Duquesne wields thorough sexual assault program

By: Duke Staff 

In a time when newspapers are full of stories about universities mishandling sexual assault and rape cases, Duquesne University stands out as a school that is prepared to respond quickly, protect victims and see that justice is done.

By reporting your experience or the experience of a friend, you can inspire other victims to come forward and prevent an attacker or harasser from hurting any other people. No one can undo the harm of an attack or harassment, but with help from the faculty at Duquesne, victims can start to move beyond what happened to them and regain confidence, comfort and control.

Not everyone remembers their freshman orientation week presentation on sexual misconduct. So as a refresher, The Duke reached out to Acting Director for Student Conduct Annie Sawa and Title IX Coordinator Sean Weaver to learn why victims at Duquesne should feel safe in reporting their experiences to university faculty and the authorities.

“Our first goal here is to be there for students, to support them, to offer them services and to help them find the best options,” Sawa said.

That student support starts before freshmen ever set foot on campus. Duquesne police, often the first responders to assault cases, train with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape to learn how to talk to victims and ensure an accurate and detailed investigation of the assault. Public Safety can be reached anytime at their emergency number (412-396-2677) or their non-emergency number (412-396-6002).

Students can report an assault or harassment to Residence Hall Staff, Duquesne Police or tell Weaver and Sawa directly. After an incident is reported, Sawa said Duquesne’s priority is to make sure the victim feels safe and understands all of his or her options. If a student reports a rape, Duquesne faculty members will escort the student to Mercy Hospital, where they can have a rape kit completed. Sawa said her first concern is always student well-being, and she has the same initial message for rape victims: “I’m sorry that this happened to you. It’s really important that you seek medical attention right now. At this moment, you don’t have to make a decision to file charges, but if you get an exam right now, you have the options later.”

After an incident is reported, Sawa and Weaver give reporting students a variety of options: They can pursue criminal charges, receive counseling, pursue their complaint through the Office of Student Conduct or choose any combination of those recourses.

Throughout the whole process, the students who report being the victims of sexual misconduct are treated with respect, care and privacy. At the same time, Sawa said accused students in Title IX sexual misconduct proceedings are also given opportunities to tell their side of the story to prevent any miscarriages of justice.

If you or someone you know has been raped, assaulted or harassed, call DuPo. Don’t let fear of your attacker or harasser stop you. When Sawa informs a student that someone has filed a complaint against them, it comes with a warning: Retaliating against the victim will result in serious criminal charges. Students can feel safe reporting their experiences because, as Weaver put it, Duquesne is committed to providing “support, resources and guidance” to students and “each report is treated seriously.”