Student says college botched her assault investigation

According to Allison Hrabar ‘16, the college badly mishandled her sexual assault last year in violation of federal law. Hrabar says she was sexually assaulted by a Swarthmore student on February 9 of last year and reported the assault in April. She said that because she didn’t answer one email in May, Public Safety closed her case without her knowledge or consent, and only three weeks later, her perpetrator assaulted another student.

Hrabar is a columnist for the Campus Journal section of the Phoenix. She is not involved in the production of the news section.

She said that in June, thinking her case was still being investigated, Hrabar contacted Public Safety, where Lauren Carella, now interim Title IX coordinator at Occidental College, had been hired as an investigator. Although Hrabar had already given multiple statements in May, Carella restarted the investigative process, requiring Hrabar to give a three-hour interview detailing her assault for the second time in just over a month, Hrabar said. In late August, Carella left the College, but no one notified Hrabar, who had been sending emails for weeks with questions regarding her case to no avail, Hrabar said.

Hrabar said that in late September, Mike Hill, director of Public Safety, closed her case — 154 days after the initial report. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requires that schools complete both the investigative and adjudicative processes in 60 days under Title IX.

Hill said Public Safety was unable to comment on individual cases.

Even though the case was closed in September, Hrabar did not receive her case file until October 31, she said. Usually, both the respondent and complainants in a College Judiciary Committee (CJC) case receive a case file with testimonies and summaries of the investigative process to review before the trial. Hrabar says she sent in a four-page summary of errors responding to the case file she received: not only were her witnesses’ names spelled wrong and their class years mistaken, she said, but her own assault had been summarized incorrectly. Interviews during investigations are not recorded by Public Safety and students are not allowed to record them either. When she said many of the statements attributed to her by Public Safety investigators were incorrect, she was told that the statements were in investigators’ notes from the interviews, and thus she must have said them.

Witnesses’ testimonies were also misrepresented, Hrabar said. Although a friend had mentioned in her interview that Hrabar was “bitter about Swarthmore,” the Public Safety officer wrote down that she was “bitter about men at Swarthmore,” she said. She was not able to correct it, she said. Only half of the mistakes were corrected after a month of insistent requests — the misrepresentation of her assault not among them, she said.

“Even if I take my own notes, it’s my word against theirs,” Hrabar said of the Public Safety interview process. “There’s no accountability.”

Hill said that although the college does not currently record interviews, Public Safety is “always reviewing best and promising practices about how other institutions and agencies conduct interviews.”

“I was really unhappy with the way Public Safety conducted themselves during my case, both as far as investigating and responding to my concerns,” Hrabar said. “I essentially couldn’t criticize the way the investigation was going.”

According to Hill, full-time Public Safety officers have continued to receive training to better deal with sexual assault investigations since last semester.

“Sexual assault investigations are complex, and we make every effort to be sensitive, timely, and understanding in how we respond to cases involving sexual violence,” he said in an email. “We work closely with survivors/victims and conduct a thorough investigation, as well as provide them with both on and off campus resources and options.”

Whether investigators were competent or not, Hrabar says she wishes the onus hadn’t been on her to get the perpetrator off campus.

“It’s too much stress on me to essentially conduct the investigation, to push them at every turn, to please schedule my CJC case, to please keep investigating, to please make it happen,” she said.

The college cannot bring CJC cases against perpetrators without a victim coming forward. In Hrabar’s case, five other women who had been assaulted by the same student came forward as witnesses but didn’t wish to pursue their own cases, Hrabar said.

“I think if I hadn’t agreed to be a complainant, there wouldn’t have been a case brought against [my assailant],” Hrabar said.

According to Sexual Assault Survivor Advocate and Educator Nina Harris, Swarthmore’s current system places a lot of pressure on the victim. She said she has proposed a change in which the complainant is not the victim, but rather the College, to limit both the adversarial nature of the current system and to ease the responsibility of bringing a case forward off the survivor. Harris said she is not sure how far the system can go if the victim does not want to participate, but she thinks the current structure needs to be revised.

“In the course of the investigation, the university can, with enough evidence, respond, like with an interim suspension. If we investigated an individual and saw other incidents, [the College] should move forward,” Harris said. “But I’m not sure there is a system that we can use that excludes victims completely.”

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