Cara Hackett

Rape spotlight shines on FAMU

Cara Hackett

Once again, a spotlight has been placed on a Florida university due to allegations of rape.

In 2013, Florida State University’s star quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape by a woman later named in a documentary as Erica Kinsman. Winston was never charged with sexual assault. However, earlier this year, FSU settled Kinsman’s civil lawsuit for $950,000.

Now, Florida A&M University has been sued by a former student leading some students to wonder what are the right steps to follow in the aftermath of a sexual assault.

According to the student handbook, “The Fang,” FAMU defines sexual assault as “an actual or attempted sexual contact with another person without that person’s consent.” If a student or employee is found to have committed these acts, disciplinary actions, including expulsion or termination, are applied.

“Sexual assault is a criminal offense,” Lt. Norman Rollins of FAMU Police Department said. “Our protocol is that we do investigate all crimes on our campus. Our main goal is to look after the victim, and also preserve evidence.”

When an assault is reported to the police department, the police department’s first step is “preserving the victim.” Then, they are escorted to a medical facility.

“We want to make sure that they are not harmed and receiving medical attention,” Rollins added. “We then contact the victim’s advocate, so that they can have time with them as well.”

If a person has been raped, Rollins advises them not to do any cleaning of themselves, or the location where the incident occurs. “We tell them do not bathe, do not brush their teeth. Do not do anything that would interfere [with collecting evidence for the investigation].”

He notes that the law enforcement department has investigators that are well trained and will handle the situation with utmost confidentiality.

“We know a lot of the times this is a very difficult situation,” Rollins said. “We have to ensure we’re getting the information we need to be able to successfully prosecute a case.”

Lawsuit against FAMU

The former FAMU student, who is only known as S.B., filed a lawsuit against the university on Oct. 4 for negligence and violations of the U.S. Department of Education’s sex discrimination law, Title IX, in handling three sexual assault investigations.

In the lawsuit, SB says that she was raped on three different occasions by three different men at various locations. The incidents took place over a 15-month time span, according to the 27-page court document. Each assault was reported to FAMU Police Department, Tallahassee Police Department, FAMU’s Department of Safety & Security and FAMU’s Office of Judicial Affairs.

Despite multiple reports, the lawsuit alleges the university did not investigate properly. The first incident, on Oct. 7, 2012, was not fully investigated, according to the lawsuit. The second incident, that occurred on April 21, 2013, was assigned to a FAMU police officer. According to the lawsuit, S.B. said she was not questioned by the officer.

S.B. filed a complaint with Student Affairs that was later dismissed. The lawsuit claims FAMU’s judicial officer dismissed the complaint because the alleged attacker was no longer enrolled at the university.

Another complaint was filed after the third attack that occurred on Dec. 13, 2013. The lawsuit said FAMU officials “failed and refused to conduct and timely investigation and a mandatory administrative hearing to evaluate the need for action against the perpetrator” for the third incident.

A hearing was canceled and rescheduled regarding the third incident. When the hearing took place, S.B.–who had withdrawn from FAMU–attended. The assailant did not attend and the hearing panel “found the assailant ‘not responsible’ for the ‘sexual misconduct–non-consensual intercourse’ against S.B.”

It is FAMU’s policy to not comment on pending litigation. However, the university has issued a statement.

“The University takes all allegations seriously, and remains committed to fulfilling its obligations under Title IX by promoting access to educational programs and activities consistent with federal statutes; state regulations; and University regulations, policies, and procedures. The University takes appropriate action to address student complaints pursuant to federal, state, and local statutes.”
 

Steps to take to prevent rape
 

With FAMU being among more universities denouncing sexual assaults and encouraging victims to speak out, the university has several preventive measures in fighting sexual misconduct and violence on campus.

In hopes of preventing rapes, Rollins encourages other students to get involved and report crimes.

“There’s a general thought that you should say something. There are programs such as the Rape Aggression Defense (RAD), which teaches self-defense,” Rollins said.  

In addition to the police department, FAMU also has an on-campus counseling center, Sunshine Manor, health clinic and a victim’s advocate to further provide resources for sexual assault survivors.

Tanya Tatum, director of Student Health Services, stresses the importance of providing the victim with his or her options, and that their medical needs are taken care of.

“What we try to do is review with students what their options are for the next steps they have to take. It really depends on the circumstances of the individual,” Tatum said.

She goes on to say that a victim can receive medical attention without involving the police or starting an investigation, and there are different levels of responses that can occur. 

“The most important thing is that the person has experienced something where all of their power was taken away from them,” Tatum said. “We really like to make sure the individual has information and can make their own decisions.”

If a victim goes to Student Health Services seeking medical attention, staff will escort them to the Rape Crisis Center where they can opt for a rape kit and STD examination. They are also provided with a sexual misconduct resource guide, which gives an overview of university resources, statements on sexual assault, and guides on how to file complaints.