Updated: April 6, 2017 at 8:28 a.m.
A senior and sexual assault survivor is petitioning the University to expel her assailant after he received a lesser sentence than what is recommended by the student code of conduct.
Aniqa Raihan started an online petition Sunday to expel her assailant after he received a penalty of deferred suspension for sexual violence last month, 95 days after her December hearing. Raihan said when she met with officials, they told her they could not change the assaulter’s punishment.
About 870 people signed Raihan’s petition as of Wednesday night. In the petition, she is asking the University to make suspensions until the survivor graduates mandatory for students found guilty of sexual violence, provide survivors with regular updates on their cases’ proceedings, review cases in less than two calendar months and allow survivors to appeal the outcomes and sanctions of their cases.
Raihan said she plans to continue petitioning until her demands are met and is considering filing a Title IX complaint against the University.
“I’m happy to raise hell until the day that I graduate and beyond that,” Raihan said.
Raihan said that after she posted the petition online, three other survivors that allege to have been assaulted by the same man contacted her via social media.
“I think people deserve to know who and what he is, and more than that, I think, I want other students to be safe,” she said. “We’re taught we’re not allowed to talk about it, we’re not supposed to talk about it – I’m going to talk about it.”
The alleged assailant declined to comment on this story.
Getting the University’s attention
After the petition began circulating among GW students, Peter Konwerski, the dean of student affairs, emailed Raihan to schedule a meeting after she had tweeted at him four times as more students signed the petition. Raihan said members of Students Against Sexual Assault had previously asked to meet with Konwerski about her case, but he declined.
Raihan took her 27-page petition – which had 785 signatures at the time – to her meeting with Konwerski Tuesday. She said she felt he was “very noncommittal” about addressing her demands and that he said that “once the sanction is handed down, that’s kind of it.”
The SRR Board recommended that Raihan’s assaulter be suspended, but he ended up receiving deferred suspension, according to the hearing documents obtained by The Hatchet. SRR works within the Division of Student Affairs and oversees students and staff members dealing with disciplinary action, according to the University’s code of conduct.
Raihan said she asked Konwerski why the punishment was lowered from the recommendation and why it took 95 days to get a response. Raihan said that Konwerski declined to name who was involved in lowering her assaulter’s punishment to deferred suspension and that many people are involved in handling each case.
“Why did [he] get a deferred suspension whereas someone else who was found responsible got a normal suspension or someone else got an expulsion?” she said.
University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said that a mandatory minimum sanction for a violation is not defined in the conduct code and that each case is reviewed “on its own merit,” based on the information available at the time of the hearing.
“The university is also committed to fully supporting survivors of such acts and treating appropriately those who are found to have committed them,” Csellar said. “Out of respect and concern for the privacy of the parties, the University will not comment on specific details.”
Csellar said Raihan did not reach out directly to Konwerski until Sunday night and he contacted her Monday in response to her request before meeting Tuesday.
Timeline of the case
Raihan said she was assaulted March 6, 2014 in Thurston Hall, and reported the case in fall 2016. She said she first discussed the possibility of reporting her case with Carrie Ross, the former assistant director for sexual assault prevention and response who left GW in January.
After she officially reported the assault case to the University, Raihan said she waited 95 days to learn the hearing’s outcome. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights recommends that most investigations should be concluded within 60 days but does not require it.
Raihan said that the hearing took about four to five hours in the SRR townhouse. Both Raihan and her assaulter were allowed to have one adviser of their choosing. They were kept in separate rooms for the entirety of the hearing, but had access to phones in their rooms, which allowed them to hear the proceedings, she said.
Between the date of the hearing and when the outcome was released, SRR never sent Raihan updates unprompted, she said. Raihan sent multiple emails to SRR before receiving a response that repeated a portion of the student code of conduct, according to emails obtained by The Hatchet.
Other survivors of sexual assault in previous years have complained that officials did not respond to emails during judicial processes.
“I think survivors should be able to get updates unprompted. I think there should be someone who reaches out and to check in,” Raihan said.
Raihan learned the outcome of the hearing on March 24, where the assailant was found to be “responsible” and received a deferred suspension, meaning that he is required to attend two meetings with the Title IX coordinator and cannot enter residence halls for two months, she said.
The student code of conduct states that the recommended minimum sanction for a student found guilty of sexual violence is a one year suspension and eviction from residence halls or University-owned or controlled rental properties.
Raihan said the hearing’s outcome is unfair because it means her assailant will be able to graduate at the same time as her. She said that if nothing else, she wanted to put his name online so that “more women aren’t assaulted.”
“He should be in prison, like that’s how it works in the real world when you rape three women,” Raihan said. “Unfortunately, that’s not how it works at GW.”
Raihan could only appeal the case if new evidence was presented, according to an email from SRR Director Gabriel Slifka sent last week.
Csellar, the University spokeswoman, said parties have a right to appeal the outcome of a disciplinary hearing but do not have the right to appeal a sanction. All appeals must be based on new information, she said.
Petitioning for change
While drafting her petition, Raihan said she met with four lawyers, two professors and several members of SASA. She started her draft the day she received her outcome letter and published the petition about a week later.
Jocelyn Jacoby, the co-president of SASA, said Raihan approached her to talk about her goals last week. She said that after she heard her story, Jacoby decided to bring SASA on board to support her and help work on a plan of action.
“I was just shocked, that’s not the normal case story I hear, but unfortunately does happen too often,” Jacoby said. “It was just not a helpful process and she felt out of options so that is why she reached out to SASA.”
Jacoby said that first she emailed Konwerski last week asking for a meeting to discuss the outcome of the case and the process before the group decided to do anything publicly. Konwerski declined to meet with Raihan and Jacoby last week because he is not allowed to discuss specific cases and told them to contact SRR or Title IX, according to emails obtained by The Hatchet.
“It’s not just to make the University angry or to make Peter K look bad, it’s about the tangible outcomes that we are hoping to get,” Jacoby said of Raihan’s petition.
‘Nothing has changed’
Alumna Maya Weinstein, a sexual assault survivor and former member of GW’s Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, said she only knows about Raihan’s case from what she read from the petition, but that the story reminded her of what she experienced when she went through the process four years ago.
“Other survivors I have talked to faced the same thing. Nothing has changed,” she said. “I went through my hearing in 2013, it has been four years.”
Officials created the Committee on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in October 2014 to find ways to address sexual violence on campus. The committee does not release any public reports and student members of the committee held its first and only public event two months ago.
Weinstein said that if the information in the petition is accurate, then “deferred suspension is absurd and shouldn’t even be an option.”
“If the University is saying ‘Yes, this person raped you,’ then there is absolutely no reason to keep them on campus another day,” she said.
Katie Eichele, the director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education at the University of Minnesota, which develops policies and protocols for responding to sexual assault, said university judicial systems are not always effective, and survivors must be willing to fight for their own justice.
“If their form of justice is not met, they have to anticipate that there may be a fight ahead of them,” Eichele said.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelled Slifka’s name. It is spelled correctly now. We regret this error.