Assault victims critique system

Rape survivors at GW said they have mixed feelings about University services, programs and willingness to help.

While programs such as the University Police’s Sexual Assault Crisis Consultation Team has drawn positive reviews from students, survivors said GW needs a student-run counseling program and tighter controls on confidentiality of their cases.

Breach of trust

Shelley Mountjoy, a fifth-year student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said she was raped first semester by another GW student. She was admitted to the GW Hospital and treated for injuries from the assault, missing days of school.

Mountjoy said depression resulting from the rape caused her grades to drop and G.P.A. to dip to .82. She said some professors were unwilling to give her extensions on work, and she was suspended for failing grades.

Beyond her academic troubles, Mountjoy said secretaries, professors and other staff members spread her business throughout the school.

“(I was trying to drop one of my classes and) wanted to turn in the drop form, and the secretary made a comment like, ‘You’re Shelley Mountjoy? I’ve heard about you.’ I was known as this girl, this slutty girl,” Mountjoy said. “I ended up crying in the restroom for three hours.”

SEAS Dean Shelley Heller declined to comment about Mountjoy’s case because of confidentiality and “more complicated reasons.”

Where to go for help

GW officials said they want to help survivors cope with their problems.

University Counseling Center psychologist Kim Burghardt started a sexual assault survivor psychotherapy group last semester. She said anybody who is interested and “a good fit for the group” is admitted after she screens them.

Burghardt said she considers the individual’s ability to add to group dynamics and his or her mental needs.

“(Because of different survivors’ conditions) some people need to start with individual counseling and then go to group, or have just individual counseling or just a group,” Burghardt said. “(If someone isn’t admitted), either individual treatment or another group is suggested.”

Mountjoy, who was not admitted to the group, said the Counseling
Center told her the group only talks about sexual assault issues, not issues with the University like Mountjoy had. She said she did not understand why there is a screen because students pay tuition for the service, and the Counseling Center let her leave even though officials knew she had nowhere else to turn.

“I think if (survivors) didn’t understand why (they weren’t admitted to the group) it could be difficult,” Burghardt said. “Hopefully it would be explained why it wasn’t a good fit.”

Student support?

Other students who have tried to work with the Counseling Center said they were disappointed.

Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance President Jen Heitel said FMLA wants to put together a Rape Advocacy Program, in which GW students trained in procedures and counseling would be on call to support rape survivors at the time of their attacks.

Heitel, a junior, said the Counseling Center rejected her idea.

“The Counseling Center isn’t really willing to work with students,” Heitel said. “But we don’t want to be involved with a support group that doesn’t support all survivors or support our mission, which is helping everyone.”

There is one student-run rape support group on GW’s campus that admits all interested persons. Founder Melisa Pardes, a senior, said she started it two years ago in an effort to find a rape support group for herself.

Burghardt said there is already a University Police Department advocacy group, and students would not be ideal candidates for advocates because they graduate each year and survivors need consistency.

Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., has several student-run and faculty-advised clubs dealing with sexual education; they include the Committee on Rape Education, where students educate others in residence halls, a 24-hour confidential and anonymous crisis hotline called People are Listening and confidential peer counseling called Student Sexuality Information Service.

Brandeis Assistant Dean of Campus Life and Faculty Adviser Alwina

Bennet said the students go through training from the Rape Crime Prevention Counseling Center in Cambridge, Mass., and are dedicated to the cause.

Susan Haney, a member of UPD’s group, the Sexual Assault Crisis Consultation Team, said she would be supportive of a student-run advocacy group on campus.

University Police lend a hand

University Police Director Dolores Stafford said UPD makes every effort to help survivors feel at ease and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Stafford said more than two-thirds of the 15 on-campus and 13 off-campus assaults in 2001 were reported directly to UPD, while in 2000 only one-fourth of the nine on-campus and five off-campus assaults were reported directly to UPD.

Stafford said she founded SACC in 1992 to help survivors. It is a 10-person team that informs a survivor of legal rights, medical options and counseling resources.

She said officers are sensitive and careful not to re-victimize the survivor when dealing with policies and procedures.

Mountjoy described her experience with SACC as “wonderful”.

“(My SACC counselor) was the only one who believed me,” Mountjoy said. “Her only role was to tell me options, like where Student Health is, but she cared about me so much.”

A survivor can contact SACC without going through UPD. Campus Security Authority, comprised primarily of academic advisors, community facilitators and community directors, can also contact SACC if an assault is reported to one of them.

Acquaintance rape

Pardes said most cases she sees are rapes by an acquaintance. She said many survivors find it hard to trust others again, because the inherent trust people have with those they know is broken.

Senior Assistant Dean of Students Michael Walker said all five cases that Student Judicial Services processed this school year involved acquaintances. Walker said one assailant was suspended and another received a deferred suspension. This year, 12 rapes were reported to UPD.

“The majority of cases at GW that we hear happen in residence halls,” Walker said. “A whole floor of students gets to know each other. Then Student A and Student B hook up on a night, and have had too much to drink.”

Because of the small number of students who elect to go through SJS, few students have first-hand knowledge of the process.

Some GW students said they are afraid to report their assaults to SJS.

Mountjoy said she did not report her assault because she was concerned she would not be able to prove it happened, despite being hospitalized.

A sophomore who wished to remain anonymous said she and another student were dating for two weeks and she had made it clear to him the two would not have sex.

After drinking at a fraternity party last fall, the students said she went to the male’s apartment, where she was raped.

“It’s kind of just a flash in my head, he was on top of me,” the female student said. “I don’t remember anything else, (but) I could tell the next morning we had had sex.”

The survivor did not report her rape to any authorities. She said her friends did not think it was a big deal after it happened, so neither did she.

She also did not want to ruin the male’s status with his sports team on campus.

Her perspective changed after going to Pardes’ group.

“When I went to Melisa (Pardes’) support group, she let me know (what he did) wasn’t OK,” the woman said.

Under the influence

Stafford said at least 90 percent of cases reported on campus involve the use of drugs or alcohol by one or both parties.

Walker said survivor or assailant alcohol use is a factor in considering the incident, but it is typically not the focus.

“It’s my opinion that if you’re actually handling the case, you must provide support for the person,” he said. “The fact that the survivor may have been intoxicated is not your number-one priority. Their claim that an assault has occurred is.”

Walker said SJS looks to prevent students from coming back in the future.

“You can’t just tell students to drink less and make good decisions, (but help them to) predict consequences in advance,” he said. “It’s never a win-win situation when hearing these cases.”

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