RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Two University of Richmond students continue to fight back after they wrote in the Huffington Post that they were sexually assaulted and that school officials mishandled their cases.
In September, Whitney Ralston and CC Carreras made headlines when they publicly criticized the way the university handled their reports of sexual assault.
WHITNEY AND CC’S STORY
“It’s really hard to put that out there and publicly tie yourself to this because it’s something you really wanna escape but you can’t,” Ralston said.
Their articles drew much reaction from students.
“It really, really bothered me, angered me. I shared it on social media,” said Nick Biffis, a member of the newly-formed student group Spiders Against Sexual Assault. “We wanted to form a group on campus to both give support to survivors, but also a group that would put pressure on the administration to make changes that would benefit the school.”
In the past few months, students have protested the university’s response, holding signs at football games, walking out of UR discussions on rape and even writing supportive messages in chalk at the opening of a new university building.
But there has also been retaliation against Carreras and Ralston. People have keyed their cars, avoided them on campus, marked their faces out of sorority pictures and even sent mean messages.
“The ones I got were just like ‘kill yourself, you’re a lying slut,’ things like that,” Ralston said.
Both say sharing their stories will be worth it if it helps another victim.
“The nasty messages and our cars being keyed and my face being gauged out, I can put up with that if it helps somebody else,” Carreras said.
And the women say all of the negative reaction is counteracted by the good.
“Overwhelmingly, the stuff online is very supportive and positive a lot of people have been supportive,” Ralston said. “By doing it, I get a lot of messages from people that I don’t know, a lot of friend requests, but a lot of people will be like ‘this happened to me and thank you for coming forward and you’re brave and all those things.”
Ralston said right after the articles were published she started getting about 10 to 15 messages a day. And they are still coming in.
“Just seeing how many people it impacts and how many people still can’t come forward … some people have graduated. I think the oldest one was 73,” she said.
STATISTICS FROM THE UNIVERSITY ON REPORTS
The University of Richmond responded to the allegations by email, calling some of their claims inaccurate. But the young women are sticking by their stories.
“There’re so many pieces to the story they’ll never know, but that shouldn’t be what upsets people, what should upset people is the fact that regardless of who the person is, this can happen, and there is no administrative response that is helpful or healthy,” Ralston said.
According to the school’s own data, over the last three academic years, there have been 124 reports of violations of sexual misconduct at U of R under “Tier I.” This is the school’s ranking system for the severity of the sexual misconduct and Tier I is the most serious.
The University defines Tier I sexual misconduct reports as “reports where the initial information provided indicates possible non-consensual sexual intercourse, non-consensual sexual contact, dating/relationship violence, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual exploitation.”
Of the 124 Tier I reports, only six students received the harshest punishment. Here’s a breakdown of why, according to the school:
Of the 23 cases in which a student was charged with a sexual misconduct violation, 18 were ultimately found responsible or accepted responsibility and were sanctioned. 6 were suspended, banned from campus, or permanently separated from the University. The other 12 faced other sanctions, commensurate with the offense for which they were found responsible. In none of the twelve cases was the respondent charged with non-consensual sexual intercourse.
Click here to read the school’s entire Sexual Misconduct Report.
While many may never report their assaults, those who do will have more resources available to them now.
MORE RESOURCES AVAILABLE
In early October, the University of Richmond announced various changes, such as creating a Center for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. It is also searching for a new independent Deputy Title IX Coordinator for the students.
There are also resources outside of the school for any victim of sexual assault or domestic violence that anyone, including students, has access to. One of these is the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance which just launched a new statewide hotline.
“Sometimes people call us because they have reported somewhere and they’re not getting the help they’re looking for. Maybe they’re going through a court process, maybe they’re a student on a campus, advocates are there to help people in those situations,” said Kristi VanAudenhove, the Action Alliance executive director.
The Action Alliance can connect people to programs across the commonwealth. It is available to anyone who needs help at any time, by phone or even text message.
“The hotline is a very important service to the community, in general. It’s toll-free, confidential, 24-7, which means that anyone can call the hotline, anytime, including weekends,” said Carmen Williams, the Action Alliance program and service manager.
“People never know when they might be in a crisis, or they might be concerned for a friend or a family member so we’re here at any point to connect those people to the things that they need,” said Reed Bohn, a senior hotline crisis specialist for training for the Action Alliance.
The Director of the Action Alliance said she understands the difficulties women on college campuses sometimes face when reporting sexual assaults.
“It’s so important then for campuses to respond to that initial report quickly, to validate and affirm, to believe what they’re being told by survivors, and to act on that,” Kristi VanAudenhove said.
The group has also created its own task force to offer recommendations to universities, including suggesting an agreement between campus police and police in the community that the campus is in.
“Victims should have the right to pursue this as far as they can possibly pursue it and that should include possibly reporting this to police in their community,” VanAudenhove said.
If you want to reach someone from the statewide hotline call 1-800-838-8238 or text: 804-793-9999
The Action Alliance also has an LGBTQ hotline and a prison hotline which is a way for inmates or people incarcerated to report sexual abuse and get emotional support. For all of those resources click here.
As for Whitney Ralston and CC Carreras, they don’t want another victim to be afraid to speak up.
“I hear everyone’s stories and just seeing how this isn’t just me, this isn’t just CC. This isn’t just all these other women that I know. This happens all the time and if we’re not public about it, then nothing’s going to happen.”