Feb 5, 2018 / 15:45 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Following allegations that Christendom College mishandled student sexual assault reports, the college’s administration has said it is committed to doing better.
Donna Bethell, chair of the college’s board, told CNA that Christendom takes recent reports seriously, and has hired an outside firm to conduct a review of the college’s policies regarding sexual assault prevention and reporting.
“We have brought in a professional group that is expert in sexual assault policies and procedures, and they are reviewing our entire program and will give us a report on whether we are meeting best practices – not just Title IX, those are regulatory minimum requirements – but best practices in providing our students with the protection and services they need.”
In mid-January, the small Catholic college in Front Royal, Virginia was rocked by allegations that the administration had mishandled several cases of sexual assault in the Christendom community. The initial allegations were published in a series of blog posts by Catholic writer Simcha Fisher.
Among those who came forward with their stories is Adele Smith, who says that she was raped by her then-boyfriend during a date in Shenandoah National Park in 2009. Smith was a sophomore at Christendom, where her boyfriend was also a student.
Smith told CNA it took her a while to process what had happened to her. She eventually filed a report with both local police and the park service, but was told that there was very little chance of a conviction.
Meanwhile, she said, her alleged rapist was continuing to verbally harass her on campus, and her physical and mental health were suffering.
“I developed major depressive disorder and rape-related PTSD,” she told CNA. “I’ve been on medication ever since. I’ve struggled a lot with self-harm and suicidal ideations. Medication and therapy is the only thing that’s been helpful in coping with that.”
Smith told CNA she approached the administration during her junior year. She said she was told that because there was no policy against sexual assault in the student handbook, and because the alleged rape took place off-campus, the school could only investigate the harassment charges.
Christendom notified the male student that he was being charged with harassment following what was described as “a prior incident” between the students, according to a July 19, 2011 letter obtained by CNA. The letter said that he was not allowed to talk to Smith or transmit messages to her through other people, during the ensuing investigation.
Christendom found the male student guilty of harassment, according to an Aug. 8, 2011 letter also obtained by CNA.
According to the letter, the college sanctioned the student with a year’s housing suspension, two semesters of disciplinary probation, a prohibition from contact with Adele Smith, and restricted access to campus for one semester.
Initial reports said the student was restricted from on-campus housing for only a semester, though the letter sanctioning the student explicitly stated that he would be subject to “Housing Suspension for 1 year.” A representative from Christendom College told CNA she was unable to clarify the term of the student’s suspension from on-campus housing.
Initial reports also said that the student lived with a founding professor of the college during his housing suspension, though CNA was unable to verify this
Smith acknowledged the complexity of her situation. “I don’t have any proof, because I have no witnesses,” she told CNA.