No-contact orders offer students respite
Written by Amanda Williams|
April 5, 2016
When a junior at the College of William and Mary filed a Title IX report last semester, she was also given a no-contact order against her alleged assailant. Following her discovery of these protection orders, she filed another against an ex-boyfriend who had routinely harassed her since their break-up, something she said she would have done years ago if she had known about them.
No-contact orders aren’t new to the College; Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Conduct Dave Gilbert said that they have been around for at least the 11 years he has been on campus.
“I think it’s becoming fairly routine in Title IX contexts, at least as that initial placeholder, because we actually have a duty as an institution when a matter is reported to make sure that we are preventing further retaliation or harassment to the extent we can, so one way you can do that is to set up boundaries that set up expectations and consequences for further engagement,” Gilbert said.
The College issues no-contact orders to prevent the respondent, or the person against whom the no-contact order is filed, from interacting with the student filing the report by any means, which includes being in the same room or having third party contact through outside people or social media. They can be issued by the Dean of Students office or the Title IX office.
That junior said her assault took place on a Friday and filed her report the next Monday, hoping that she’d get a no-contact order the same day. She said that instead she was encouraged to wait until the Title IX investigators met and decided whether they would pursue an investigation.
“I was convinced — or they tried to convince me — that I would be safe in those, what I assumed was going to be 48 hours, but I was very scared for those 48 hours,” the junior said. “I wanted the school to place a no-contact order before he was made aware that I had placed a criminal report against him.”
I was convinced — or they tried to convince me — that I would be safe in those, what I assumed was going to be 48 hours, but I was very scared for those 48 hours,” the junior said.
The College’s Title IX Coordinator Kiersten Boyce said that no-contact orders can be granted the same day, but more often take longer. No-contact orders do not only apply to Title IX cases, and a student does not have to open an investigation in order to gain protection.
“It seems we’re having an uptick in requests for [no-contact orders] but we don’t always grant them,” Gilbert said. “I try to discern someone who is uncomfortable versus someone who feels threatened and sometimes when a student first presents themselves they use the word of ‘threat,’ but as we tease it apart we actually hear, ‘I’m uncomfortable interacting with this person.’”
Another junior at the College who wished to remain anonymous said that she was in a long-term, abusive relationship that ended poorly and pursued a no-contact order against her ex-boyfriend when he wouldn’t leave her alone, but did not open an investigation. She said the Dean of Students office denied her request because there wasn’t enough evidence that he was a threat to her. She said that now she feels like she has to act like nothing is wrong and still say hi to him.
“Because I was denied I just had to take personal steps to ensure my own safety,” this junior said. “So I started taking measures through my own daily routine — taking long detours to class, avoiding places where I used to study because he would just be there studying and, you know, TWAMPs like to study where they like to study.”
Abbey Childs ’17 and Francesca Maestas ’17, co-founders of the 16(IX)3 project, opened their Title IX investigations last fall along with a third friend at the same time — all against the same student. Maestas said that once the three got together and realized that they all had incidents with the same student, they decided to report and stop his pattern of behavior.
“None of us felt particularly good about how he would react to being notified of this,” Childs said. “They asked us a couple of times, ‘Do you feel safe, do you feel threatened if he remains on campus?’ and I think the overwhelming answer was no, we don’t feel safe having him on campus.”
All three were granted unilateral no-contact orders at the beginning of the investigation. Unilateral no-contact orders are a one-way street; the respondent cannot contact the person filing the order, but that does not apply the other way around. This means that if the reporting party is studying on campus somewhere and the respondent walks in, the respondent must then leave.
The other kind of order is bilateral, where all rules apply to both parties. This one operates under a first-come, first-serve idea. Whichever party is at a location first has the right to be there, and whichever came second must leave
Boyce said that while the orders don’t have a specific expiration date, their terms are often revisited, including almost always at the end of an investigation.
“If there is a finding of responsibility … that could be a situation where it could be appropriate to have the unilateral stay in effect or go into effect if it weren’t already,” Boyce said. “By contrast, we have had cases where the case concludes, the dean did not find a preponderance of the evidence of a violation … it would be difficult to keep a unilateral in place in that kind of situation.”
That is what happened in Childs’ case. The respondent was found responsible for Maestas’ case, but not in Childs. While Maestas’ unilateral no-contact order stands, Childs’ transitioned to a bilateral one.
“There are a lot of feelings when you go through that process and you get that kind of decision back — ‘We don’t see what you see,’ basically,” Childs said. “That, compounded with ‘By the way, don’t talk to him,’ was this sense of ‘We don’t trust you, we don’t trust what you say and we don’t trust your ability to control yourself.’”
There are a lot of feelings when you go through that process and you get that kind of decision back — ‘We don’t see what you see,’ basically,” Childs said.
Within Title IX, Boyce said they try to treat all parties equally although in reality, one is being investigated for a violation and the other is not, so they are in different positions.
“A bilateral is a great example of that, it sounds very fair — ‘she’s not going to talk to you and you’re not going to talk to her, everything is equal,’” Boyce said. “Well, wait a minute, they are not in exactly the same situation and this could result in some significant burdens on someone; and is it just fair if it falls to whoever was there second?”
Correction 4/5/2016 5:19 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that no-contact orders could be issued by the William and Mary Police Department. They cannot be.