How to Survive Being a Student-Survivor

How to Survive Being a Student-Survivor

How to Survive Being a Student-Survivor

Important lessons on victims’ rights and the ways to maximize their luck with Title IX.


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I was blackout drunk and I woke up naked with my lip busted,” said Jane, a University of Missouri student who asked to be referred to by a pseudonym to protect her privacy. “I looked down and I was naked.”

Jane looks tired, with bags under her eyes and her long blond hair mussed up. She was raped at an off-campus party in 2019. The night of her rape coincided with a devastating period on college campuses known as the Red Zone, a period of time lasting from late August to mid-November when over 50 percent of all student sexual assaults of the academic year occur.

Today, Jane is attending a webinar hosted by Wendy Murphy, a victims’ rights lawyer famous for filing the first lawsuit against former secretary of education Betsy DeVos and her amendment to Title IX. This amendment aimed at improving the chances of the perpetrator to remain unpunished and diminished the rights of LGBTQ+ students at religious institutions. Murphy and Katherine Redmond, a Title IX pioneer, introduce the event as “Title IX: Know Your Rights and Fight Back.” It was a conversation meant to help student-survivors navigate the treacherous process of self-advocacy amid recent changes to Title IX, making reporting sexual abuse and receiving protections from one’s abuser much more difficult.

According to Murphy, under the new DeVos regulations, for an offense to be investigated it had to be unwelcome, offensive, based on sex, severe, and pervasive. This disqualifies one too many cases right away: A single rape can’t be considered pervasive since it’s only happened once.

“It has to be so objectively offensive, that it deprives the victim of access to education,” Murphy explained.

Unfortunately for Jane and many other survivors, their assaults wouldn’t be perceived as either pervasive or severe under these thresholds. Murphy and Redmond, however, have come up with ways to finesse the system already “built to benefit the perpetrator,” which only worsened with DeVos’ legislation, as Redmond noted.

Murphy suggested Title IX might not be the most effective path to removing the perpetrator from campus. If the victim could argue that another aspect of their identity was offended by or caused the crime, they could sue under Title VI. For example, if there’s a way for Jane to prove her being Jewish had anything to do with the assault, it might be easier to get punishment for the alleged rapist under a separate Title VI regulation, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national or ethnic origin.

Now an MU upperclassman, Jane has been pursuing a Title IX case against her assailant for alleged drugged rape and physical injury. Worried about the notoriously poor outcomes of Title IX proceedings for the accusers, Jane went public with her story. While her case was already in motion, she decided to attend the webinar for the sense of community and to gather advice for the student-survivors she might meet in the future.

When it comes to reporting, Redmond suggested choosing words to describe the crime deliberately. They need to show the investigators the amount of distress and unwillingness the victim experienced. While Murphy clarified she didn’t believe the victim should be responsible for proving the damage done to them, the system disagreed.

“No one should ever use an erotic term to talk about violence, and no one should ever use a terms of violence to talk about pleasure,” Murphy said. She used the term “date rape” as an example: According to Murphy, calling the assault a “date rape” can give the police a leeway to question the victim’s willingness to engage with the perpetrator. For example, authorities could ask, “If you didn’t want to have sex, why did you agree to go out with them?” and argue that the perpetrator was confused, not malicious. So, per Murphy’s suggestion, it should be referred to as “rape,” plain and simple.

Much of the advice Murphy offered to those recently victimized revolved around preserving evidence of the crime. She spoke about the importance of complying with the basic rape kit etiquette to ensure there’s admissible evidence collected. She emphasized the importance of not showering and of saving the clothes you wore before or after the assault, as well as having the kit done as soon as possible.

Murphy also suggested a specific test victims must ask for during the examination if they believe they were drugged—a hair follicle rohypnol analysis. Rohypnol, as its name suggests, is an illegal sedative and hypnotic drug that is often used to facilitate rape because it not only incapacitates the victim but also makes them feel affectionate toward the offender.

As Murphy and Redmond spoke, Jane took notes vigorously and sent clarifying questions in the chat such as whether a lawyer can come to the Title IX hearing with the victim. An attorney, Murphy said, absolutely can join the accuser, though they may be told otherwise.

“I want to help someone like me,” Jane explained. “I want to help other survivors in college.”

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