Editor’s note: This article discusses topics some may find triggering related to sexual assault. Those who need help can call the OASIS Watauga Crisis line at (828) 262-5035.
BOONE — On May 1, 2020, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that University of North Carolina Chapel Hill — including other UNC system schools — had to release disciplinary records of students who violated a school’s sexual assault policy.
With the Supreme Court ruling, App State has released sexual assault records previously unseen due to state law.
Multiple news outlets, including the student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel, sued UNC Chapel Hill after it denied public records requests related to disciplinary records related to sexual assaults in 2016.
The United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal by UNC Chapel Hill in January 2021.
In February of this year, Appalachian State University released 30 sexual assault records after a request was filed on May 1, 2020, asking for “disciplinary records of students who have been found to have violated App State’s Sexual assault policy.”
Appalachian State Police investigates reports of sexual assault on campus. Boone Police Sgt. Candace Burlingame said Boone Police investigates sexual assaults that occur off-campus, records of which have been public record for some time. During a similar timeframe as the App State reports, Boone Police received a total of 89 reports of rape between 2010 and 2020, according to Boone Police Records.
University records show that 30 Appalachian State University students were disciplined related to sexual misconduct between April 2011 to August 2020. Of the 30 students who faced disciplinary action, 23 were suspended and two were expelled, according to the records previously protected under North Carolina law.
The App State’s sex-based misconduct definition is “any conduct that involves the sexual harassment or sex-based discrimination of an individual based on their gender, gender expression, gender identity, sex (including pregnancy) or sexual orientation, including instances involving sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking.”
The full App State sex-based misconduct policy applies to “all members of the Appalachian community” and includes visitors, volunteers and others who participate in programs at events where the university exercises substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the alleged sex-based misconduct occurs. The policy can be found at tinyurl.com/3tnakf34.
Under the policy, the threshold for finding someone responsible for a violation is a prevalence of evidence — the evidence shows that it is more likely than not that a violation has occurred.
Sixteen of the 30 people were charged with both “sexual misconduct: non-consensual sexual contact” and “sexual misconduct: non-consensual sexual intercourse.”
Seven people were charged solely with non-consensual sexual contact and one person was charged solely with non-consensual sexual intercourse. Four were charged with what was listed as sex offenses and six were charged with what was listed as sexual misconduct.
Other sanctions or actions against those who were found guilty of the university’s policy include:
- Restriction of contact (4)
- Disciplinary probation (5)
- Counseling center initial interview (3)
- General probation (1)
- Participate in Red Flag training (1)
- Ban from university premises or university-sponsored activity (1)
- Apology letter (1)
- Off-campus substance use program (1)
- Resource referral: discuss healthy relationships (1)
App State Police Chief Andy Stephenson said that criminal offenses of a sexual nature are an issue on every college campus, and App State is not immune.
“The rate of violent crime on our campus and in our community is relatively low when compared to many other schools across the country of similar size,” Stephenson said. “We take all reports of criminal activity on our campus very seriously and conduct thorough, professional investigations.”
The number of students found guilty of App State’s sexual misconduct policy does not reflect all sexual assault cases on campus as sometimes a victim will not report an assault.
Why Survivors Don’t Report
Stephenson said sex offenses are, for various reasons, the most underreported crimes in the U.S. There are many factors as to why a survivor or victim of sexual assault does not report what happened.
Sara Crouch, the outreach coordinator for OASIS, said likely the most overarching barrier to reporting is stigma surround sexual assault and victim blaming.
“Victim blaming comes off as questions for the victim that insinuate that it’s their fault somehow,” Crouch said. “That if they just simply had not put themselves in that situation, then the assault, or the rape wouldn’t have happened.”
Questions can include asking the victim what they were wearing or why they were out that late.
“That’s not the case,” Crouch said. “If the person who chose to assault the victim or rape the victim hadn’t chosen to do that, then the assault wouldn’t have happened. It’s never the victim’s fault.”
Crouch said victim blaming can lead to stigma around reporting sexual assault.
“Survivors may blame themselves because they’ve heard those victim blaming statements or those questions being repeated so many times in our society and so there may be some self doubt, wrapped up with some shame that they may feel, largely due to blaming,” Crouch said.
There’s also a lot of stigma surrounding people who may feel they aren’t what Crouch said society thinks of as a “perfect victim.”
“People want victims of sexual violence to be really chaste,” Crouch said. “They want them to have never had consensual sex. They want them to just be probably a straight woman and probably a helpless woman.”
There’s also stigma surrounding victims who may have a marginalized identity. Crouch said there’s societal pressure that men can’t be raped or sexually assaulted.
“That myth is carried out because of the way that we as society view men,” Couch said. “There are these ideas that men are hyper sexual or that they always want to have sex and so therefore, they can’t be raped. That is totally not true. Men deserve to have clear consent when they’re engaging in sex. Just the same as women or non binary people.”
Similarly, stigma surrounds those who are LGBTQ+ because Crouch said society has portrayed some people in the LGBTQ+ community as hyper sexual.
Another barrier is lack of support.
“Unfortunately, there are people in this world who are so in the mindset of victim blaming, that they may even blame a loved one if they came to them about experiencing the assault,” Crouch said.
Because of that, Crouch said some victims may not report their assault.
Other barriers include fear. Crouch said some victims may be scared to go through the exam process after a sexual assault or being scared of the legal process. Crouch also said a barrier to reporting is fear from the alleged assaulter as well.
Crouch also said victims face other barriers to reporting. She said there is some misinformation about how to go about reporting and that maybe someone thinks that they have to undergo a forensic exam or a sexual assault kit in order to report it to law enforcement, which is not the case.
“If you’re hoping to prosecute the offender, having that DNA evidence will help, but it’s not a requirement,” Crouch said.