(Photo: Jessica Brown)

Title IX

The legislation continues to be applied by schools when addressing trauma suffered following sexual assault

Survivors of sexual violence are at an increased risk for developing severe mental health problems, and although awareness has risen, resources have not. University students, who face increasing amounts of pressure to overachieve, make up a vulnerable population.

Victims face problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, substance abuse disorders or eating disorders, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). 

“In my experience, whether or not there is a direct correlation [between sexual trauma and long-term mental health issues] other than acutely, I couldn’t say, but people in the aftermath of trauma are more likely to experience anxiety and depression symptoms,” Mira Krivoshey, assistant director of health promotion at Loyola’s Wellness Center, said. “Long-term, depending on how survivors disclose or not or what kind of support they receive, survivors may experience something called rape trauma syndrome, another version of PTSD.”

Emotional support plays a crucial role in a survivor’s mental health. On top of the trauma, needing to relive traumatic moments by going through the process of formally filing a complaint adds stress to an already vulnerable psyche. It is one of the three main reasons Krivoshey said victims do not report violations. 

“It can be difficult for survivors to report and tell their story multiple times,” Krivoshey said. “Another reason [victims don’t report] is that they don’t think anything would be done about it. The nature of the types of violations is hard to prove, so often perpetrators will go unpunished. The third reason is a lot of people don’t think or recognize it’s serious enough to do anything about.”

Krivoshey said survivors downplay what happened to them because as a coping method and because “it’s also just how we talk about sexual violence in our society.”

At Loyola, both students and faculty receive mandatory training on sexual misconduct in an attempt to combat campus sexual violence. Campus sexual harassment and assault is already an infrequently reported and recorded issue. On top of that, proper resources are sometimes stretched thin.

“I am really confident that we’ve got the right people in place and a system that is fair and equitable at its core,” Deputy Title IX Coordinator Jessica Landis said. 

There were seven reports of rape at Loyola in the 2015 – 2016 school year, according to the 2016 Security and Fire Safety Report. This number is low for a country where one in five women are raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. 

A 2014 report by a U.S. Senate Subcommittee found that 40 percent of colleges and universities did not investigate a sexual assault case in the previous five years. Identifying the reason why the schools didn’t investigate is difficult, but the same study found that 21 percent of the nation’s largest private institutions conducted fewer investigations than the number of incidents reported to the Department of Education.

The dialogue around sexual violence is changing. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in 2017 rescinded Title IX guidelines and criticized the previous administration for creating victims in the accused, victim advocates criticized her for protecting attackers and discouraging victims from coming forward.

“There will be no more sweeping [sexual violence] under the rug,” DeVos said in a Department of Education press release.  “But the process must also be fair and impartial, giving everyone more confidence in its outcomes…The notion that a school must diminish due process rights to better serve the ‘victim’ only creates more victims.”

Landis said she believes the policies, processes and practices at Loyola are working well. The situation looks good on paper, but that does not mean there is no room for improvement.

“What’s important for everyone to keep in mind as we go through this period of change is that we’ve got to keep students at the center of the discussion,” Landis said. “It’s equally important – to both parties – that we have an equitable process that has due process at its center.”

Under Title IX legislation, universities are required to provide at least one Title IX coordinator, regardless of the size of the institution. 

At Loyola, Landis oversees the Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses, LUREC, Cuneo Mansion and Gardens and Loyola’s three study abroad centers. Nearby Northwestern University and DePaul University also provide one Title IX Coordinator for their students.  

Loyola’s undergraduate population is over 10,000. Northwestern has 8,000 and DePaul has 15,000. 

“I’m one person resourcing a whole lot of students, so a challenge I face is making sure I’m being attentive to students needs,” Landis said. “We have an increase in reporting, which is a good thing because more people are coming forward and more people are getting resources, but there’s only so much that I can keep up with. That’s a challenge that I have heard from a number of my colleagues, too.”

“Loyola has made a very large commitment to battling sexual violence or gender-based violence,” Jay Malcolm, deputy Title IX coordinator for athletics, said. “We have seen numbers or reports continuously go up. That shouldn’t alarm anyone.” 

Malcolm said the rise in reports is a sign that more people feel comfortable coming forward. It also means sexual violence is still a reality, even on the campus that contributed authors to the Illinois Preventing Sexual Assault in Higher Education Act, and does little to answer the question of whether survivors receive sufficient resources for their mental health. 

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