North Texas Daily

UNT PD detectives talk sexual harassment, assault reporting options for victims

UNT PD detectives talk sexual harassment, assault reporting options for victims

UNT PD detectives talk sexual harassment, assault reporting options for victims
September 25
16:00 2020

Content warning: This article contains language and content related to sexual assault and harassment, viewer discretion is advised. 

The North Texas Daily spoke with detectives Ramona Washington and Misha Stephens from the UNT police department about the sexual harassment and assault reporting process, what cases are under its jurisdiction and what protections it can provide victims. 

Washington said survivors can always come to the police department to ask an available officer questions about reporting options, but the decision to move forward with the process can be made at their discretion.

“We give [victims] the option to do what they feel is best for them,” Washington said. “We don’t pressure them to move forward with a criminal charge. We give them reporting options, then we let that decision be made by the survivor.”

The Dean of Students office can only take administrative action rather than criminal action. Students seeking criminal action for offenses that took place on-campus can report to the campus police. But Washington said an offense occurring off-campus would not deter them from taking a case.

“I think some survivors — and even students or even just the campus community sometimes — are confused on what we handle and what the Denton Police Department handles,” Washington said. “That’s just a jurisdiction thing. There is some leeway with us taking a case [off-campus]. Whether or not it’s something that happened in our jurisdiction, if there is a survivor that walks in my door, we would not typically turn them away. We want to do what’s comfortable for them.”

Although campus police cannot press criminal charges without the victim’s consent, there are exceptions in cases of domestic violence. If the police officer arrives on the scene to a domestic violence call and can see who the primary aggressor is, then the officer is required to make an arrest on sight. 

“Most of the time [we’re] trying to give power back to the survivor and get them to feel more in control again,” Stephens said. “[We’re] not wanting to do anything contrary to what they want to do, [except] in very rare situations.”

In some cases, if campus police are not able to charge an abuser for sexual assault, they may still be able to charge them with other criminal acts, such as trespassing when stalking is involved. They might also send the case information to the Dean of Students and request a no-contact order.

“The reason for [requesting the order] is that we want to empower that victim in some way,” Washington said. “Also, we want to ensure that they feel safe on campus, that they can continue here at school, that they can not be in fear of their safety.” 

Stephens said she wants students to know their primary focus when investigating sexual misconduct is the offense itself and not other factors like illegal alcohol or drug use. 

“Some folks are discouraged to come in and talk to us because, ‘Yeah, well I’m only 18 and alcohol was involved, so I don’t want to get in trouble,’” Stephens said. “They’re not going to get in trouble for that. That is not our concern at all. Our concern is their safety.”

Stephens said the campus police have an advantage over city police departments when working on sexual misconduct cases. 

“We can spend a little bit more time on a case and develop more evidence and get a better case together to put forward to the DA than a normal jurisdiction like a city or county would be able to because their caseload is so much higher,” Stephens said. “They just don’t have enough manpower to handle all those cases and spend as much time on them. We have more resources as a university. And because we are a university, our police department has more tools to use like the Dean of Students or administrative sanctions or that type of thing.”

Students who want to report sexual assault or harassment can call at (940) 565-3000 or visit the police department at 1700 Wilshire St. Denton, TX 76201-6572.

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Makayla Herron

Makayla Herron

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