Group wants changes to DSU’s policies for handling assault cases

Anissa Cartagena, center, marches with other protestors as they leave the Produce Junction toward Delaware State University in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — When a group gathered and marched to Delaware State University’s campus this week, they wanted protection for students and survivors of sexual assault.

“It literally looked and felt like accountability,” said Anissa Cartagena, a sophomore at the university who organized the march and demonstration Thursday night.

Anissa Cartagena , center, uses a mega-phone to announce the start of the march at the Produce Junction next to Delaware State University in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The march — which brought together more than 30 people and started near the Alumni Stadium and traveled to the center of campus — put a face to the name of Ms. Cartagena. Earlier this month, she opened up about her sexual assault and the university’s Title IX process through a petition on Change.org that called for heightened transparency regarding sexual assault cases on campus.

Ms. Cartagena said she was assaulted in mid-November last year. Her case went through the Title IX process and was closed, with a guilty verdict that called for suspension of the other student, she said.

In a statement, DSU said it could not comment on a specific case or individual, but it condemned the acts in general.

supporters before the start of the march at the Produce Junction next to Delaware State University in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/March Clery)

“The University does not tolerate student misconduct in any form, and is very aware of the emotional and mental effects of sexual misconduct,” the statement read. “We also know that many students have become advocates in this cause, and we fully support their right to speak out responsibly.”

In general, when a student is found in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and that violation results in suspension, they do not automatically return to campus at the end of the suspension, the statement said.

“He or she must apply for reinstatement, and each case is evaluated on its merits,” the statement continued. “At this point the University has neither received nor approved any such applications for the Spring 2020 semester.”

While the Title IX case was closed, Ms. Cartagena said she has experienced social media harassment from the perpetrator, and the perpetrator counter-filed a claim of sexual misconduct against her. She provided screenshots of the allegations. She said she has contacted the university’s police.

Alexis Sanchious, left, and Maia Murray hold signs before the start of the march at the Produce Junction next to Delaware State University in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Speaking broadly of the process, a spokesman for the university said that the university’s police force investigates crimes that occur on campus, as it is their jurisdiction.

“Generally, if there is a report or an allegation of a sexual assault, we take that very seriously and it’s investigated,” spokesman Carlos Holmes said. “It’s investigated at the judicial affairs level and it’s investigated at the police level.”

Based on the police department’s investigation, that information will be turned over to the Attorney General’s office and the attorney general makes a determination whether charges will come forward or not, he said.

The experience with Title IX led Ms. Cartagena to create the petition, which has received more than 8,300 signatures. In it, she called for changes to be made to the Title IX process. Her petition demands conducting bi-annual campus climate surveys with published results, publication of aggregate data on sexual misconduct reports and access to Sexual Assault Response Advocates.

She also asked for the removal of the two staff members who handled her case, as well as better enforcing of no contact orders.

She hoped that Thursday’s march brought attention to the concerns students had.

“It brought hope because we’re not just putting this on social media and asking for it,” she said. “We are demanding it and we will get it. We’re doing marches, we’re doing emails, we’re doing petitions. It just shows how far we’re willing to go for the protection of our students and our survivors.”

Statewide data

In 2019, the Attorney General’s office released data from the year previous regarding sexual assaults on campus. In that report, DSU stated that the university did not “provide training to faculty or staff in 2018 as they provide training every two years (DSU’s prior report covering 2017 showed faculty training was provided)” regarding sexual misconduct.

It did train 1,876 students, 38.5% of the total student population at that time.

In 2018, there was one report of rape. DSU counseling and health services provided services and information. According to the report, it was a non-DSU student who indicated that the respondent was also not a DSU student. She was provided information on reporting to local police.

There were two reports of “nonconsensual genital contact.” There were no reports of “nonconsensual sexual or physical contact.”

Statewide, there were 40 campus reports of rape, 47 campus reports of nonconsensual genital contact and 59 campus reports of nonconsensual sexual or physical contact. Throughout Delaware’s higher education institutions, campus police agencies reported four criminal reports of rape, two criminal report of rape and unlawful sexual contact, five criminal reports of unlawful sexual contact, five criminal report of lewdness, two criminal report of sexual harassment and one criminal report of indecent exposure.