McLaine Rich, a senior psychology major at the University of Maryland, was assaulted in October 2014. At the time, she decided just to try and forget about it, and not file a complaint or make a police report.
“I kind of buried it and didn’t really talk about it,” Rich told CrimeFeed.
But after revealing the assault to her Zeta Tau Alpha sorority chapter at a meeting, one of the new members came forward and told Rich that not only had she also been assaulted — but they had the same attacker. “What are the odds?” she said.
After that, she said, eight more people came forward and talked to her within a week. “I realized that there were so many of us out there, suffering in silence,” Rich said.
So she filed a report with the Title IX office on March 31. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states:
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education issued a Dear Colleague letter stating that colleges “must use a preponderance of evidence standard” when “investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.” This is the standard already used by the U.S. Supreme Court in civil litigation involving discrimination, and for the past few years it has been the guiding document for colleges hoping to avoid a federal civil-rights investigation into how they handle complaints of sexual violence.
Many victims do not report their sexual assault to the police because they are embarrassed, think they may not be believed, or feel that there is not enough evidence. And these fears aren’t unfounded: According to research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, only 18 percent of reported rapes result in a conviction.
Regardless of whether a victim wants to pursue an investigation, Title XI means they are entitled to counseling, medical care, and other support. They can ask to have class schedules changed, or move dorms to avoid their alleged attackers. But Title IX investigators have faced criticism that their procedures often lead to a slap on the wrist for offenders, and confusing Kafka-esqe procedures.
Title IX investigators aim to complete their reports within 30 business days, according to the University of Maryland’s student sexual misconduct complaint procedures — and reaching a resolution should take an additional four to five weeks.
Rich’s took several months, partly due to the fact that the Title IX office said that they were already investigating a case involving the same man Rich accused and needed to move forward with the previous case first.
Rich’s alleged attacker was eventually expelled.
Many offices are short-staffed: As of 2016, the Title IX office at the University of Maryland reportedly employed only two investigators to handle all sexual-misconduct complaints, and only one civil-rights investigator — for a student body population of around 52,000.
During the 2014–15 academic year, three students — a record number — were expelled from the University of Maryland for sexual assaults, according to Office of Civil Rights & Sexual Misconduct data.
Rich has since helped found Preventing Sexual Assault, a club that advocates sexual-assault prevention and serves as an outlet for members to channel their frustration and sadness, and work toward progress.
She said, “We need to stop victim blaming. The main message of the PSA is education. We need to teach about getting affirmative consent, and practicing it.”
If she could counsel her younger self, she says, her advice would be to reach out for help and know that “we’re not invincible.“
Main photo: McClaine Rich [Investigation Discovery]