Title IX Offers Fickle Beam of Hope to Rape Survivors

By Joseph Marcades

On college campuses across the country, Title IX is assumed to be sexual assault victims’ best shot at getting peace of mind after a horrific event. Unfortunately, that is not always the case.

According to Know Your IX’s, the famous federal law was initially implemented to guarantee gender equality on college campuses and was used to develop women’s sports at the collegiate level. However, its interpretation has expanded to ensure that students who have survived sexual harassment and sexual violence are protected from further harm.

Stefanie Mundhenk, a recent graduate of Baylor University, identifies herself as a survivor of rape who was failed by the Title IX department at her school.

Her assault occurred in March 2015, at the apartment of a classmate she had known for two years. He invited her over to study and forcibly raped her.

Although many people think rape is perpetrated by a stranger in a dark alley, that is not normally the case, Mundhenk said.

Mundhenk with her degree from Baylor University. Picture from Mundhenk's Facebook.

Mundhenk with her degree from Baylor University. Picture from Mundhenk’s Facebook.

“The vast majority of rapes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows,” Mundhenk said. “Mine was.”

Kimberly Simón, director of Risk Intervention and Safety Education at Texas Tech University, also said most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

“Really, it is the people you have your guard down around,” Simón said. “Four-fifths of sexual assaults happen by someone you know.”

Mundhenk said she brought her case to the Title IX office at Baylor but lost against her assailant. Reporting the incident sooner may have helped, but Mundhenk said she had a difficult time coming to terms with what had happened.

“People think that trauma is linear, and that’s the biggest misconception out there,” Mundhenk said. “It’s so much easier for your brain to believe that nothing happened than that something really dangerous and terrible happened.”

Most professions have some type of national certification, but that is not the case for Title IX investigators. Although every institution receiving federal funding must have a Title IX department, Simón said, the lack of minimum standard of qualifications might explain why institutions handle similar situations differently.

“This is where Tech is a best-practice school,” Simón said. “Tech has said we prefer somebody that has gone through law school and…we prefer you be ATIXA [Association of Title IX Administrators]-trained, but that’s just something Tech has chosen to do.”

Picture provided by Baylor University.

Picture from Baylor University.

Mundhenk, who had always dreamed of going to Baylor, worked multiple jobs to put herself through college.

“I still love Baylor, almost in the way that a child loves an abusive parent,” Mundhenk said. “Baylor was good to me until it fundamentally failed me as a student, a woman and a human being.”

After a long appeal process, Mundhenk said she realized nothing was going to happen to the man who raped her. She said she decided to use her experience to speak out about what had happened to her at Baylor.

Next thing she knew, her story went viral.

She said she was invited to have a meeting with Baylor University President Ken Starr. She was told he believed there had been a lapse of justice in her case, and he would look into it to see what he could do.

But her hopes were dashed when Starr emailed her a letter, saying he could not do anything about her case because the university’s decision was final. According to Baylor’s Title IX procedure, sanctions can only be considered for appeal by the university president within six days of the initial decision.

“He placated me by saying that it must have taken personal strength and courage to share my story,” Mundhenk said. “Either these are empty words, or he really believes I was raped and is still doing nothing because it doesn’t take strength, courage to tell a fake story.”

Last week, Starr was demoted to chancellor after the school was criticized for the mishandling of sexual assault allegations against football team members. Head Football Coach Art Briles has also been suspended.

Starr said in a statement that he was made aware of the allegations in the fall of 2015. An independent external investigation into the handling of Title IX claims at Baylor found the school fundamentally failed sexual assault victims.

In a statement, Baylor Board of Regents chair Richard Willis said the school is “horrified” by the number of sexual assaults at the private Baptist university.

Starr led the investigation into Bill Clinton's extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, eventually leading to Clinton's impeachment.

Starr led the investigation into Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky, eventually leading to Clinton’s impeachment.

“This investigation revealed the University’s mishandling of reports in what should have been a supportive, responsive and caring environment for students,” Willis said. “The depth to which these acts occurred shocked and outraged us. Our students and their families deserve more, and we have committed our full attention to improving our processes, establishing accountability and ensuring appropriate actions are taken to support former, current and future students.”

According to letters sent to students at Baylor earlier in the semester, the school has committed $5 million to help bolster its sexual assault response and capabilities to deal with it.

Mundhenk said she still thinks improvements are needed regardless of the money being poured into resolving the issue. In response to Starr’s demotion, Mundhenk said it is a start to rectifying a broken system.

“I think that, combined with the other changes, that may be enough,” Mundhenk said. “But, as we haven’t seen the real report yet, we still don’t know what Starr’s role was in all of this. We also don’t have the names of other people who were fired besides Briles. They could be more transparent.”

About JOUR 3312
%d bloggers like this: