Diane Rosenfeld of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School and rape survivor Angela Epifano of the Huffington Post presented a seminar at Drexel Nov. 13. Their talk highlighted a powerful message on the future of sexual violence and abuse at Drexel and left lingering questions for students: How are abuse and violence handled at Drexel? If students became victims, where would they go? Would they even have a place to go?
“There’s probably some office you could go to, but I really just don’t know. I wouldn’t know,” Stacy Buzzetto, a senior history major, said.
Candace Wannamaker, director of the Victim Support & Intervention Services office on campus, explained the process for reporting domestic, dating or sexual violence. Students can report the issue to a resident assistant or any administrative staff member. The information is sent over to VSIS and the Department of Public Safety. In some cases, the Office of Equality and Diversity may become involved. Students also always have the option to file a report directly with the Drexel University Police Department.
“Since domestic violence and sexual assault are two very underreported crimes for women, we are hopeful that offering support services, students will feel safer reporting these crimes,” Wannamaker said. According to her, most domestic abuse cases get listed under physical violence and sexual violence and thus haven’t been listed as domestic violence.
“The most important thing to recognize is that the victim is in control of moving forward with any process,” she said.
“VSIS provides access to information about support services and available resources at Drexel and in the community to help them cope with the physical, emotional and financial consequences of crime. These elements are very important to helping a student regain an educational as well as a personal focus while away from family and friends. VSIS assists in restoring order to their lives after becoming a victim of a crime, trauma or critical injury,” she continued.
VSIS also offers free and confidential counseling services. Students have the options of going through with a student conduct process, a criminal process, both or none at all.
According to Stephen Rupprecht, assistant dean of students, students have several different rights as defined in the student handbook, including a separate waiting room during hearings from the accused, his or her family and friends, and the witnesses; the option to provide a written statement instead of an in-person interview; and a change of housing or academic assignments.
“There are only two outcomes for all cases, in violation and not in violation. For students who are found to be in violation, there are no restrictions or limitations regarding sanctions. Depending on the severity of the incident, suspension and expulsion will be considered. The input of the victim is always considered when issuing sanctions for these types of cases,” he wrote in an email.
According to Drexel Human Resources policy HR-36, Wannamaker said, “Domestic violence is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood: attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest, with or without a deadly weapon. Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.”
Lonnie Snyder is a 2010 Drexel graduate and the former president of the Drexel One in Four club, which is dedicated to helping women who have been sexually assaulted. “Before and even as alumni, I’ve had people come up to me with stories. Either they or their friend was sexually assaulted. The main thing that I’ve heard is that people don’t want to file reports or go to the Drexel Police because it’s traumatic. They just want a safe space to be able to talk to someone,” he said.
Snyder continued, “[The main problem is] they don’t feel like they’re going to be believed. They didn’t think that their friends were going to believe them.”
According to Snyder, he believes the best option is for Drexel to spread awareness of student options.
“I wanted to make a center, with all the construction going on, for survivors, a safe space. Sort of like the Penn’s Women Center,” Snyder said. “It was taken receptively by the administration and the student offices at Drexel. I never heard of any concrete plans, but when I graduated, I didn’t continue following up with it. I don’t know if there are currently any plans.”
Buzzetto continued to talk about how sororities handle domestic violence. “Every sorority is different, but generally there’s an executive board, and those are sisters that you should feel most comfortable to go to in case anything like this happened. Just being part of a sorority, we should be able to [feel] comfortable to go to one another,” she said.
“It’s kind of scary. It’s up to them, and if that were to happen to me, personally, I’d be really scared. You have to be strong enough to do it, and that’s like an individual basis, and I don’t think I’d be able to do that. I don’t think I’d be able to follow up with that. I think I’d probably just want to forget about it and that would be it,” Buzzetto said. “[I’d want to] just report it anonymously. I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that, so the person wouldn’t know. I’d feel more comfortable to do that.”
According to Snyder, the best way to handle reporting for someone who is being abused is to make sure he or she is comfortable and wants it to be reported. Snyder explained, “I was friends with a lot of sorority girls who were going through the process. The main thing for them was the stress of it. They have to report to the judiciary committee at Drexel, and they also had to continue retelling their story to a lot of people. The whole process was drawn out. I took that to be why a lot of people might not want to report it. They don’t have the time or the stress energy for all of those different reporting methods that Drexel has.”
Tamara Sharp, a second-year student in the Earle Mack School of Law and the president and founder of the Women’s Law Society, said, “[I think the biggest problem is] being labeled as a victim. Once people find out that you’re a victim of domestic violence, you don’t want to be treated any differently. They don’t want to look bad or look wrong for staying. I know a lot of people deal with it, but they stay, often a couple of months or even years after the domestic violence happens or while it’s continuously happening. There’s this stigma that people think that they caused it or had a part of it. In most cases, it’s really not true.”
VSIS is open to all students who want to report incidents regarding abuse, including students; staff; faculty; men; women; and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally community. The office can be contacted by calling 215-895-0353. VSIS is located in suite 215 of the Creese Student Center.