Journeys through Ohio State’s Title IX process

(un)silenced: Journeys through Ohio State’s Title IX process is a four-part series about Title IX at Ohio State. It centers on the voices of students who experienced sexual violence while at the university and their journey through the Title IX process. Part one delves into the reporting process: starting with a brief introduction of the sexual misconduct our sources reported, and a more detailed explanation of what the act of reporting — whether it was to law enforcement, the hospital, the Title IX office or a combination of the three — looked like for them. The Lantern also spoke with Ohio State’s Office of Institutional Equity, the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Coordinator from the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State to understand more about the intricacies of reporting to Title IX.

In order to verify these stories, The Lantern obtained documents, emails and other records for each case. For the safety of our sources, the names and major identifying features of perpetrators are not included in this series.

Details pertaining to sexual assault, violence and harassment may be disturbing or triggering for some readers.

(un)silenced: Journeys through Ohio State’s Title IX process

By Sarah Szilagy & Maeve Walsh

If someone were to take a look around Ohio State’s campus, they might picture students strolling through the Oval on paths paved by students before them, or the name tags decorating the doors of their floor in Smith-Steeb Hall or Morrill Tower.

Many things can define a person, whether it be their hometown, their major, or if they live on North or South Campus. Some defining traits are easy to identify.

But what isn’t as easy to imagine about fellow students is that upwards of 11 percent of them, both undergraduate and graduate, have experienced sexual violence while on campus, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

About 1 in 16 men experience sexual violence in college, and the rate is even higher for marginalized groups, with 1 in 6 college women and more than 1 in 5 transgender, genderqueer and nonconforming students experiencing sexual violence on campus.

Sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and intimate partner violence, impacts all college campuses — including Ohio State.

Five courageous women came forward to share their experiences with sexual violence on Ohio State’s campus and the institutional processes they went through to make their voices heard.

Meet these women.

According to the university’s fall 2019 Clery Act report — an annual report all universities are required to publish about crimes that occur on and near their campuses — 732 incidents of sexual violence were reported to the university between 2016 and 2018.

Included in this number are reports of rape, fondling, incest, statutory rape, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking that occurred both on and off campus.

And if the university follows the pattern of a 2007 study conducted by researchers at Middlebury College, about 50 percent of those assaults occurred during the first six weeks of fall semester, in a period of time dubbed the “Red Zone.”

Of the 7,443 undergraduate, graduate and professional students who responded to the 2019 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 17.6 percent reported experiencing sexual misconduct while at Ohio State. 

The number of Ohio State students within the last five years who reported a Title IX complaint is unclear, however. Although The Lantern requested the outcome and length of time of all closed Title IX investigations from 2016 to the present, there is no central database that houses this information, and the university said there were “no responsive records” to the request.

The decision whether to report an incident of sexual misconduct is often a complicated, challenging and intimidating choice that many individuals face while enrolled at Ohio State.

Although multiple agencies on and off Ohio State’s campus exist to support survivors of sexual violence, the process of reporting a complaint to Title IX and subsequently witnessing the case be investigated and tried remains a frequently retraumatizing experience for many.

Faced with this, many individuals opt not to say anything at all.

Rape is the most under-reported crime, and more than 90 percent of college students who experience sexual violence do not report the incident, according to the National Sexual Violence Resources Center.

Among the myriad of factors that influence whether a person reports an assault include a fear of retaliation or victim-blaming; inability to disclose a traumatic incident to an authority figure; a lack of physical evidence; confusion surrounding where to report; fear of legal consequences due to alcohol or drug use at the time of the assault; and internal denial that the incident was an assault, according to the Campus Climate Survey.

On top of that, survivors are encouraged to check in to a hospital within 72 hours after the assault, often leaving them with little to no time to process the traumatic and violating experience that recently occurred. It was something that survivors like Ashley Yong said made the decision to come forward difficult and uncertain.

Despite required training on sexual misconduct for all students, faculty and staff, only 31.9 percent of students in the Campus Climate Survey reported being “very or extremely knowledgeable” about where to make a sexual misconduct report. 

Even though she considered herself knowledgeable about the reporting process at Ohio State, Yong said she felt uncertainty from the very beginning. 

The day after the assault, Yong received a text from her perpetrator while working at the Multicultural Center for her graduate assistantship job.

“Walking into the office was still an extremely terrifying experience, and I was not decided that I wanted to necessarily pursue a formal investigation,” Yong said. “But I did know that I wanted someone within the university to hear.”

If a student ultimately decides to report a sexual misconduct complaint, several options are available to them, including confidential and non-confidential resources.

The Title IX office, a non-confidential resource housed under the Office of Institutional Equity and located at 33 E. 11th Ave., handles complaints of sexual misconduct, and if desired by the victim or survivor, can pursue an investigation into the complaint.

Depending on what a victim or survivor needs whether that be a desire to pursue an investigation or simply obtain information about support services Molly Peirano, interim Title IX coordinator, said the details provided to the Title IX office regarding the assault might vary.

“When they come forward for themselves, it really is up to them what they want to share,” Peirano said. “And so some people want to share their whole story, and they want to share those details. And other people might simply just want to tell us that they’ve experienced sexual misconduct and leave it at a very big sentence like that.”

Peirano said people can file a Title IX complaint on behalf of someone else. Some university members — like professors, hall directors and RAs — are mandated reporters, meaning they must share information about sexual misconduct with the Title IX office, although they are not required to name the victim.

It was Uma Subrayan’s biochemistry professor who approached her after perceiving something was wrong; Subrayan wasn’t participating in class or paying attention to lectures, and her exam scores were declining. Subrayan said her perpetrator’s text messages and voicemails became overwhelming, and her stress levels reached an all-time high.

From there, her professor contacted the Title IX office and the campus police non-emergency number, who were able to connect with Subrayan to discuss her options. The professor even informed Subrayan’s undergraduate research mentor in the Department of Pharmacy why she wasn’t showing up for work, she said.

Peirano said victims and survivors also have the option to report anonymously using the online form on the Title IX website.

“People can always circle back and choose to share their name,” she said. “We let people know that they can, of course, make an anonymous report.”

Yong, for example, knew she wanted to report, but she wasn’t sure what she wanted after that. And like many students at Ohio State —  nearly 19 percent, as reported in the Campus Climate Survey — she didn’t know what happened after she reported to Title IX.

Peirano said that after an individual reports to Title IX, the next step is outreach from a civil rights intake coordinator from the Title IX office, either by email or phone, to better understand the needs of a victim or survivor.

“We want to make sure that people know we want them to have agency over their own story and their own experience,” Peirano said.

Although the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights recommends that institutions, including Ohio State, resolve Title IX cases within 60 days, Peirano said the complexity and circumstances of each individual case vary greatly, which might extend a case’s timeline beyond the 60-day recommendation.

“We do try to let folks know that that’s not necessarily a quick process because we want to be thorough and make sure to allow for those due process steps, and that’s not always quick,” Peirano said.

At the beginning, however, the intake coordinator will work with the victim or survivor to create a safety plan, outline their options for confidential and non-confidential resources, connect them with medical care and answer any questions they may have, Peirano said. One such support service that Peirano said is offered to victims and survivors is the Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio.

SARNCO, a confidential support service for victims and survivors of sexual violence, provides information about an individual’s options when it comes to filing a Title IX report, emotional support, safety planning, crisis response and connection to campus and local resources, Emily Gemar, campus advocacy coordinator for SARNCO, said. 

As a confidential resource, SARNCO is not required to report incidents of sexual misconduct to the university.

“We really try to center on the individual and let them direct us to what they need,” Gemar said.

Unlike the Title IX office, SARNCO is not federally or state-mandated to be impartial while working with victims of sexual violence, allowing SARNCO to provide a more empathetic and trauma-informed approach to a person’s disclosure. 

“We can be more in that emotional support role, really processing through what has happened and talking somebody through that,” Gemar said.

SARNCO has had on-campus advocates at Ohio State since fall 2019, but Gemar said the organization has helped victims and survivors of sexual assault in a different way for many years: when a victim or survivor is admitted to a hospital after an assault, which typically occurs prior to an individual filing a report with the Title IX office.

Sexual assault forensic exams — colloquially known as “rape kits” — are optional exams undergone by victims of sexual violence, typically including a fully body examination. The exams are conducted by licensed sexual assault nurse examiners and are used to gauge medical needs as well as to collect evidence for criminal investigations, Tarin Warns, SANE coordinator at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, said.

Victims and survivors can revoke consent at any time, and they have total control of what areas are examined or swabbed, Warns said.

During the exam, Warns said patients are given different medications to prevent pregnancy, STIs and HIV, which is why she said it is important for victims and survivors to seek medical attention after being assaulted. She said depending on the patient’s needs, they may be given anti-nausea medicine to counteract side effects.

“You could potentially be taking 10 pills that day that you’re in the emergency department,” Warns said. She said the side effects for most of the medications are mild but that vomiting is a concern.

Syreeta Palackdharry was given a 30-day regimen of HIV prevention medication following her assault in June 2018.

“It makes you incredibly sick. So, for 30 days after, I was just super sick because it was to the point where I actually was debating in my mind, ‘Is it worth it to just stop taking this and maybe get HIV? Yeah, that might sound better,’” she said.

Common concerns that prevent survivors from checking in to the hospital despite needing medical attention include fear of punishment due to alcohol or drug use at the time of the assault, which is frequently the case in incidents of sexual violence, especially on a college campus, Warns said.

However, Warns said that substance use or underage drinking is the least of law enforcement’s concern.

“They’re not concerned about that. You know, they’re dealing with felony-level crimes, which is sexual assault or domestic violence,” Warns said. “I’ve never heard of anyone getting any sort of repercussions from underage drinking [during a sexual assault] or anything like that.”

Survivors also express anxiety about their hospital visit showing up on insurance documents or that any hospital fees will be billed to their parents’ or guardians’ address, Warns said. But Warns said most victims and survivors simply list their campus address for billing information so their parents are not notified.

Even if a victim or survivor lists their parents’ address and insurance information, Warns said the patient should not be billed; the Ohio Crime Victims Compensation Program covers the cost of sexual assault forensic examinations, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception and STI and HIV prevention medication.

“We do try to stress that all of these things are included in your care, and you shouldn’t receive a bill as long as you don’t have any additional testing done,” Warns said.

Although survivors may consider undergoing to a forensic exam too traumatic, Warns encourages victims and survivors to check in to the hospital as soon as possible after the assault even if they are unsure about reporting the assault or undergoing an exam because SARNCO advocates and sexual assault nurse examiners can outline their rights and options.

“I think once you go to the hospital and speak with one of our specialized sexual assault nurses, we’re able to calm a lot of fears, and give a lot of reassurance about the process and start towards trying to empower the survivor,” Warns said.

It was a SARNCO advocate who encouraged Palackdharry over the phone to check in to the hospital after her assault. 

Although survivors are recommended to avoid showering, using the bathroom or anything that might destroy physical evidence, Palackdharry said she couldn’t think about doing anything else but one thing following the assault.

Despite washing “all the DNA right down the drain,” Palackdharry said she decided to check in to the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State about 30 hours after the assault to undergo a forensic exam.

Warns said most forensic exams need to be done within 72 hours after the assault in order to be admissible in court. Most victims and survivors, like Palackdharry, come to the hospital on their own, Warns said. Others are escorted to the hospital by police. 

Lisa Radochonski was escorted by police from the Wilce Student Health Center to her residence hall and then to the hospital for her forensic exam following her sexual assault in 2017, an experience she said was embarrassing.

Regardless of how they come, when a victim or survivor first arrives at the emergency department, Warns said the first thing they address is safety concerns, whether that be immediate medical attention or ensuring the victim or survivor feels secure. 

From there, Warns said SANE nurses are supposed to do a few things before the exam actually begins. 

Because medical professionals are mandatory reporters about victims of crime, nurses typically call law enforcement as soon as a victim or survivor comes to the hospital, and they normally arrive within 30 minutes, Warns said.

“If they choose not to speak with law enforcement, that’s totally up to them. A lot of times they’ll still come in, give them a business card, and that way they have a case number if they choose to want to do an interview at a later date,” she said.

While they wait for law enforcement, the next call is usually to SARNCO, which Gemar said has advocates on-call 24/7 to respond to 18 emergency departments throughout Central Ohio.

Warns said victims and survivors are supposed to be given the option to refuse to speak to law enforcement and the SARNCO advocate, and that pre-COVID-19, patients were allowed up to two support people with them throughout the process.

But Palackdharry said her experience was not quite like that.

“I actually wasn’t given an option of whether or not I wanted to report, I didn’t know that was my right,” Palackdharry said. “They brought the police without even asking me if that’s what I wanted.”

And although Warns said the detectives who report to the hospital are typically trauma-informed, Palackdharry said the officer who took her statement dismissed her story nearly immediately.

“He was blaming me from the start,” Palackdharry said. “All of his questions were leading questions and questioning very much along the lines of ‘Are you positive he didn’t think it was a booty call?’”

Despite her experience with the officer, Palackdharry said her forensic examination was, for the most part, straightforward. 

Warns said forensic exams should be driven by the patient; the victim or survivor is encouraged to tell the SANE nurse what areas to examine and where to take swabs. Palackdharry, for example, asked the nurse to swab the rings she wore. 

“A lot of people think [the exam is] going to be a really exciting, the latest technology things, but it’s actually a basic box with some swabs that take some samples. So we take a narrative history from them,” Warns said.

Although Palackdharry said the exam was not as difficult for her as she thought it would be, other victims and survivors, like Radochonski, find it retraumatizing.

Although she went to the hospital the day after her assault, Radochonski said she was not quite sure what happened to her. She said she always imagined sexual assault as something violent and forcible, and because her own experience did not match that, she dismissed it.

“I guess at the time I kinda figured it was something bad that happened, but something that happened all the time,” Radochonski said.

But while she was in denial of her sexual assault, Radochonski said it impacted her mental health. She said she struggled with mental health issues before the assault, but afterward, they changed. Instead of focusing on anxiety and depression, Radochonski and her therapist talked at length about coping with her trauma.

Less than three weeks after her assault, Radochonski was hospitalized for suicidal ideation from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, 2017. Just more than two weeks later, she filed a report with Columbus Police. But she still did not report the assault to the university.

Instead, she said she tried finding closure in other ways. She went to her perpetrator’s house after filing a report with Columbus Police. In the room she was assaulted just a month prior, she read her rapist an eight-page letter. She demanded he hear her and acknowledge the trauma he caused her.

“[He] said he had a lot riding on his shoulders for his future,” Radochonski said.

Afterward, Radochonski said her friend reached out to the president of the fraternity, who told her the fraternity was taking the claim “very seriously.” After she emailed the fraternity herself, they told her that her perpetrator was suspended from all chapter events. 

Then Radochonski said she saw he was still attending unofficial fraternity parties, despite the fraternity’s claim of placing him under investigation.

After exhausting her options, Radochonski filed a report with Student Conduct Jan. 24, 2018 — two and a half months after her assault. 

Kat Kinnen similarly did not report her assault to the university until nearly two months after it occurred — when she was studying abroad for her STEP program more than 5,000 miles away in Europe. She said girls she befriended in her program validated her experience and encouraged her to report.

On June 7, 2018, Kinnen returned from abroad and spoke on the phone with the investigator assigned to her case. He told her the investigation would likely take 60 to 70 days.

“I spent the whole summer thinking it was under investigation,” Kinnen said. She said she assumed by the time fall semester started, the investigation would close, and her perpetrator would be removed from campus.

“But they never talked to him. I got back to campus, and I was so unsafe.”

Regardless of whether a person decides to come forward with a sexual misconduct complaint, Gemar said the SARNCO office reiterates that whatever a person chooses to do is the right decision, and that victims and survivors have complete agency over their story.

“I always come from the place of whatever you are feeling right now is valid, and it’s real,” Gemar said.

Former Editor-in-Chief Kaylee Harter contributed to this story.

Part two of (un)silenced will delve deeper into what characterizes the investigation stage of a Title IX case. Check The Lantern’s website for part two at a later date. 

Part two

The investigation process

Part three

The hearing

Part four

The aftermath

Web Design & Audio: Jack Long | Managing Editor for Digital Content

Graphic Design: Ivan Kostovski | Infographics Editor

Video: Owen Milnes | Campus Producer