“Title IX Ruined My Life”

A student shares how Title IX failed her before the investigation had even started.

Elizabeth+self+described+a+shadow+of+her+former+self+since+her+assault+and+treatment+by+the+Office+of+Title+IX.+

Gabe Rhoden | Staff Photographer

Elizabeth self described a shadow of her former self since her assault and treatment by the Office of Title IX.

Content Warning: This article includes depictions of rape and sexual assault.

Editor’s Note: After the article “I Didn’t Want To Call It Rape” was published on April 14, 2022, several women reached out to The Flor-Ala to share their experiences with Title IX, university police and sexual assault on campus. The following story chronicles one of these accounts. This investigation is ongoing. If you have more information about sexual misconduct on campus and would like to talk to The Flor-Ala, email Audrey Johnson at [email protected]

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of people involved

* * *

Elizabeth* walked from the parking deck to Mattielou Hall on a Friday night in September. She had only lived in the building for three weeks.

Her phone dinged.

A message from Liam*, a man on her floor who persistently texted her since they met, popped up on her phone:

“Liam: Hey! I see you walking in! Come to my room when you get here.”

Elizabeth didn’t know how Liam saw her walk into the building since his room faced the street. She didn’t know that he had been watching her.

Initially, Elizabeth thought Liam was nice. He would hold the elevator door for her and help her carry in groceries. She wanted to meet new people her first semester at UNA. She wanted to embrace the college life without the stress of a new relationship.

Upon returning home, Elizabeth walked five doors down from her own to Liam’s room. He sat down on his bed, and she sat at his desk. As they talked, Liam continued to open and close his bedside drawer. The conversation turned away from small talk and towards Elizabeth’s body.

After Liam referenced her “mommy-milkers,” Elizabeth texted her roommate to knock on the door saying she needed her. But she was out of town.

Elizabeth set up a fake-phone call from a friend who claimed he needed to speak to her in private. Liam agreed they would talk later.

A few doors down safe in her own room, Elizabeth locked the door and relaxed.

Until her phone chimed again:

“Liam: You’re gonna come back right?”

Elizabeth didn’t seek help because, aside from the inappropriate comments and continuous texting, nothing bad had happened. Maybe, she thought, Liam was just socially awkward and didn’t have a clue. Then, a barrage of texts started:

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

“Liam: Please come over.”

Irritated and eager for him to stop, Elizabeth complied. It’s not like down the hall was a long walk.

When Liam started to talk about her body again, Elizabeth interjected.

“What do you want?” Elizabeth asked. “You’re creeping me out.” 

“I’m not creeping you out,” Liam said. “I’m in love with you.”

Bewildered and annoyed, Elizabeth decided enough was enough. She grabbed her keys and headed for the hall, but Liam blocked her and pressed his hand to the door.

“I knew when he put his hand on the door,” Elizabeth said. “I was in trouble.”

As a result of the trauma from that night, Elizabeth has experienced gaps in her memory. There was blood on the carpet. Every part of her body hurt. All she wanted to do was take a shower and go to bed.

Liam had gotten what he wanted so he let Elizabeth leave.

When she got back to her room, she sat down at her desk, called a friend and tried to recount exactly what had just happened. Her memory went blank.

Her out-of-town friend encouraged her to go to the hospital, but without a friend to go with her Elizabeth decided to shower and sleep instead.

Once she stood up, she saw blood had seeped through her pants and covered her white desk chair cover red.

She urinated blood in her bathroom but was weeks away from starting her period.

“I’m thinking to myself, take Advil, go to bed,” Elizabeth said. “I was really numb.”

Before going to sleep, she blocked Liam’s phone number, Instagram and Snapchat. She locked her door. Fearful Liam would try to come to her room, she shoved her desk chair under the door handle.

* * *

Elizabeth woke up the next morning to bloody sheets and an audio message from Liam. Sent through GroupMe around 4 a.m., he repeated “I love you, and I feel like I did something wrong,” ten times. She threw her sheets down the trash chute.

When she looked in the mirror, her neck and collarbones were bruised and discolored. Despite the 90-degree day, she threw on a sweatshirt to hide the markings.

Close friends encouraged Elizabeth to report the assault to Title IX, but she “didn’t want to open that can of worms.”

In the four days since the assault, Liam had shown up to Elizabeth’s door on seven separate occasions. She blocked him from her phone but became panicked when he kept coming around. Looking for more help, she turned to her Resident Advisor and told him everything. Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, all RAs are mandatory reporters to Title IX.

“I said, ‘You can’t report this. I don’t want to do this,’” Elizabeth said. “And he said, ‘I have to report this.’”

Promptly, Elizabeth received the standard letter from Title IX inquiring about her situation.

“I went to Kayleigh Baker [the Title IX coordinator] and she’s acting all sweet at first,” Elizabeth said. “Then she asked, ‘did you receive any medical attention?’ I said, ‘No, I just went to bed.’ She asked, ‘Did you call the police?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘I’m not getting this straight. Why didn’t you call the police?’”

Elizabeth didn’t call the police because she didn’t want to ruin anyone’s life.

“[Kayleigh Baker] asked ‘but the assault happened?’” Elizabeth said. “I said, ‘Yes.’”

Since the incident with Liam, Elizabeth has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her brain has blocked out the time between Liam stopping her from leaving his room, and Elizabeth finally leaving.

“[Kayleigh Baker] asked, ‘So you don’t remember anything?’ I said, ‘No.’ She asked, ‘You didn’t receive medical care?’ I said, ‘No.’ She asked, ‘But he’s been following you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’”

According to Elizabeth, Baker immediately recommended a no contact order. Per the Title IX website, “No Contact Orders do not ensure that parties to such Orders will not see one another on the campus. Rather, they serve to limit potential interactions between the parties.”

Elizabeth agreed to the suggestion. She wanted Liam to stay away from her.

Next, Baker gave Elizabeth the option to file a formal complaint which triggers an investigation on behalf of the office to investigate if the accused (known in the Title IX process as “the respondent”) has violated university policy.

Elizabeth was hesitant to go through the investigation process, especially after Baker encouraged her to forgo filing the incident as sexual assault and instead file it as stalking.

In the sexual misconduct policy, stalking falls under the umbrella term of sexual harassment. It “cause[s] a reasonable person to: i. fear for the person’s safety or the safety of others; or ii. suffer substantial emotional distress.”

“I asked, ‘Is there any way we could work towards a different resolution?’” Elizabeth said. “I just didn’t want to live near him anymore. I said, ‘maybe move me to a different floor?’ and [Kayleigh Baker] said, ‘No. I’ve already decided we’re going to move you out of the building.’”

Elizabeth was frustrated with the idea of upending her life and moving to a different dorm. Then, Baker informed her moving dorms would cost her an additional $191.88. Elizabeth was already paying $35,000 in out-of-state tuition to attend to UNA.

“I asked, ‘Why is there an up-charge for me to move buildings if you’re asking me to move?’” Elizabeth said.

According to Elizabeth, Baker claimed she didn’t control the school’s prices and cited that Title IX operated under federal regulations that didn’t protect her from being up charged for changing residence halls.

However, per page 18 of UNA’s Title IX sexual misconduct policy, supportive measures should be “reasonably available, without fee or charge to the parties before or after the filing of a formal complaint or where no formal complaint has been filed.” Additionally, “The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for coordinating the effective implementation of supportive measures.”

When Elizabeth asked about summer housing, however, Title IX informed her that they could not protect her from Liam. They could put her next door to him for all she knew.

* * *

Elizabeth reaches out for help only to be met empty handed. (Gabe Rhoden | Staff Photographer)

With few other options, Elizabeth moved from Mattielou Hall to a Suite Style Hall with new roommates.

Her mental health deteriorated rapidly. She missed classes then struggled to catch back up. Her grades suffered so much she was placed on academic warning–but Title IX couldn’t help with this.

“[Title IX] says, ‘Oh, we have all these things that we can help you with,” Elizabeth said. “We can send you to counseling services.’”

When Title IX was introduced in 1972, it promised equal access to education for everyone regardless of gender. But due to her assault and stalking, Elizabeth feared going to class. She became entangled in an emotionally laborious investigation drawn out over months.

In the UNA Processes and procedures related to Sexual Misconduct Policy, not to be confused with the Policy against Sexual Harassment and other Sexual Misconduct, the first section is labeled “promptness.” It states that the formal grievance process should take no more than 90 business days to complete.

The following factors include, but are not limited to, why there may be delays in the process: “Absence of a party or witness for a limited amount of time; Coordinating with law enforcement during a concurrent or staggered investigation; Arranging for disability accommodations; Arranging for translation services; Unavailability of advisor for a limited amount of time; Vacancies in Title IX positions; Holidays, illnesses, closure for a natural disaster or other emergency (e.g. hurricane, tornado, earthquake, blizzard, pandemic).”

In Elizabeth’s investigation, it took Title IX six months to compile the evidence, and she was largely left in the dark during that time. Likely, Title IX had left Liam with little information as well.

“He has gone to my friends and asked questions about me,” Elizabeth said. “But he’s not asking where I am, so it doesn’t violate the no contact order.”

Additionally in the Title IX processes, parties involved in the formal grievance process are entitled to certain rights including: “The right to be treated with respect by all UNA officials.” Yet, according to Elizabeth, a male Title IX pool member asked her what she was wearing during the night of her assault.

In nation-wide protests against sexual assault, the question “what were you wearing?” has come under scrutiny for its victim-blaming implication that the survivor could have prevented the assault had she dressed differently.

On page ten of the Title IX processes document, it explains Title IX pool member training. The training covers a litany of instruction including (but not limited to) implicit bias; how to conduct questioning; how to serve impartially by avoiding prejudgment of the facts at issue, conflicts of interest, and bias; and issues of relevance of questions and evidence. Under the considerable umbrella of topics pool training covers, the nationally relevant and sensitive question of “what were you wearing?” should be included.

Perhaps the pool member did not intend for his question to disrespect Elizabeth, however per the Title IX processes document, she maintains “the right not to be discouraged by UNA officials from reporting sexual harassment, discrimination, and/or retaliation to both on campus and off-campus authorities.”

Yet, after her first conversation with the Title IX Coordinator, Kayleigh Baker dissuaded her from including the necessary sexual assault component included in her case.

If Elizabeth wanted to report a violation of these rights? She’s met with more bureaucracy. As “the right to have allegations and violations of this Policy responded to promptly and with sensitivity by UPD and/or other UNA officials” is an option, but Title IX’s investigation also promised promptness. In the past week, UNA PD has closed 24 open cases of sexual harassment including rape, sexual assault and stalking–some had been open for as long as 16 months.

* * *

As the investigation drags out, Elizabeth worries about Liam trying to get to her through her friends or roommates. Two weeks ago, in the early evening, she heard someone tapping at her window.

“I have put my roommates in danger,” Elizabeth said. “All they knew when I moved in was that I had a [Title IX] case. Even their fathers have said, ‘Our daughters could be in danger.’”

Despite Title IX’s 90-day timeline, Elizabeth’s case has yet to have a live hearing scheduled. At the time of publication, it has been eight months since her report was filed.

“I could get the email [scheduling the hearing] today, I could get it tomorrow,” Elizabeth said. “I could get it in six more months. I have no idea.”

Still, she wishes she had never gone through the Title IX process at all. The mental strain of the Title IX investigation burdened her as much as the assault.

“I’ve repeated this story probably eight or nine times,” Elizabeth said. “Every interview [Title IX] asks me to repeat the story. Every interview they’re like ‘yeah, we’re not focusing on that, we’re focusing on the stalking.’ I’m like, ‘that’s part of the stalking.’ He had sex with me. He assaulted me.”

Even though Elizabeth’s formal complaint is filed under stalking, she knows what her assailant is capable of.

“What happens if the case goes my way? How angry is he going to be?” Elizabeth said. “I fear that the day that the case is decided something will happen to me. I shouldn’t have to fear that. And my mother shouldn’t fear that she’ll receive a phone call from the police asking to identify a body.”

Since the start of the spring semester, 14 reports of sexual assault have been filed with university police according to the Times Daily.

“Title IX has not only destroyed my life,” Elizabeth said. “But it has destroyed my experience with this school.”