Beyond #metoo: Seeking transparency and justice for sexual assault at WKU

Since the New York Times published an article on Oct. 5 detailing eight sexual assault and harassment allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, 68 more women have contributed to the still-growing number of accusations against him.

Several weeks ago, actress Alyssa Milano posted a tweet asking women to reply with “me too” if they had been sexually assaulted or harassed. The tweet has over 68,000 replies, and tweets including the #metoo hashtag number almost 2 million and span 85 countries.

Milano told Variety that she wasn’t surprised by the number of women who replied or the outpouring of support for them. Rather, she felt surprised by those who didn’t know how often sexual violence occurs.

Sexual violence is prevalent at universities. Women in college are three times as likely to experience sexual violence than other women, according to Rape Abuse & Incest National Network.


But at WKU, many students don’t know exactly how often sexual violence occurs on their campus.

Elizabethtown senior Alyssa Javier said she tried to obtain a statistic from the university about how many instances of sexual violence have occurred at WKU for a research paper, but the university denied her on the basis of protecting victims’ identities.

“I wasn’t even asking for identity; I was just asking for a ballpark number,” Javier said. “I didn’t even need to know if it was between faculty and student or student to student — I didn’t care about that. I just wanted to know a number.”

Javier, who conducts research on sexual violence, said she expressed her concern to the university after they denied her this information.

“I would like to know how safe I should feel — how safe my friends should feel every time they’re on this campus,” she said. “Are they safe?”

Behind closed doors

Last fall, WKU’s Office of General Counsel denied the Herald’s open records request for all Title IX investigations into sexual misconduct allegations involving WKU employees. In February, WKU sued the Herald to appeal an order from Attorney General Andy Beshear that ruled the university needed to turn the records over to the Herald.

In an April 19 op-ed published by the Herald, former President Gary Ransdell said WKU chose not to disclose the records because it was the university’s “absolute priority” to protect the identity of victims in Title IX investigations.

President Timothy C. Caboni expressed a similar sentiment when addressing a question about the ongoing lawsuit at the Student Publications Homecoming Breakfast on Oct. 14.

“What we’re not going to do is allow for an individual record to go out, even redacted, where someone who knows that person could then figure out who it is,” Caboni said.

In response the Herald’s open records request, WKU disclosed that six WKU employees had resigned since 2013 after the results of Title IX investigations found they had violated university policies, according to the Herald.

Javier said she feels unsafe knowing that professors who have a record of sexual misconduct at one university can resign and move on to a new university, and those at the new campus are unlikely to know about it.

“We should know who the perpetrators are,” Javier said. “I don’t want to take a class with a professor who is known to sexually harass students. I don’t want to be around that. They should … make sure they aren’t allowed to teach at any university. But that doesn’t usually happen. They retire, but now they’re a professor somewhere else.”

Javier said the secrecy surrounding cases of sexual violence on campus can result in a sense of unease for students.

“We never know if the person sitting next to us in class is going to be the one to hurt us, and that shouldn’t be a constant fear for us,” she said.


WKU suspended the swimming and diving program in 2015 following Title IX investigations into allegations of hazing and abuse. Javier said she was grateful for this action, because she felt frustrated at the emphasis often placed on athletic achievements over the trauma victims face, as in the coverage of the Brock Turner case at Stanford University.

“It’s crazy how people put more value on an athlete than a girl who got raped in an alley behind a dumpster,” she said. “So yay for Western for [their action], but we still have a long way to go for justice, I feel.”

Blaming the victim

Milano told Variety that she wanted the #metoo movement to take the emphasis off the perpetrator and place it onto the victims.

Javier said she was hopeful for the movement, but she noticed many people responded with victim blaming. She said victim blaming plays heavily into the lack of justice in cases of sexual assault, and it is often perpetrated by law enforcement.

“Rape victims are told it’s their fault — ‘you shouldn’t be walking alone at night; you shouldn’t be wearing that dress; you shouldn’t have gotten drunk.’ All these very normal things are all reasons victims get blamed for being raped.”

Elizabeth Madariaga, WKU’s sexual assault services coordinator, said it’s necessary to believe victims and hold perpetrators accountable. She said an awareness of the issue is an integral force in preventing the violence from occurring.

“It’s necessary to recognize that sexual assault is a problem on college campuses and for upper level administrators to support endeavors in addressing these issues on campus,” Madariaga said.

She said it’s also important to understand and recognize what assault consists of, including consent, how alcohol can be a factor and the rape culture on our campus, as well as in our society as a whole.

Javier said many people view rape as occurring in a dark alley with a stranger, when it actually happens most often among acquaintances. Acquaintance rape occurs in about 59 percent of reported cases, according to RAINN.

“There’s so many factors that go into it other than being drunk, drugged or wearing a skimpy outfit,” Javier said. “People want to put simple labels on how rape occurs, but it’s really much more complicated than that. How can we find a way to tell people about injustice if they don’t even want to see the more complicated factors of sexual assault?”

Raising awareness

Madariaga said WKU raises awareness about sexual violence through programs like “Green Dot” and HAVEN, an online educational platform with scenarios, definitions and resources on campus and locally related to sexual assault. She said there are versions of HAVEN that all students, faculty and staff are required to complete.

Madariaga started the “Green Dot” program for students at WKU and said she feels it’s important because it teaches bystander intervention in ways that can be comfortable to any person.

“Since we are often put into roles as bystanders, this gives us options to intervene either while something is going on or to assist with it not getting worse, or be proactive before and do something before something bad happens,” she said.


Javier said she wished there were better ways to raise awareness about sexual assault than “Green Dot,” “Take Back the Night” or “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes.”

She said she appreciates that the events bring the campus together and raise money for organizations like Hope Harbor, but wishes they also informed students about the legal repercussions and injustices in sexual assault cases.

“You could walk by someone in Cherry Hall and not know that they are a victim.”

— Alyssa Javier, Elizabethtown senior

“I think it’s only raising awareness about the ratio of one out of three and the percentage of sexual assault that happens on college campuses, but it doesn’t go any further,” she said. “If you file in court for being raped, more than likely nothing will happen. You barely hear those stories. The only time I’ve ever heard those stories is when I’ve done research for papers or in class, and I feel like that shouldn’t be the only medium I hear that in.”

Javier said she wants students to take the issue more seriously and gain greater awareness, because anyone on campus could be a victim.

“You could walk by someone in Cherry Hall and not know that they are a victim,” she said. “It’s that awareness that it could happen to anyone — care about it.”

Madariaga said it’s necessary to speak up when you see or hear something.

“This is my campus, your campus, our campus,” she said. “Ask yourself, if that was your sister or mother or brother or friend, wouldn’t you want them to intervene and do something? We have to all do our part.”

Javier said she hopes WKU will work to ensure the safety of students on campus, and a step toward doing so is to keep them informed of sexual violence at the university.

“It just seems like they care, but they don’t care enough,” Javier said. “They don’t care about transparency, and we have the right to know. We all pay to go here. We all want an education, and we want to feel safe. We should have the privilege to know.”