This is what the process of reporting a sexual assault looks like at Rutgers
The VPVA provides support for students every step of the way
Approximately 1 in 5 women and 1 in 33 men will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime, according to the Rutgers Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA).
Brady Root, the prevention education coordinator of VPVA, said the office exists to provide support to and stand alongside victims of sexual violence regardless of how they choose to proceed.
“Our goal is that you shouldn’t have to feel alone like you’re being questioned and have no one on your side. VPVA can be with someone every step of the way. That's the biggest thing that we do in terms of providing support to victims,” Root said.
Root said every individual is different and there is nothing that a victim is obligated to do.
If a victim of sexual assault does want to report the assault, they have two ways to begin that process. One of them is through the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD), she said.
Students have the right to contact RUPD on their own, but they can also have someone with VPVA go with them, Root said. If students let VPVA know, they can set up a time to go with them. If they go on their own they will be told they have the right to a confidential sexual violence advocate.
“Confidential sexual violence advocates are a part of Rutgers’ crisis response team, and they are trained at the office to be able to respond to victims,” Root said.
Root said advocates are utilized during after work hours, and are there to provide support to victims and assist them in any way. During work hours someone from the VPVA office can also accompany a victim.
If a victim chooses to proceed in this manner, the next step is personal medical questions, Root said.
Following that, the victim can decide if they want evidence to be collected.
“That involves an examination and safe kit, and we recommend people go to the Middlesex County Center for Empowerment. People can go to a hospital as well — what we like about the center is that it is a smaller environment and less chaotic,” Root said.
For evidence collection it is advised that a victim does not shower or brush their teeth among other things, she said.
But she said an exam can be completed up to five days after an assault even if the victim does shower or clean up. A victim is also able to have an advocate throughout this entire process if they wish.
Once that process is done, the victim still has a say over whether they want to continue.
“Someone could go through with that then, if they don’t want to report it they are able to stop,” Root said.
Root said another option available to a victim who wants to report a sexual assault is to report it through Title IX.
According to the website of the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, “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.”
Root said if someone was afraid to report a sexual assault to the police because they are afraid of going through the state, or for any personal reason, Title IX goes solely through Rutgers.
This process is different than a criminal process. The investigation happens completely within the University, followed by a judicial process. A victim can also obtain the equivalent of a restraining order, known as a no-contact order, during the process, Root said.
If someone is found responsible, then all of the sanctions and consequences are University-based, Root said.
She said students are able to pursue reporting through both RUPD and Title IX, through one or the other, or they can do neither. They are also able to start and stop either process at any point which they feel comfortable.
Talking to VPVA is completely confidential, Root said. Reporting a sexual assault through RUPD or Title IX is not necessarily confidential because people will be investigating the report and will need information, but everything obtained is still kept private.
“We want people to get the help they’re looking for. Some people might not be ready to talk about it right away. Other people spring into action and sometimes that’s their way of coping. What we're really focused on is we want to empower everyone with all of their options,” Root said.
She said everyone is different and not every victim will want to report a sexual assault.
The VPVA office is still available to these people to talk, provide support and explain their options if interested. Going to VPVA to have a conversation is just that and information will remain confidential, Root said.
No matter what, the process is horrendous, Root said.
In the case of sexual assault, one’s body is the crime scene. In this case, someone’s body has been invaded by someone else, so any part of the process can be re-traumatizing, she said.
“Going through sexual violence takes away a person’s ability to make a choice," Root said. "In the aftermath, we make sure people have the ability to make a choice."