The Current State
Last year, 4.7 percent of students on Main Campus reported an incident of sexual penetration—as defined by the Wellness Resource Center as vaginal, oral or anal penetration—without their consent.
Nearly 44 percent of students who have experienced sexual assault said reporting was not helpful, according to a climate survey conducted by the Presidential Committee on Sexual Misconduct.
Nationally, 27 percent of college women have reported an experience of some form of unwanted sexual contact, and almost 38 percent of female rape survivors were first raped between the ages of 18 to 24, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
A spokesman for OCR provided a statement saying the office’s policy was not to discuss details of complaints. When an investigation concludes, it will be disclosed whether or not OCR found Title IX violations at the university—or if there was insufficient evidence, the statement said.
Sandra Foehl, the university’s Title IX coordinator, said she could not recall details of specific complaints. At least one of the complaints, she said, involved an after-the-fact dispute over whether or not sex was consensual.
The OCR requested copies of years of university records to review Temple’s handling of sexual misconduct, Foehl added.
As part of the investigation, OCR visited Main Campus in 2014 to conduct focus groups to ask if students were aware of the sexual harassment and misconduct policies and how to report misconduct.
Foehl said answers “ran the gamut,” ranging from “people who had no notion that we have any of these things, to very informed individuals.”
Harmony-Jazmyne Rodriguez arrived on Main Campus as a liberal arts student in 2013. She filed a Title IX complaint that year, in which she alleges that the university mishandled her sexual assault case.
Rodriguez recounted parts of her more-than-80-page complaint to The Temple News last month as she did late in 2014. She said administrators did not accommodate her request to change housing to get away from the dorm room in which she was raped in August 2013, and further alleged that the Wellness Resource Center declined to assist her because she is a trans woman.
“I am told that they help students in need. But they didn’t help me,” Rodriguez said. Her complaint includes emails from WRC staff asking her to return to their office and encouraging her to involve Campus Safety in her efforts to report.
In her complaint, Rodriguez faults a Student Conduct administrator for disclosing details of her rape to The Temple News that blamed alcohol as a cause of the assault. She said opinion pieces focusing on drinking as a cause of sexual assault made her uncomfortable.
“It was excruciating to have people focus on drinking as a cause of rape rather than rapists,” she wrote.
The complaint is still being investigated.
The most recent reports of sexual assault on or near Main Campus include an incident in late September, when a 20-year-old female student reported to Philadelphia Police she had been sexually assaulted by someone she did not know on Carlisle Street near Jefferson.
Temple, SEPTA and Philadelphia police all collaborated in the investigation to find the suspect, which led to the arrest of Shakree Bennett in mid-October.
More recently, an 18-year-old female student reported a Feb. 13 sexual assault late in March. The student told Temple Police she was inappropriately touched by a 22-year-old male unaffiliated with the university. The student did not want further involvement with Temple Police, said Executive Director of Campus Safety Services Charlie Leone.
In 2014, there were seven reports of forcible rape on-campus, and two that occurred off campus.
In September 2014, President Theobald tasked Laura Siminoff, dean of the College of Public Health, with organizing a task force to investigate sexual misconduct on campus and provide recommendations.
The task force included faculty, students and administrators who met mostly during September 2014 through February 2015, Siminoff said. The group reviewed the university’s current resources and policies and surveyed students’ perceptions of leadership, policies and reporting related to sexual misconduct, according to the official report which was released in April of last year. It also compared best practices around the country and gave administration an idea about what students saw as a problem.
Of 3,763 student survey responses, 58.3 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed they knew where to get help if they experienced sexual misconduct and 37.6 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that they knew Temple’s formal procedures to address complaints of sexual misconduct.
“A lot of different students are unclear about what sexual misconduct is and what rises to it,” Siminoff said.
The task force was a “one-time thing,” she said, adding that it will be up to Theobald if he wants it to reconvene.
In August 2015, President Theobald approved four of the task force’s recommendations:
- the creation of a new website focusing on sexual misconduct
- requiring all students to participate in mandatory, annual online sexual-misconduct awareness training
- updating the Student Conduct Code
- improving the infrastructure of resources and services allocated toward the issue
“Think About It: Part 3,” online training implemented by the Dean of Students, was a starting point for education about sexual misconduct, Siminoff said.
“It can’t hurt, it can only raise awareness,” she said. “It’s not the only solution, but we have to have good education in order to make any real changes. … Big schools are more challenged with how to do this with everybody.”
Dean of Students Stephanie Ives said the decision to use “Think About It: Part 3” was because it “seemed consistent” with the other two installments of the training. “Think About It: Part 1” is sent to incoming students in August, before arriving on campus. “Think About It: Part 2” is a follow-up for freshmen, given in October.
Ives said some students were “really angry” about the mandated training. Foehl, who oversees training for faculty and staff, said there was pushback as well.
“No, I do not think it’s enough,” Ives said. “I think it’s one way to ensure that all of these students in so many different locations get consistent educations.”
For Valerie Harrison, the resources for sexual assault survivors at Temple are adequate, but the coordination of those resources is lacking.
The task force agreed, and now she shares a floor with President Theobald as the centralized resource to help survivors get help. Since being hired in March, she is responsible for advising the President Theobald for compliance issues—including sexual assault—as a part of a three-person department.
Andrea Seiss, the current senior associate dean of students, will serve as the university’s new Title IX coordinator responsible for “services” and “systems” related to sexual misconduct beginning June 1.
Seiss’ responsibilities will include working with Harrison and making sure policies are “up to date and user-friendly,” defining what sexual misconduct is on Temple’s campus, ensuring compliance with federal guidelines, explaining to students the resources available for education, prevention and support.
“As time has passed, we’ve come to realize there’s more that we can be doing and should be doing for students. That’s where this position has come from,” she said.
“A university of this size … you can’t have one person doing that,” she added.
This summer, Seiss will begin reforming current university policy on sexual assault, connecting other resources on campus and assisting investigation.
“It’s going to be an area that’s going to continue to evolve through what we learn from students, faculty, staff, families, as we get talking more,” she said.
“We [have to] take advantage of confidence of our best practices, so that we are better coordinated and hopefully at the end of the day for our students, that would mean our resources and information are more easily accessible and you know where to go. You don’t have to go to five or six different places to get an answer.”
Kimberly Chestnut, director of the Wellness Resource Center, said this office is closer to her vision of a “victim advocacy center,” which has not previously existed on Main Campus. Chestnut imagines a confidential reporting office that could also offer all the necessary resources to survivors of any kind of sexual violence.
“That role doesn’t really exist here,” Chestnut said. “I think it would be an incredible asset.”
Addressing sexual assault or mishandling of sexual assault was on many platforms of tickets running for Temple Student Government for the 2016-17 academic year.
Take TU, a group comprised of student-activists Tina Ngo, Jared Dobkin and Isabella Jayme, said their campaign was the only intersectional-feminist campaign, and prioritized sexual assault as the most important issue facing the Temple community.
Ngo said she experienced an abusive relationship during her freshman year at Temple that affected her studies and well-being. She should have enough credits to be a junior, but she said she struggled academically due to the trauma that followed the relationship.
Ngo said she didn’t report the incidents of assault at the time, even though some of the reportable action happened on Main Campus in her dorm, because she wasn’t sure of the implications of reporting and what an investigation would mean.
Eventually, Ngo said, she reached out to Temple Police who put her in touch with Gray. After talking with her, Ngo sought counseling at Tuttleman Counseling Services, but she couldn’t get an appointment for about a month. The experience, she said, was draining.
This process led Ngo and her team to propose the idea for a sexual assault crisis center on Main Campus. The ticket identified the currently overworked staff in mental health resource centers, lack of clear information about reporting and a lack of serious education for students about what sexual assault is and how to handle it.
“I would literally have no idea how to report,” Jayme said. “I can’t even remember what we were told during orientation. There has to be more people who don’t know where to go.”
Ngo said “Think About It: Part 3” is not even close to what the university should be doing. A lot of students, she said, do it just so their account won’t be put on hold.
“These types of learning exercises need to be taken outside of the computer. It needs to be addressed with students face-to-face,” she said.
Any campus event can be an opportunity to talk about and educate on the topic of assault, Ngo said. She thinks Temple Student Government is responsible for addressing these issues and implementing ways to improve.
Ngo said the center should also be available to community members and should be a single place where any survivor can go get any help they may need.
“It’s just a room, that’s all we need,” Ngo said. “We just need a place where victims and survivors have one place they can go and get the help they need and know how to report.”
One of the priorities for the student group Student Activists for Female Empowerment, or S.A.FE., is having a resource center for sexual assault survivors on Main Campus. As of February, the group has spoken with administration once this school year and is focused on bringing attention and improvements to resources.
“I think Temple would like to portray that we have a lot of resources for this,” said Taylor Davis, the group’s vice president. “The ones that we do have, they’re just not communicated well enough to the student body at large.”