/UM students’ stories about sexual assault
Graphic by Bell Jackson

UM students’ stories about sexual assault

By Harrison Neville and Hannah Irvin

Updated on December 6, 2021 at 2:01 p.m. to reiterate that all names in the article have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals, and all names were selected at random. The Alabamian apologizes for any distress that may have been caused by any similarities.

Warning: the following article contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.

Wyatt was hanging out with friends in Farmer Hall one night when he was sexually assaulted by another student. He went into the bathroom and while he was washing his hands, another student entered. The other student struck up a conversation; eventually, he went in for a hug, which Wyatt found strange, but assumed that the other student must be drunk.

“Then he started feeling me up and stuff and kissing my neck and s—…eventually, I was like, alright, alright, no. And then got out.”

The two had never met prior to that night.

“Honestly, I knew absolutely nothing about the person,” Wyatt said. “I didn’t know his name until afterwards.”

He filed an online report with the university the next day.

He received a prompt response and was asked when he would be free to come in for a meeting with the Title IX office to discuss what happened.

Both he and the other student were given a no-contact order, which mandated that, “I don’t talk to him. He doesn’t talk to me,” Wyatt said. “His friends don’t talk to me about him or anything like that. My friends don’t talk to him about me. And then there’s repercussions if something happens from either side.”

Wyatt’s understanding from the emails he received was that there was a hearing where the individual who assaulted him was questioned. Wyatt was asked to submit an impact statement, detailing the effect the event had on him.

At no point did the two individuals come into contact during the process, and the only person Wyatt talked to was Tony Miller, the Title IX Coordinator.

“Tony was very, very, very welcoming and easy to talk to, and he’s the only one I talked to about that,” Wyatt remembered.

No-contact orders are a part of the Title IX supportive measures. According to UM’s Title IX policies, “Supportive measures are non-disciplinary, non-punitive individualized services offered as appropriate, as reasonably available, and without fee or charge to the parties to restore or preserve equal access to the University of Montevallo’s education program or activity without unreasonably burdening the other party, including measures designed to protect the safety of all parties or the University of Montevallo’s educational environment, and/or deter harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation.”

While they are kept as a part of a student’s records, supportive measures do not qualify as sanctions, which are levied against students when they are found responsible for sexual misconduct. Because they are not sanctions, supportive measures are not taken into account when determining responsibility if a student has previously been a part of a no-contact order either as a complainant or a respondent.

When The Alabamian asked Miller about the logic behind this policy, he said, “The reason is because everybody gets due process and it’s about being fair.”

Wyatt wasn’t sure if the no-contact order was what he wanted. “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted,” Wyatt said. “But that was definitely…part of it.”

Wyatt and the assailant lived in the same residence hall, and as part of the university’s response, Wyatt was informed that the other student would be removed from the residence hall. The other student was allowed to stay enrolled and currently has a job as a student worker.

While Wyatt reported the case to the Title IX office, many other students choose not to, for a variety of reasons. This is common among students, and according to statistics from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only 20% of female student victims ages 18-24 report cases of sexual assault.

Statistics from RAINN also reveal that, “Students are at an increased risk during the first few months of their first and second semesters in college.”

Sarah was raped twice during her first year at the university.

The first time, the perpetrator was an acquaintance who was drinking at a house party. Sarah was not at the party, but he was extremely vocal in expressing his need to talk to her. A friend called Sarah to tell her that the acquaintance was making a scene and she should go talk to him.

When she arrived at the house, other guys directed her towards a room. As soon as she walked in, the perpetrator grabbed her by the neck and shoved her against the wall, saying things like, “I know you want this.” Then he raped her.

She said, “the next day, there were bruises on my neck. People thought they were hickies, but they were bruises from him.”

When he was done, he fell asleep on the bed. She carried her shoes and walked out of the house and back to her dorm, barefoot, alone and crying.

The second time, the perpetrator was a friend. He forced his way into her dorm room.

Statistics from RAINN show that 39% of rapes are committed by an acquaintance and 33% are committed by a current or former partner.

Sarah did not report either incident. She explained she did not feel like the university would care or do anything if she reported it. She knew word would get out and didn’t feel like it was worth damaging her reputation. She thought blame would be put on her, at least by other students.

Sarah’s concern over damage to her reputation or fear of reprisal is common among victims of sexual assault, and according to RAINN, it is one of the leading causes for not reporting an assault.

It was Georgia’s second semester on campus when she was assaulted at a party. She went to dinner with friends. One of the athletic teams was holding an off-campus house party and her friends wanted to go. She recalls having mixed feelings about attending, but decided she could leave if she wanted. Soon after arriving, Georgia found herself the focus of an athlete’s attention, who she described as clearly intoxicated.

“He was just all over me from the beginning and trying to get me to talk to him and everything and I was annoyed,” said Georgia. “He was being annoying, but I kept on kind of brushing it off.”

Eventually, she and her friends moved outside. At some point, she walked back inside to use the restroom, which is when she was assaulted.

“[The] guy came out of nowhere, and again, he tried to talk to me and everything,” said Georgia. “And then all of a sudden, he started grabbing my arm and tried pulling me into a room.”

Georgia said the assailant was very strong and almost succeeded in dragging her into a room out of sight, but she was able to push him away. She tried to leave the house, but he physically blocked the door and smacked her hand away when she reached for the door handle. She eventually was able to get out of the house and left the party.

Despite her escape, she was still deeply disturbed by what happened to her.

“Because luckily, I did get away,” she said. “But I know that the intent was very much for me not to get away. And I still was very much physically assaulted. I had bruises on my arms the next day.”

She told a friend who was a member of the athletic program, and they, without her knowledge, called the athletic director for UM and told him what happened. Georgia then received a phone call from Miller.

“They were asking me all these questions and from the beginning though, it felt very pointed at me kind of and like, ‘oh, okay, well, he didn’t actually rape you. So it’s okay.’ And it…felt like…what happened really didn’t matter. That was really frustrating.”

The Alabamian asked Miller how he would address Georgia or any student who felt this way.

“Regardless of the level of severity,” Miller said. “We’re going to take it seriously because you want each and every student, each and every employee, to be able to go to work, go to class, do whatever it is they want to do on the campus, in a safe…friendly campus environment…I’m sorry that that is how she feels. That’s not how we want her to feel.”

The federal Title IX policy requires that the student who filed the complaint is asked for permission before the investigation moves forward. The university’s Title IX office still has the ability to choose to pursue an investigation if the Title IX coordinator deems that there is a significant risk to campus health and safety. 

According to Miller, the Title IX office avoids pursuing this option if possible.

“If the student doesn’t want to do anything, then…[if] we move forward against the will of that student, we’re essentially violating what they want to happen…we don’t want to violate the student and what they want.”

In accordance with the Title IX policy, Georgia was given the option between a no-contact order or a full investigation. She chose the no-contact order. 

“When something like that happens, you just want it to be over,” said Georgia. “But of course it didn’t go away. I still had to see him everywhere.”

The assailant would purposely sit in the cafeteria at a table near her and stare at her while she was eating. “I got a lot of hate from his teammates too,” Georgia said. “I was called a b—- in the caf every time I walked in.”

When asked about the issue of sexual misconduct by athletes, Athletic Director Mark Richards said, “Due to federal confidentiality laws, and respecting the privacy of the University of Montevallo students involved, I cannot legally provide comment.”

The name of the student was not revealed and specifics of the case were not discussed.

Georgia said she went through a period of time where she struggled to eat. School was also difficult. She was given a five-day grace period for homework assignments. 

“Which was just really frustrating,” said Georgia. “How do you expect this to go away in five days?”

Georgia was also frustrated by the burden of responsibility placed on her. 

“At the time, I was an 18 year old girl. I went from having absolutely no control over a situation to being thrown all the control, and it was like, ‘well, if you don’t feel like you want to ruin his life and his profession for that, then nothing’s gonna happen, because we’re not going to take responsibility as a school to do anything about it.’”

From Georgia’s perspective, it appeared that the student who assaulted her was never punished. He continued playing with his team and was able to return to UM after graduation to work on his master’s.

“If I hear something about you, whether it’s good or bad, I can’t make an assumption that you’re going to do it again, whether it’s good or bad,” said Miller, when asked if he thought it was likely that a student would be a repeat offender.

Miller reiterated his position that if a student did not want the university to go forward, the university’s hands would be tied.

Georgia also feels concern for the safety of other students on campus. Her concern is backed up by studies, which show that the majority of sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses are perpetrated by serial offenders.

One joint study, conducted by professors at Union University, Case Western Reserve University and University of Redlands, found that “more than 87% of alcohol-involved sexual assault was committed by serial perpetrators.” They also found that, “Fraternity men and student athletes were significantly more likely to commit alcohol-involved sexual assault than other men on campus.”

“I don’t feel safe anymore every time I’m in a room with him,” said Georgia. “And it’s just frustrating. Because I’m like, I’ve heard through other people that he has done this to other girls. And I’m like, how can this keep happening? I reported it, this should not be happening anymore.”

SafeHouse of Shelby County provides free services for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Their 24-hour crisis line is available at 205-669-7233 and can provide crisis intervention, safety planning, shelter placement and information. Find more information at www.safehouse.org/get-help. 

If you have an experience you want to share, contact The Alabamian at alabamian@montevallo.edu.

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Harrison Neville is the editor in chief for The Alabamian. He is a fourth-year English major whose hobbies include reading, hiking, cooking and writing. He has previously worked for The Alabamian as a managing editor, distribution manager, copy editor and SGA columnist.

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Hannah Irvin is the Copy Editor for the Alabamian. She is a senior communications studies major who plans on attending graduate school to study clinical mental health counseling. Her hobbies include painting, photography, flipping and being a general life-enthusiast.