Sexual assault victim seeks asylum with Title IX office

METOOBy: Katherine Snyder

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- For the past decade, sexual assault cases and reports have skyrocketed on college campuses. Among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of females and 5.4 percent of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation. Sexual assault has become one of the most common topics these days now that more women and men are finding the strength to speak out. Only 20 percent of female student victims, age 18-24, report their incidents to law enforcement. Some students may not realize that sexual assault cases are right on our campus.

This past spring, a dear friend of mine was sexually assaulted on the Niagara University campus. She has been kind enough to share her story and the aftermath of her attack with us here at the Niagara Wire. Since her incident, she hasn’t reported what happened to her until this current semester. There are a lot of underlying fears when it comes to reporting situations like these.

“In reporting my incident, I think an extremely big part of it was the thought of the backlash that would come my way,” she said. “Obviously, people would eventually find out and whenever they saw me, in my mind, all of that would only get worse by reporting it. Another part of it was the general fear of not being believed or being blamed for the incident.” After reflecting on what had happened, she felt ready and comfortable enough to speak up and seek help on campus from the NU Office for Equity and Inclusion.

Along with the fear of speaking up, many victims’ mental health can be drastically affected by sexual assault. Several men and women develop issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and substance abuse after they have been victimized.

“The incident definitely has had a very negative effect on my mental health,” she said. “I experienced, and am still experiencing, really bad anxiety related to the incident. Even though it happened a while ago, at first it caused me to fall into a depression because I blamed myself completely for what happened that night.”

Despite all of the negative repercussions that follow sexual assault, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For her that was the Title IX office here on campus. I had the opportunity to speak with the head coordinator of the office, Ryan Thompson, who has held this position since 2017. After NU made it a clear point that sexual assault has become a rising issue on college campuses across America, they officially made his position full-time instead of part-time. Thompson has held past careers in journalism, as well as operating on both sides of the law at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and participating in an Innocence Project.

The Title IX office provides several options for those who have been a victim of sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence. If an incident is brought to Thompson’s attention, maybe from a friend of the victim or a professor – as all professors must report to the office under contract – he sends a letter to the victim saying that he was informed and his door is open for discussion. He specifically notes that disclosure of other factors regarding what took place before the incident, such as alcohol consumption, will not be penalized.

“I’ve had several students this semester freaking out because their situations may have involved alcohol or drug consumption, and to be honest it is something I don’t really care about,” Thompson said. “Yes, it is important to know for the situation. What’s important is that these situations are occurring and these students know that they’re granted amnesty with their actions.”

Thompson strongly enforced the point that they offer several accommodations to students who have been a victim and are scared of future attacks or harassment.

“I am very liberal with these accommodations to make our students feel safe.” Thompson offers a change of dorm arrangements as well as class schedules to the victims and respondents. “We make sure all students’ rights are respected despite any allegations being made.”

In addition to these accommodations, Thompson pushed that these victims visit the Counseling Center on campus. Counseling can be very important in regards to a victim’s mental health and can hopefully help them get back to feeling whole again. He also offers several off-campus resources including the YWCA, anger management, online training – which is currently in place as a requirement for all NU students to complete – and substance abuse counseling.

“Some students simply need to understand and be educated on affirmative consent, and know what is appropriate and inappropriate, as many of the cases I do receive are non-violent and rather a lack of education.”

“If anyone wants to come here, my door is always open. You can call me, email me, whatever you have to do. I am here to help and guide students,” Thompson said.

The victim previously referred to as “She”  has one significant and heartfelt statement she wants students to know.

“I want victims to know that there are people, on and off campus, that are willing and able to help them, and that they shouldn’t be afraid to report like I was. Regardless of what may have happened leading up to the incident, sexual assault of any kind is never okay. No means no.”

If you, a friend or a loved one on campus has been or is ever a victim of sexual assault, stalking or domestic violence, visit or contact the Office of Equity and Inclusion, located in the basement of O’Shea residence hall. Contact them at 716.286.8324, or email Ryan Thompson at rthompson@niagara.edu.

Katherine Snyder, depicted in the feature image, was not a victim of sexual assault, stalking or domestic violence.

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