By Molly Igoe
Director of Public Safety Gerald Roderick said there are several things that Public Safety focuses on when handling sexual assault complaints. The first one, he said, is sensitivity, and ensuring that everyone involved is as comfortable as possible.
“We’re not judgemental; we have to build a rapport with the parties involved so we can do our job and gather information the best we can so that what happened can be portrayed back to the hearing board in a fair and consistent fashion,” he said. “Our investigations have to be very credible and thorough. So when we go through that process, it’s a difficult walk for them to build that relationship and that trust.”
Roderick said that there are many resources on campus to utilize outside of Public Safety when reporting sexual assault cases. The Title IX office is primarily responsible for cases of sexual assault and harassment.
Title IX Coordinator Candace Wannamaker said that, when a report of a potential Title IX case comes in, Public Safety is required to notify her within a day, then she can reach out to the individual.
“If I get the information, sometimes a student is working with the counseling center and the center brings the student directly to me, and then I create a Title IX report so Public Safety knows there’s a statistic, that somebody reported they were sexually assaulted on this date, this time, and a person that they know either on-campus or off-campus. Bare minimum details, unless that person wants to move forward with an investigation, and then it’s assigned to investigators,” she said.
A typical investigation takes about 60 days to be completed, depending on who is investigating, how many witnesses there are, and the caseload of the investigator, according to Wannamaker.
“If the reporting party reaches out to me and says, ‘Hey, where are we?’ I’m going to respond back and say, ‘We’ve talked to 75 percent of the witnesses, we still have a ways to go, how are you doing, is there anything you need, are the remedies we put in place while the process is going on still working for you?’ Transparency, I feel 100 percent but I’m sure reporting parties don’t always feel that way,” she said.
Senior Sabrina Carroll, who attended the talk held by Public Safety Patrol Officer Suzy Sams on Nov. 6 about sexual assault on campus, said that, while Public Safety meant well, there is still work to be done in terms of how sexual assault cases are handled.
“We saw this at the program, we see this at orientation and in so many different ways, and I think the presentation of the information is good, but I don’t think they always follow through. We see lists and lists of people who are mandated reporters and advocates for victims, and I think we need to do a better job of having those people communicate with each other,” she said.
One aspect that has remedied some of the miscommunication is the implementation of the CARE system, said Wannamaker.
“When you implement something new and you want it to take off and you want it to help our students and integrate reports coming in for academics, reports coming in for mental health, reports coming in for physical health, reports coming in for a student was upset in class today, you always hope that it takes off and it has totally taken off,” she said. “We’re getting reports from faculty members, from staff members, from administration, to say, ‘Oh, I met with this student and they seem to be having a difficulty with this,’ where we can now intervene and say, ‘Oh, it’s a roommate situation? Thanks for letting me know, I’m going to give it to residential living and say, “Hey can you check in with this student?”’
According to Wannamaker, since the implementation of CARE, 275 cases have been assigned, with 81 pending and 59 in progress. A pending case means that “the person assigned still needs to take some action, and progress means this is an active case where we are still reaching out and putting remedies in place,” she said.
When asked if she thinks Washington College does enough to address assault, Carroll said no.
“I don’t think we’re doing enough, and I think that it’s the responsibility of everybody here. It’s the responsibility of the students, of the faculty, of the staff, any and everybody affiliated with the College. I think we need to talk about it more, I think we need to take it more seriously, and we’re starting to. Like I said, we have a good foundation with good resources so far, but we need to do more with the advertising and the support and follow-up with students,” she said.
Roderick said that he always hopes the next investigation will be better than the last one.
“As I said, these are really difficult cases because they run anywhere from someone having all the details and all the information, to someone experiencing memory loss, and you’re trying to rebuild what has occurred. I think that we’re pretty successful resolving most cases, and I know that no matter what we do, some people are going to walk away unhappy; it could be about us, it could be about someone else, or that the whole experience was awful,” he said.
Additional reporting by Brooke Schultz, editor-in-chief.