April is national Sexual Assault Awareness Month, introducing campaigns and work toward preventing sexual assault and harassment.
According to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, there are, on average, 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. In addition, one in six females are victims of an attempted or completed rape, and one in 33 males are victims as well.
Because of situations like this and their prevalence and frequency on college campuses, laws and rules have been mandated to universities to help prevent these occurrences, however, they also include those who are discriminated against or harassed because of race and gender.
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 said that no person should be excluded from or denied benefits of any educational program on the basis of sex.
Because of this, schools are required to have on-campus representatives that work to ensure compliance with federal laws.
Although not everyone affected reports their situation, resources on campus work to educate students about a victim’s rights, promote understanding of what sexual assault is and who is available to help.
Sherita Nickerson and Ryan Bowman are the primary employees complying with Title IX, with Wendy Jones overseeing Title IX administration, all working regularly with the ACU Police Department and ACU Police Chief Jimmy Ellison when criminal cases also have Title IX components.
Jones, chief Human Resources officer and Title IX coordinator, got involved with the Title IX office in July of 2012 when the university combined its Anti-Harassment policy with Title IX. Before the switch, the Office of Student Life had a judicial affairs position that assisted the Human Resources with cases involving students.
“I have a passion for people,” Jones said. “I have a passion for the dignity and respect of all people. I have a love-hate relationship with Title IX. I hate that we have to have these sorts of rules and laws. I wish we lived in a world where there was no need for them. I do love helping people but there are no winners in Title IX. Ever.”
Likewise, Ellison said he shares the same passion – justice for accusers and helping the victims in every way possible.
However, like a normal criminal investigation, Title IX was created for fair due-process and utilizes a system that can help victims and the falsely accused.
“People often mistakenly assume that Title IX is designed to be an advocate for victims. Title IX’s role is to fully and fairly investigate facts while arranging advocacy and other resources for victims as well as for accused,” Ellison said. “Both parties are entitled to due process, that is also very often overlooked.”
Nickerson said the process often reveals to be an obstacle itself with many victims struggling to step forward. Movements like #MeToo, while proving to be empowering, show there are many victims who do not report until years later.
Jones also said the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter changed the definition of consent and continued confusion, but students who haven’t been in college are likely unaware.
“In some ways, the definition goes against what seems logical,” she said. “We are continually trying to provide education and resources to our community.”
Both Jones and Ellison said they recognize that taking the step to report is difficult and requires the victim to push through hurt.
Ellison said he wants anyone who has been the victim of a crime, to report to ACUPD first, then to Title IX for administrative follow-up. This ensures that important evidence is not lost.
Nickerson said the nervousness is a normal response is usually because it’s a sensitive matter.
“I would encourage anyone needing to report to begin the process,” Nickerson said. “We have resources in place to assist and support them throughout the process.”
Jones and Nickerson said working in Title IX arena isn’t an easy job. The worst part, Jones said, is “the hurt.”
Though the office works to perfect its formula and help students, Jones still believes there’s plenty of room for improvement – There will never be a place of perfection.
“If I ever think I have reached a place where I cannot see room for improvement, I am the wrong person to be in this role,” Jones said. “Our team will make mistakes because we are people too. We are doing better today than we did yesterday, but that’s still not good enough. We are going to do even better tomorrow.”
Jones said she believes her work is a door that God opened for her, and Ellison said he is confident that, as an officer, he has found his career and calling.
Nickerson said she feels that Title IX offers avenues for new beginnings – in situations that many feel lost, the Title IX department serves to relieve fear. Her favorite part about the job is helping all parties involved in a report.
“No matter how bad the situation, they can move into tomorrow and be renewed,” Nickerson said. “Basically, there is always hope.”
Although outlets have increased for sexual assault and harassment awareness, these incidents continue to happen, targeting women and men alike.
The Title IX department pushes for stopping harassment of all kinds, allowing numerous victims affected by these incidents to receive justice and a renewed sense of stability in their lives.
Read more about Title IX’s processes here.