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WashU student questions administration about its response to sexual assault investigations

Katy Hutson poses with her parents, Angela Hutson and Robert Hutson, in an undated family picture. Photo courtesy of Katy Hutson

ST. LOUIS • It’s been more than 130 days since soon-to-be sophomore Katy Hutson reported to Washington University that she was raped.

She’s still waiting for the school to produce even a precursory report of the incident, let alone a conclusion about her allegations.

Now, Hutson has authored a scathing and candid account in the student newspaper, accusing the university of dragging its feet. An investigator, she alleges, even suggested the inquiry be delayed at the outset so as to not spoil the winter break of her alleged rapist.

“I was at a point where I was really, really tired of feeling like I’m screaming and no one was listening,” said Hutson, who is now at home in the Dallas area after completing her freshman year. The Post-Dispatch does not typically identify victims of rape, but Hutson has agreed to speak openly and used her name in her published account.

Her complaints add to those already being raised nationwide about whether any university is equipped to be the judge and jury on such cases.

Federal guidelines urge campuses to get to the bottom of sexual abuse and harassment allegations like Hutson’s within 60 days — a target Washington University acknowledges it is not reaching.

But while school administrators will not comment directly on Hutson’s case, they do say the university is seeking to improve from an average investigation time of four to six months.

“The timeline needs to improve, absolutely,” said Jessica Kennedy, director of Washington University’s Title IX office. “We’ve known that for a long time. We are dedicating resources to try and make that happen. Our process is one that we really believe in, but we’re always trying to do better and try to shorten that time because it needs to be better for everyone involved.”

‘On autopilot’

Hutson hopes to leverage her story to encourage the university to change.

Title IX covers issues of discrimination based on age, race and gender, as well as issues of sexual harassment and violence.

Federal guidelines tied to Title IX mandate procedures for investigating allegations of sexual misbehavior.

But campus-based investigations have been widely criticized. Some accuse schools of failing to investigate rape allegations aggressively enough, while others say the system is stacked against those accused.

A student from St. Louis University, for example, has complained that an inquiry accusing him of sexual assault dragged on for more than a year — holding his education in limbo — before he was cleared.

Many on both sides, meanwhile, wonder if investigations would better be handled by law enforcement.

Looking back, Hutson wishes she had gone to the police. If she had, maybe she’d have a resolution by now, and the investigation wouldn’t be dragging into her summer and likely her sophomore year.

“I was on autopilot,” Hutson said. “The process I understood, or thought I understood, was reporting to the school.”

She said that message was reinforced in student orientation sessions. And while the school told her she had the option to take the matter to police, she felt more comfortable working with the school.

Kim Webb, director of the school’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, said less than 1 percent of students with such an issue choose to take it to police as well. When they do, the university helps however it can, she said. Webb is often a first stop for victims. She’s a confidential reporter, which means students can share their story with her and learn about their options without any obligation of reporting.

Hutson expects the first report from investigators sometime soon. It will outline interviews and evidence such as her rape kit.

When she gets it, she will be away from the campus support system she built in St. Louis with her soccer teammates, her coach and Webb.

And at some point this summer, she will have to travel to campus for the first hearing with the University Sexual Assault Investigation Board. She will have to interrupt her life and summer job to once again revisit her assault.

“To have this last so long … I understand there are reasons, but they need to go away,” she said.

‘Not about him’

On Dec. 16, Hutson was at a party in a dormitory. In her published account she said she had been drinking and next remembers waking up “with a bloody vagina” and bruises “encircling my neck.”

She broaches the alleged rape only briefly in her column. “It’s not about him,” she says. He was an acquaintance, someone who lived a few doors down the hall from her.

She said much of the next day, Saturday, was an emotional blur, but she quickly decided she was going to report the incident. She had paid attention during orientation and knew her options.

“I knew a lot before how processes work and that if I didn’t come forward pretty quickly, a lot of the evidence I could provide would be gone,” Hutson told the Post-Dispatch. “I knew I wasn’t ready but I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t try right then.”

On Monday, Dec. 19, she met with Kennedy, the director of the Title IX office. That’s when it was allegedly suggested to Hutson that she wait to file her report until the spring semester so her alleged rapist could “enjoy his winter break.”

Kennedy declined to comment on the specifics of the case.

Hutson digested her experience during her winter break and thought about not returning to school. But not coming back “was saying I was going to let it change me and change everything good I had at that campus,” she said.

Over break, Hutson forwarded to the university’s Title IX office an email exchange she had with her alleged rapist. The university’s response was to ask Hutson if she still wanted to report, she recalled.

“I was already so sensitive and bereft about it that I didn’t need another person asking, ‘You really sure?’” Hutson said. “I had so much anger and sadness that to have one more person say maybe you’re wrong, maybe you’re OK — I wasn’t equipped to hear that.”

Her biggest concern has been with the timeliness of the investigation, she said. An anonymous column to the Washington University student newspaper submitted in late April highlights another student’s experience with a drawn-out investigation process. Hutson said she’s heard from “upwards of 10” female students who share in her frustration.

Kennedy said she recently hired an assistant director for her office, and hopes to hire an additional staff member soon. She has five contract investigators who help manage the university’s Title IX cases.

She estimated between 12 and 14 cases a year are heard by the University Sexual Assault Investigation Board, typically made up of a student, faculty member and staff member. The board has been around since 2013; the number of cases they hear increases annually, she said.

There are “so many that do not” make it to the board, she said. Sometimes it’s because students withdraw, other times it’s because mediation is an option depending on the alleged offense. But mostly, victims don’t initiate the process at all.

Hutson did offer some qualified praise to the university.

“To WashU’s credit, they at least have made it a place where people feel comfortable reporting,” she said. “Whether they have a good experience or not is another question.”