BOISE — Boise State student Brooke Frye said she didn’t know where to turn three years ago after she was sexually assaulted in her freshman dorm.
She didn’t realize the university had a Title IX coordinator dedicated to these types of reports, and she felt uncomfortable telling the dorm’s resident assistant, a sophomore.
“I didn’t know what I could do, and I didn’t know where I could go,” Frye said. “I didn’t know of any options and I didn’t know what resources I had. You’re scared and you’re traumatized, the last thing you are going to do is go to some strange girl a year above you on your floor. That’s not a resource.”
Frye and fellow seniors Kelsey Wilber and Amelia Keily are organizing a “Silent Call to Action” protest in November to urge university officials to clarify and strengthen campus sexual assault policies and resources.
The students were moved to put on the protest after discussing sexual assault in their feminist theory class, when they asked the question: “What is anyone doing at Boise State?”
University officials outline that the school follows federal policies step by step as well as extend multiple resources but admits that the Title IX office is working to build stronger student trust.
Sexual assault reporting
While sexual assaults reported at Boise State have dropped recently, numbers remain high and students are concerned that the system is not addressing a troubling status quo for campus sexual violence.
As previously reported by the Idaho Press, Boise State’s annual crime report shows there were 18 reports of rape in 2015 — 10 on campus property, and eight in residence halls. That number rose to 23 in 2016, with 12 on campus property and 11 in residence halls.
Last year showed the lowest numbers of reported rapes in the three years listed, with a total of 13, nine on campus property and four in residence halls; the report also lists five incidents as “unfounded” — a determination made by law enforcement officers after an investigation, according to the report.
“Boise State has acknowledged that sexual assault is a problem — that’s the concerning thing — they know it is” said Frye. “But we haven’t seen any action or pursuits in preventing it from happening or creating more resources for victims.”
September, the first full month of the fall semester, wasn’t without reports. A Sept. 19 email from the Boise State Department of Public Safety alerted recipients to “multiple unrelated reports of potential sexual misconduct.” The email outlined the school’s sexual misconduct policy and listed resources for victims. Additionally, according to the campus crime log, police received reports of a rape Sept. 15 at an unspecified location.
But for the three seniors, crime logs and alert emails are insufficient.
“We want to start a discourse with the administration that they are actually taking it seriously,” said Wilber. “And that they are listening to students’ input.”
Boise State in recent years has expanded services aimed at protecting students from sexual violence. In 2017, the university added a director of equality and inclusion, as well as an additional full-time compliance investigator to assist the other investigator hired in 2016, according to Alicia Estey, Boise State’s Title IX coordinator since January 2017.
Estey’s office fields all Title IX reports made by students.
Sexual assault or rape reports are referred to the Boise Police Department, whose officers contract with the university to provide campus security, Estey.
“Efforts to prevent, respond and remedy gender-based violence happen across campus in many departments, not just in Public Safety,” she said.
After a student files a report, an investigator in the Office of Institutional Compliance and Ethics decides whether or not to pursue a Title IX investigation, according to Boise State’s policy on sexual misconduct and dating violence.
“It should always be investigated whether or not people think it actually happened,” Keily said. “That’s what the investigation is for.”
Estey said the office’s decision to pursue an investigation is not based on whether or not reports are believed.
“We assume everything we are told is worth investigating,” she said. “We decide if it constitutes a conduct violation of Title IX policy. If it doesn’t rise to a conduct violation, we give them other resources.”
The speed at which investigations are processed has also been a source of concern for campuses across the nation and at Boise State.
In 2011, under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Education enacted a 60-day timeline for Title IX investigations to be completed. The measure was meant to make campus Title IX offices more accountable for processing complaints. Under the Trump administration, that timeline was withdrawn due to criticism that the allotment was unfair to accused students.
“The 60-day timeline was ineffective and caused universities to rush investigations,” Estey said. “We always try to investigate as quickly as we can, but we don’t want to rush and do a poor job.”
A formal investigation includes the review of submitted evidence — which can include text messages, photographs, emails or social media posts — contacting witnesses and interviewing the accused party. Under policy, an external investigator may also be retained by the Title IX coordinator. A final report is drafted and the Title IX office notes a conduct violation if found.
“But what does that mean for the victim? Months to years of possibly running into their assaulter on campus,” said Frye. “That’s continuing the trauma.”
According to the policy, the final report is then sent to a student conduct administrator in the Office of the Dean of Students who convenes a “Sanctioning Board” of university staff and faculty. The board conducts interviews with both parties and issue a sanction decision within 10 business days.
Students seek reform
The group of seniors are primarily asking for transparency and clarity — hoping to help students, such as Frye three years ago, know what help is available to them.
Boise State’s resources for victims include crisis counseling and hotline numbers, as well as an alert program called Campus Assessment Resource and Education, which allows for anonymous reporting of people or incidents. Estey said victim resources that are separate from the Title IX office allow for confidentiality.
Finding this information can be difficult, organizers of the protest charge. Online resources are on the BSU Office of Compliance and Ethics web page. From there, the searcher would have to look to Title IX to find “additional resources on Title IX” within that tab.
Estey said the office is attempting to increase awareness of the resources they provide students, but first they must build trust with students.
“People are becoming more aware about rights regarding Title IX,” she said. “But you have to build a reputation as Title IX that you will keep students safe.”
Annual security reports are also required under Federal legislation for college campuses, but organizers of the Silent Call to Action say they need to be made more transparent.
The office is planning to put out a survey in the spring to track incidents and increase understanding of policy and of the Title IX office, Estey said.
Estey said anyone found responsible for “non-consensual intercourse” is expelled. Lesser forms of sexual harassment may result in lesser sanctions such as suspension, which concerns some students.
“We feel anything other than expulsion is saying that the perpetrators education is valued over the victim’s safety,” said Frye.
“And not just the victim, everyone at Boise State,” followed Keily.
The students hope their silent protest, scheduled for early November, encourages direct action to the problem of sexual assault. The group hopes to display signs, statistics of on-campus assault, survivors’ stories and their requested changes.
“We love Boise State,” said Frye. “But we think it can be a safer place.”