During the 2014-2015 academic year, 13 counts of sexual harassment, three counts of non-consensual sexual contact and eight counts of non-consensual intercourse were reported in the College of William and Mary’s Student Title IX report. That same year, former Student Assembly President Yohance Whitaker ’16 and Vice President Catie Pinkerton ’16 promised to bring Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs) to the Student Health Center.
Since Whitaker and Pinkerton’s campaign, members of SA have learned that bringing a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certified nurse to campus would require help from state and local government officials. SA President Eboni Brown ’17 and Vice President Hannah McKiernan ’17 began to investigate the funding and legislation needed to help students access these resources.
In order for the Student Health Center to collect evidence of a sexual assault via a PERK kit, they would need a SANE certified nurse. However, following state licensing guidelines, the City of Williamsburg does not have enough cases of sexual assault to warrant a full-time nurse, Brown said. Additionally, the Student Health Center is not open 24 hours a day, which keeps it from being an ideal location for PERK kits because physical evidence needs to be recovered within 48 hours of the assault.
The evidence should be collected in the first 48 hours after an assault and if an assault were to occur on Friday, by the time the evidence is collected, it may be too late,” Brown said in an email.
“The evidence should be collected in the first 48 hours after an assault and if an assault were to occur on Friday, by the time the evidence is collected, it may be too late,” Brown said in an email. “These are some of the issues that past administrations and we are dealing with in order to get the necessary resources we need here at William and Mary.”
According to the Student Health Center’s Dr. Virginia Wells, changing the structure of the Health Center to provide these resources would not be beneficial to students. Wells said that PERK kits, as they are, cannot be easily provided to students at the Health Center.
“This is a very lengthy forensic examination which includes photographs, sampling of fluids and other materials for DNA testing which is performed by specially trained healthcare providers,” Wells said in an email. “As you can imagine, this is quite invasive at a time when a survivor has already been through quite an ordeal. Please know that there are no barriers [keeping the Student Health Center from providing these resources] in place. We want the evidence collected to be admissible in court.”
Additionally, no college health centers staff SANE certified nurses unless they are directly affiliated with a medical school on their campus.
While there may not be a full-time SANE certified nurse at the Student Health Center, an arrangement between the Riverside Hospital in Williamsburg and the Riverside Hospital in Newport News has resulted in a mobile unit that can be sent back and forth when students from the College need help. Previously, students had the options of driving to Newport News or waiting for a forensic nurse at Sentara Hospital, but Haven Director Liz Cascone said that she has heard reports of Sentara not being able to quickly respond to the needs of students.
Moving forward, Brown and McKiernan are working with other members of SA to lobby for funding to bring a SANE certified nurse as a full-time employee for the entire City of Williamsburg. In preparation for September’s Board of Visitors’ meetings, SA representatives to the Board of Visitors Rachel Smith ’17 and J.C. LaRiviere ’17 will be working with Brown and McKiernan to help use the influence of the BOV with the Virginia General Assembly to request funding.
If we can impress the importance of bringing a SANE nurse to our community upon them, we hope to be able to make a much needed change for our area,” McKiernan said in an email.
“If we can impress the importance of bringing a SANE nurse to our community upon them, we hope to be able to make a much needed change for our area,” McKiernan said in an email.
While SA members and administrators are realizing the difficulties of bringing sexual assault resources directly to campus, the matter of transporting survivors to campus is an often complex issue, Cascone said.
If a student chooses to contact the Haven following an assault, they are entitled to an anonymous reporting system, since the Haven does not report to the Office of Compliance. From there, the Haven can request that a member of the William and Mary Police Department drive the student to a local emergency room anonymously.
“We have never had any problems with the police,” Cascone said. “They often show up in plain clothes and sometimes try to drive unmarked cars — as long as it possible for them. They do their best to make the students feel comfortable.”
However, if a student needs transportation to the Riverside Williamsburg Hospital to access a PERK kit and chooses to directly contact the WMPD, they must go through the mandatory reporting process with the Office of Compliance.
“First and foremost, we will make sure a reporting student is in a safe environment and will be protected from any additional threat or harm,” WMPD Chief Deb Cheesebro said. “We will quickly explain options for reporting and assistance to the student. The student can choose to provide or withhold their name and other identifying information. While WMPD is obligated to inform the Title IX Coordinator of a sexual assault case, when no name or identifying information is provided, we forward it as an anonymous report.”
While directly contacting the WMPD for assistance does mean filing a report — anonymous or not — it does not mean that a student has to pursue a criminal case to receive help from the police. A student may choose to pursue a criminal case upon reporting, to not pursue a case at all or to wait to pursue a case.
“A reporting student may choose to talk with any of the available officers working at the time or request a specific officer,” Cheesebro said. “If a requested officer is off-duty, we will attempt to locate the officer and ask the officer to return to campus, if possible.”