valdez, she probably would never have come forward. For M, knowing that another woman had also come forward confirmed her own experience and motivated her to move forward with disciplinary proceedings.
“Knowing the same person did this to more than one person made it feel more important to get him off campus,” M said.
Valdez and M weren’t friends. They were in different classes. They were in completely different social circles. But they empowered each other to move forward. They decided to be each other’s support person at each other’s hearings.
The vast majority of students accused of sexual assault who have withdrawn from the College were accused by multiple women. In her 7 years serving as the coordinator of the CJC, Westphal says out of the 4 students who withdrew pending CJC hearings for sexual misconduct, 3 were accused by 2 or more women.
Like in P’s story, M’s case is the second of the 3 cases Associate Dean of Students Myrt Westphal says she’s seen brought against a student by multiple survivors that resulted in the accused withdrawing from the College before the CJC proceedings.
“In all three of those cases, there was more than one complainant,” Westphal said.
According to Westphal, when a case is brought against a student, that student receives counsel from a dean about how to prepare for their case. Like the complainant, the accused can bring witnesses.
“It’s interesting because I advise both the person bringing the charge to help them make the best case possible, and I talk to the defendants and try to help them make the best case possible, because we don’t have advocates or council,” Westphal said.
According to Braun, the accused may also have counsel from another dean besides Westphal.
Westphal says the deans do not tell students they should withdraw to avoid a guilty finding, though they will counsel them on what their best option may be. Westphal said that to her, the distinction is that the CJC is a difficult process to go through and having to go through multiple would be emotionally and mentally draining.
“In those cases, I think the counsel was, ‘I think it’s better that you leave Swarthmore than to have to go through two or three hearings,’” said Westphal.
While students who withdraw from Swarthmore before CJC proceedings are finished don’t have anything on their transcripts, Westphal says a select group of schools will call the College to find out if the student is leaving in good standing. The College would tell them the student would be able to return but would have to go through a CJC hearing first. The College cannot disclose the nature of that hearing, meaning the university calling wouldn’t know if the CJC hearing was for academic dishonesty, vandalism, or sexual assault.
“I felt bad letting him go without making sure he got help, or that he wasn’t going to do it again to someone else. If he hadn’t gone to therapy and he hadn’t worked through some of this stuff, I don’t know that I would’ve prevented myself from letting someone know at his college what was going on,” Valdez said. “I feel like Swat should have done that, but that’s not the law and that’s not how they have to do it.”
Valdez says she wishes the College had taken more action to notify the next university he transferred to.
After he withdrew, Valdez said she had to take the rest of the semester off. She says she couldn’t do school work and the trauma of her assault was intensifying her sciatica. She says the College was incredibly supportive in letting her finish her course work at home and during the following semester.
Valdez says she has largely moved past her assault. She isn’t triggered as frequently, and wouldn’t even want to see the results of her rape kit if it were processed.
“I can finally say that most weeks, most months, I don’t have triggers anymore. I had triggers all the time after it happened,” Valdez said.
Christopher Krebs, one of the leading authors of the sexual assault study cited by the “Dear Colleague” letter that found 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted during her time in College, says a judiciary system that has never held a student accountable for sexual misconduct is probably a faulty system.
“I think if you told most reasonable people that no one at Swarthmore has ever been expelled for sexually assaulting or raping someone, it would just confirm for them one of two things: either that a somewhat compelling case against a perpetrator has never come forward, which I suppose is possible, or that the university did not handle said case in the appropriate way,” Krebs said. “It’s very difficult for a reasonable person to believe that people were not criminally raped at Swarthmore. It just defies logic.”
Though as Krebs notes, beliefs vary widely as to how sexual assault and rape on College campuses should be handled.
“It’s all over the board in terms of what people think is right. Some people think being expelled is not enough and they should go to jail; others believe they shouldn’t be expelled and lose out on a college education because they raped someone,” Krebs said.
For M, she says it was enough that he had to leave campus. He wasn’t at the College anymore and wasn’t a threat to any more women at Swarthmore.
Valdez says she has kept tabs on her alleged perpetrator. She knows where he transferred to school and that he went through counseling. She said she’s heard that therapy helped him, which has put her mind at ease. She said she thinks that if this hadn’t happened, she would have written letters to the school where he transferred to warn them about him.
As Swarthmore looks to drastically overhaul its policies regarding sexual assault for the second time in 2 years following an external review, it must look at the guiding principle of its CJC process.
It has traditionally been seen as an educational process, where students learn from their mistakes and are guided towards making better decisions. The rhetoric appears to be shifting towards accountability.
In an interview with The Daily Gazette, President Rebecca Chopp says she’s seen a broader cultural shift towards accountability and serving the common good.
“I think it’s important that we have rules and that people be held accountable, and I think that’s the only way that communities can flourish,” Chopp said.
In her campus-wide email announcing an independent review of the College’s policies, Chopp stressed the College’s zero tolerance policy writing, “[Sexual assault] is against the law, it is wrong, and we must all continue to reinforce the message that even one such incident is too many on our campus.”
Photo Illustration by Max Nesterak/The Daily Gazette