Content warning: this article contains mentions of sexual violence.
“13% of all [college] students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation,” according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization in the United States.
In the 2022 NJIT Annual Campus Security Report, which covers 2019, 2020, and 2021, there were three reported rapes in 2019 and two in 2021. In those years, there were two reported instances of fondling. 2021 also saw two reported instances of dating violence and one of stalking. There were two reports of domestic violence in 2019, one in 2020, and two in 2021.
In Fall 2021, NJIT sent out its Campus Climate Survey to the entire university community to measure campus inclusivity and belongingness through anonymous respondents. 14% of undergraduate students — 1,243 — and 7% of graduate and postdoc students — 178 — responded to the survey, totaling 1,421 students. Of those, 10 (0.7%) stated they experienced relationship violence, 46 (3.2%) said stalking, 53 (3.7%) said unwanted sexual interaction, and 14 (1%) said unwanted sexual contact.
It should be noted that over half of the undergraduate respondents had been at NJIT for less than a year during the time the survey was conducted, skewing some results to be based on the experiences of first-year students.
“Sexual assault is always underreported on campus,” said Associate Dean of Students Dr. Kristie Damell, NJIT’s Title IX Coordinator. “It’s a really difficult process; the burden of proof criminally is very high in terms of having to prove that you were assaulted, or that you were the victim of domestic violence, dating violence. At NJIT, our standard of proof is just preponderance of the evidence.”
She added that the annual security report only tells one story, consisting of certain categories defined by very specific parameters such as where the incident took place specifically. “I received up to 30 reports last year that fall under Title IX, and they can range from harassment, stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, to sexual assault. They may not all go through a formal process, though,” she stated.
Any reports filed to NJIT Police that are under domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, is to be reported to Title IX. The only incident police won’t directly report to Title IX is sexual assault; in that instance, the police is required to get that student’s permission.
“If they do want to go through Title IX, then we refer all the information the student gives,” said Kevin Kesselman, Chief of Police at the NJIT Police Department. At the end of the year for the annual security report, Damell compares Title IX numbers of each type of misconduct with NJIT Police. They often have to cross reference information because the student can report to Title IX and to police separately.
“The university can provide protective measures that are available to students under the Title IX investigation, which we [NJIT Police] don’t have,” Kesselman added. Title IX allows altering academic schedules, changing on-campus housing, and taking disciplinary measures against the person who violated the student.
The police can help the student request law enforcement to provide transportation to a shelter, loved one’s residence, or another safe place. The student is also able to seek immediate medical treatment at a hospital near campus to preserve any possible DNA evidence with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner if the student reports to NJIT Police.
Regardless of which avenue the student uses to report the incident, they are given the option to receive assistance seeking counseling or support services.
With so many paths a student can take to report an incident, and with processes that could take weeks, months, or even longer, students might feel less willing to go through any form of reporting. “Sometimes, I think, ‘what would I do if this was me in college?’” Damell mentioned. “It would be really hard to go through months of investigation, be questioned, and provide intimate details about things that happened.”
“[Sexual misconduct and their reports are] not a problem specifically at NJIT,” Kesselman stated. “This is happening nationwide at every college campus, and most campuses are not promoting the reporting; they’re not giving the resources for promoting. They’re not making reporting an important part of education.”
The Department of Public Safety is hosting a Domestic Violence Roundtable in the Campus Center Atrium on Feb. 17 at 11:30 a.m. to combat this issue. This will be open to individuals 16 years of age or older, from external Newark partners, as that is a common age for people to start experiencing dating relationships.
Kesselman said, “We were able to get four panelists who can speak about how they’ve gone from victims to survivors, a clergy member who can speak about the spiritual side of receiving advice, and a sexual assault forensic nurse examiner who can explain how the process works on the medical side, which I think is the most important part of the sexual assault investigation.”
He continued, “The victim should keep whatever physical evidence they might have, as hard as that might be to do, because they might feel ‘dirty’ — they were forced into something they didn’t want to do, and they want to get ‘clean’ as a natural reaction. However, to the best of the victim’s ability, they should get those belongings to the hospital.”
He also mentioned that the priority when interviewing a victim for an investigation is making sure they aren’t revictimized — it’s vital to get as many details about the incident as possible, but not at the cost of them having to experience the incident again.
Lieutenant Josh Sanders of NJIT Police added that empathy is the largest portion of these processes, no matter what the outcome may be. “This is about the community and knowing that everything is right here in the city of Newark, available to students, staff, as well as faculty.”
Damell included that putting more emphasis on programming in the past few years has helped reach out to students about Title IX, along with Advocates for Sexual Health Awareness, an established group as of last year. The organization has become the student-driven group of ambassadors to this information. It’s hosting a Sex, Love, and Condoms event on Feb. 15 at 2:30 p.m. on the second floor of Campus Center to educate others about consent, communication, and healthy relationships.
“There’s also a new position of Prevention Specialist, which is super exciting. Their job will be to do prevention, education, and outreach,” she said.
Ultimately, Damell and Kesselman want the NJIT community to know that they are always here as support. “Anytime I reach out to a student, I always say, ‘you don’t have to do anything,’” Damell said. “I just want you to know that we are here for you.”
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