|TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.|
The number of rape reports on the Mercer University campus increased steadily from 2014 to 2016, according to the university’s annual security report.
Two rapes were reported on campus in 2014, seven in 2015 and 10 in 2016, the report said. The numbers are part of a required federal report under the Clery Act, and it includes crimes that were reported to the Title IX office.
In comparison, the University of Georgia, which has over six times more undergraduates students than Mercer, had 15 rapes reported on-campus in 2016, according to UGA’s Clery Act report.
UGA also reported 47 additional rapes with an unknown location and 34 with a confirmed off-campus location. Mercer didn’t report any rapes of unknown locations or off-campus locations in its 2016 report, and the Title IX office said it was because none were reported.
The Clery Act requires universities and colleges that receive federal funds to disclose statistics about crime on campus. The law is named after Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in 1986 at her residence hall at Lehigh University.
Melissa Graham, Title IX coordinator at Mercer, said that she believes the number of rapes hasn’t increased on campus, but there has been an increase in the reported of rape.
“I think we've created a culture here that people feel comfortable coming forward and reporting,” Graham said. “So, I would be concerned if our numbers didn't go up, because I think our educational efforts and our communication efforts have increased.”
Graham said the Title IX coordinator was a part-time position until 2015.
“We had a Title IX coordinator, but Mercer took the extra step to make it a full-time position just focusing on Title IX,” Graham said.
What happens when a sexual assault is reported?
Sexual assault can be reported to the Title IX office directly from students, from Mercer Police and from other mandatory reporters, which includes faculty. Title IX is a civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding. This includes addressing campus sexual violence.
Graham said that once a sexual assault is reported to her, she sets up a meeting with the reporting party.
If any medical exams need to be performed, Graham said she can facilitate that process by getting the student to the hospital or a doctor. Graham said that she always encourages students to get a medical exam after an assault.
“I also tell them that if they didn't do that, that it's not a problem. You don't have to have gone to the hospital to pursue an investigation,” Graham said.
She can also put “interim measures” in place, such as changing a student’s living arrangements, she said. These actions are explained in more detail in the graphic.
During the “intake process,” Graham said she notifies the reporting party, the victim of the assault, of their rights throughout the Title IX process.
Then, Graham said she explains what takes place in an investigation. There are four options: a criminal investigation through law enforcement, a Title IX investigation through the university, an investigation with law enforcement and Title IX, or no investigation.
If the university has reason to believe a reported assault may have a broader threat to the Mercer community, Graham said the university may decide to continue with an investigation even if the reporting party does not want to participate.
However, Dean of Students Douglas Pearson said this isn’t common.
"Most of (the cases) aren't like that," Pearson said. "In rare cases, we may choose to investigate it with or without their consent."
She said the process begins with investigators going through evidence and conducting interviews with the parties involved and any witnesses.
“I make sure I talk about preserving evidence. It's not just a forensic exam. It's emails, text messages, pictures,” Graham said.
Graham connects students with support services if the students believe they need them, she said.
“We typically close out the conversation with, ‘What can the university do for you?’ and ‘What do you want the university to do in terms of investigation?’”
If a student would like to proceed with an investigation, Graham said the responding party, or person accused of the crime, is notified to meet with Graham.
Graham said she or Dean of Students Douglas Pearson will meet with the accused and go over the same information that they went over with the reporting party.
“Obviously, (the responding party doesn't) really have an option of it being investigated. I'm telling them typically that it's being investigated,” Graham said.
The investigation is reviewed for an informal or formal resolution, Graham said. An informal resolution, such as a no-contact order or another interim measure, does not go through the Mercer’s judicial process like a formal resolution. No action is also an option.
If the accused is found responsible, Mercer has 15 different sanctions that can be placed against the accused including expulsion, according to the Student Handbook.
Graham said that throughout the Title IX process, she encourages students to seek out a person of support, and she provides the students with resources.
“I give them options because sometimes people don't realize that we can help you move a class or move residence halls,” Graham said. “We walk through the intake paperwork. You know, this is what's available to you. What can we do to help you?”
For more information about Title IX on Mercer’s campus, visit the Sexual Misconduct and Relationship Violence page on Mercer’s website.