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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

Texas A&M utility Gavin Grahovac (9) throws the ball during A&Ms game against Georgia on Friday, April 26, 2024, at Olsen Field. (CJ Smith/The Battalion)
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Kennedy White, 19, sits for a portrait in the sweats she wore the night of her alleged assault inside the Y.M.C.A building that holds Texas A&M’s Title IX offices in College Station, Texas on Feb. 16, 2024 (Ishika Samant/The Battalion).
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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

UNJUSTIFIED

 
 

Stepping into the College Station Police Station, 20-year-old Stephanie feels sick.
Her mother walks by her side. Somewhere between the parking lot and the stations front door, she takes Stephanies hand in her own.
Stephanie is more than grateful for her support. Without her mother, Stephanie knows she wouldnt have found the strength to do what she is about to do. But for some reason, she feels like a little girl being led to the principals office to be scolded.
How can I help you? the receptionist asks.
Her mother leans forward. Even though she whispers, Stephanie is certain everyone in the police station can hear her moms reply.
I need to report a sexual assault.
Whose?
Stephanie clears her throat and speaks for the first time.
Mine.
Stephanies story
During summer 2011, Stephanie, Class of 2013, hosted a party at her apartment in celebration of her 20th birthday. Enrolled in summer courses at Texas A&M, she subleased her room from Dave, one of her best friends cousins. Excited by the prospect of her first birthday party in College Station, Stephanie invited several people, including Dave and a few of his friends. In Daves entourage was Ryan.
I had only met Ryan recently and hung out with him a couple of times because of our mutual friends, Stephanie said. I always felt a little uncomfortable with how flirty he was, but I trusted him because I trusted Dave and the people he hung out with.
Several dozen people arrived the night of the party. Excited by the turnout, Stephanie planned for everyone to head to Northgate after the party. Stephanies night ended much earlier than she expected.
I hadnt anticipated all the alcohol my friends would bring as presents, Stephanie said. And every time someone took a shot, they wanted to take it with the birthday girl.
Before she knew it, Stephanie was intoxicated beyond the threshold of memory. At midnight, she passed out mid-conversation in a lawn chair outside. A group of friends carried her up to her room and placed her in bed.
All of the sudden something caused me to wake up, but only for a matter of seconds, Stephanie said. I could only lift my eyes open about halfway. I saw a figure on top of me, but no face.
During her brief moment of consciousness, Stephanie found herself unable to move her arms or legs and could offer no resistance. Stephanie passed out again.
When I woke up [the next morning], something felt off, Stephanie said. My underwear was on the floor and my skirt was lifted up to my hips and left there. I also couldnt make sense of what I remembered happening. Was it real? Was it a dream?
The day after the party, Ryan approached Stephanie and told her they had sex the night before. Stephanie knew something was wrong.
I was confused because I remembered so little but I didnt feel right about it, Stephanie said. I was physically incapacitated and he took advantage of that.
Two months later, after opening up to her mom and best friends, Stephanie decided to report the assault and press charges.
To save himself, [Ryan] tried to make it sound like I wanted it, Stephanie said. And I have this horrible memory of waking up with him on top of me to remind me of it.
A broken system
Sexual assault is the only crime where society blames the victim, said Cary Haynes, director of center programs at the Brazos County Sexual Assault Resource Center.
According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, sexual assault is the most under-prosecuted crime in the U.S. Rape cases are difficult to prosecute in part because of the burden of proof. Most sexual assaults involve two witnesses the victim and defendant.
The first step in reporting a sexual assault is to file a crime report. At this point a survivor can choose whether to file a Jane Doe report, a decision that will strike the survivors real name from the official records and the resulting proceedings. Following the initial report, law enforcement officials interview the survivor. During the interview, the survivor can be accompanied by an advocate, not a friend or relative.
The advocate at the police station was my one saving grace, Stephanie said. She sat next to me during the entire interview, helped me along through the tough parts to say aloud and provided reassurance through my moments of doubt.
The purpose of the interview is to obtain basic information about the crime. The information provided by the survivor is the basis for the legal proceeding. While the questioning might seem insensitive, the law enforcement officials are trained to maintain a neutral attitude throughout the course of the interview.
The police interview was probably the hardest part, Stephanie said. As I sat there and uncomfortably described everything that happened, the officers blank faces just stared back at me.
Following the interview, the case is handed to an investigator who determines if there is evidence of a crime. The report is then forwarded to the district attorney if the evidence warrants a case. The district attorney ultimately determines whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the case. From this point less than one in five sexual assault cases go to trial.
One of the reasons I didnt want to report [my sexual assault] is because Id heard horror stories of defense lawyers tormenting rape victims on the stand, said Beth, Class of 2009, who decided not to report her sexual assault.
While survivors of sexual assault are protected by the rape shield law, which limits what the defense can ask about the victims prior sexual history, a defense attorney will attempt to discredit the personal testimony of the witness. Tactics might include suggesting that the witness misidentified the defendant, lied about the assault, or gave misleading sexual signals on the occasion of the assault.
A critical issue in any rape case is determining whether the sexual act was consensual or a personal violation. Texas State Law affirms that a person is not capable of consenting if they are physically or mentally incapacitated due to the consumption of alcohol or drugs. Sexual intercourse with an individual who cannot rightfully give consent meets the definition of second degree rape in Texas.
After the trial, a public hearing is held to sentence the defendant. Less than 3 percent of rapists are convicted and spend one day in prison.
I know that my case will probably never make it to trial because of lack of evidence, Stephanie said. I knew this going in, but I wanted [Ryan] to have a report on file so that if he does it again and the woman is brave enough to tell the police, then my report will be evidence to back her case up.
The Universitys response
Texas A&M offers a variety of services to students who are victims of sexual assault. The Division of Student Affairs and Student Assistant Services can accommodate the survivor by limiting unwanted contact with the accused assailant. Services include reassigning on-campus housing and transferring the survivor out of classes shared by the alleged attacker. The survivor might also choose to file a report with Student Conduct Services, the judicial arm of student affairs. This process does not operate under the same procedures as the court.
[Student Conduct Services] exclusively looks at whether a University rule was broken, said Kristen Harrell, associate director of the Offices of the Dean of Student Life. We are not determining if a law was broken.
Unlike criminal proceedings, which require testimony and evidence showing the defendant to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the University judicial process requires a preponderance of evidence, a less severe test based on the more convincing of the two arguments. Victims can choose the level of participation in the proceedings, from simply submitting a statement to being an active witness. Another difference in this process is that the victim reserves the right to have any past behavioral history omitted from discussion.
We are very focused on the incident itself, Harrell said. Previous behavior is not always indicative of a single event.
If the defendant is found guilty of sexual assault by the student conduct board, the student could face suspension or expulsion from the University. Texas A&M retains conduct files up to five years after the student graduates. In the event of an expulsion, however, the University holds the file permanently.
Members of the Corps of Cadets are subject to a separate judicial process. Disciplinary sanctions and conduct proceedings are handled internally and reviewed by the Office of the Commandant, not following the steps taken by students who are not cadets.
In 2006, a Texas A&M student was charged with sexually assaulting multiple female students between 2003 and 2006. An independent investigation conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Public Integrity in 2010 concluded that the University was slow to realize the possibility of a serial rapist on campus. In recent years, administrators have taken steps to prevent a similar incident from occurring.
One of the ways we are proactive is that we maintain constant communication between different units of student affairs, University Police Department and other parts of the University, said Cynthia Hernandez, assistant vice president for student affairs.
Hernandez said the Universitys response is correlated to the amount of reports filed by sexual assault victims.
When we have more information, its easier to see how the pieces fit together, Hernandez said. With less information, its hard to see the big picture.
Amid legal proceedings that often seem confusing and, at times, discouraging, some survivors found that reporting was a step toward recovering control of their lives.
When [Ryan] assaulted me, he took something from me without my permission, Stephanie said. I couldnt take that part back from him unless I made the report and let him know that he doesnt have it anymore.

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