Navigating Survivor Support Resources at Marquette

Navigating+Survivor+Support+Resources+at+Marquette

Photo by Josh Meitz

MJ Watson, sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, didn’t think it would happen to her, let alone five of her friends. Yet, in spring 2021, the six girls found themselves having one thing in common – an individual who made a mutual club environment uncomfortable and dangerous.

“There was someone in a club I’m a part of that was part of E-Board and was just making several of the women in the club very uncomfortable,” MJ said, “He tried to get me alone a couple of times and just some stuff that made it very uncomfortable environment for several women in the club.”

The six agreed to do something about it.

Throughout the the group’s spring semester, sexual assault and sexual harassment resource centers reached out to investigate the case and provide emotional support to the survivors. They were resources Watson said she had hoped to never know during her college experience. However, in the light of it all, she said these resources were a comfort.

“It was a long process for us,” Watson said. “It was very emotionally draining… [but] the people involved were very helpful.”

Watson and her friends were supported by advocacy services and the Title IX coordinator, Kristen Kreple, two resources available on Marquette’s campus for victims. While the six girls were able to find resources together, some go through this process alone and in complete darkness. 

Nora McKeough, a junior in the College of Health Sciences, was harassed on social media and stalked by an anonymous individual from September 2019 to October 2021. She felt her experience was not taken seriously and that she remained in the dark and isolated from the potential resources available to her.

After a couple months of getting these anonymous messages, the sender started describing specific details about McKeough’s location and activities she did. It was at this point she went to Marquette University Police Department for help.

“I ended up going to MUPD,” McKeough said. “He [the officer] explained to me that they [MUPD] can’t prove it was the same person because they kept making new accounts so they can’t do anything… he did absolutely nothing.”

McKeough said the only advice she was given by MUPD to handle the situation was to ask the sender to “please stop” and threaten she would go to police. She felt this advice was ironic considering she was sitting in a police station.

“I feel like my concerns could have been listened to a little more, like the policeman downplayed it and made me feel silly,” McKeough said. “I felt so blown off. I was told just ‘tell them to stop’. That was not fair.”

McKeough, at the time, did not know of any other resources on Marquette’s campus to turn to in times of distress regarding experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and assault.

In an ideal situation, McKeough should have been referred to several resources, like Watson.

How is Marquette supposed to support victims?

Advocacy Services: Navigating Options 

Advocacy Services has existed in its current form on campus since 2015. According to Kacie Otto, Marquette’s victim advocate and violence prevention specialist, its purpose is to provide support and information about campus and community resources to help victims heal.

They are the center of Marquette’ victim support network.

Otto works to provide survivors with a confidential point of contact.

“I believe no one should have to deal with the fallout after facing violence or harassment alone,” Otto said in an email. “Victims should be able to choose, who, when, and if they share their story.”

Otto said she believes that having Advocacy Services on campus is essential as it provides students a supportive environment where they have complete control of where to go next in their healing process.

Resources from Advocacy Services can look like a lot of things, as they adjust to each individual’s needs. Support could look like accompanying a survivor to the hospital or to the police, connecting a victim to the Counseling Center, immediate safety planning or serving as a liaison between a victim and Title IX.

“Advocates are trained to never press victims for details about what they’ve experienced,” Otto said.

Otto stresses that the experience is in the individual’s hands. She said she typically supports about two to three students a week.

The Counseling Center: Navigating Feelings and Healing

The Counseling Center often appears to be the intuitive option for students facing emotional distress on campus.

This resource is available for victims to emotionally heal and find support.

Katy Adler, counselor and the coordinator for sexual violence/trauma treatment services at Marquette’s Counseling Center, provides victims a resource that focuses on healing and often plays a crucial role in helping victims learn about less intuitive resources, like Advocacy Services.

“You want to think ‘I’ll never have to access that [advocacy services or Title IX],’ It can be hard,” Adler said.

Similar to the advocates, the center is confidential, and a resource that caters to an individual’s comfort levels. Adler said her main goal as a counselor is to talk through what an individual is experiencing, their goals for the length of care they are looking for and what kind of care they need.

Adler said she joined the Counseling Center in February, but prevention has been a part of her life since long before this. Since 2008, she said she has been working toward sexual violence prevention at Marquette and beyond.

“It’s sort of been my area of passion,” Alder said. “My hope is that… we have new generations of future students that are less willing to buy into myths of sexual assault and be more willing to challenge them.”

Title IX: Navigating Reporting and Disciplinary Action

Title IX is a federal law that exists to stop discrimination on the basis of sex. This includes sexual harassment, sex-based discrimination in education, work, and sports, and sexual assault.

Kristen Kreple, Marquette University’s Title IX Coordinator, understands how daunting this resource can be for victims.

“There is this misconception when we receive a report at Title IX that we jump right into an investigation and the victim loses all ability to decide what happens,” Kreple said. “Agency is so important to me, and I want people to decide what they want to do”

While Advocacy Services and the Counseling Center are confidential resources that do not have to report to Title IX, just about every other employee on campus is required to report to Kreple if they become aware of an incident.

When Kreple becomes aware of an incident, she will reach out to a victim via email. Whether the victim responds that day, a year later or never, Kreple’s only goal is to open the door for support.

Kreple explained some supportive measures Title IX provides include connecting victims to advocates and counseling services on and off campus, extension of  deadlines and other course related adjustments, modifications to class schedule or living space and no-contact directives. Kreple assured all these measures do not require victims to give any details or file a formal complaint.

According to Marquette’s Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination Policy, if a victim chooses to take more formal action and seek disciplinary sanctions, both parties and witnesses are interviewed, and evidence is gathered. From here a formal complaint can be filed which leads to a hearing process.

“I like to describe it as 50% and a feather. It is more likely than not that the person is responsible for violating our policy.” Kreple said, regarding the results of hearings.

This standard of proof Kreple describes is called preponderance of evidence. If responsibility is deemed under this standard, appropriate sanctions are given. This could look like anything from probation to expulsion.

“Filing a formal complaint is a big deal. It can take time, it can take a lot of energy, and it’s something that I always want someone to go into fully understanding, that it can be a hard process,” Kreple said.

If a survivor files an informal resolution, there is not hearing process. Instead, either a negotiated agreement is reached via mediation, or the respondent accepts responsibility outright for violating policy and sanctions are given.

No matter the path a victim chooses, Kreple wishes to be transparent with victims and follow the path they want.

“There are some students that talk with advocates and or the counselors and that student never gets to Title IX, and that’s okay, I just want them to get whatever resources would help them best and I know everyone’s path is different,” Kreple said.

Marquette University Police Department: Navigating Resources Outside of Marquette

Officer Thomas Wichgers has been with MUPD since its genesis in 2015. Today, he said he serves as the main officer of contact to collaborate with other victim support resources on campus and helps victims find support outside of the Marquette community.

When an instance of sexual assault or sexual harassment is filed, an initial investigation takes place. After an initial investigation, Wichgers said he can refer a case to the district attorney’s office if this is a victim’s wish.

If this path is followed, MUPD can help victims get rides to the courthouse, navigate buildings and offices they need to go to, and help get in contact with officials to filing restraining orders with the county.

“It’s a rather large and complex [process], especially when you’re at this point in your life. It can be challenging to focus on things like ‘where do I need to go, how do I get there’ things like that. So, we [MUPD] will continue to help with things like that,” Wichgers said.

Wichgers said that his role is strictly about empowering victims with resources about where they can go outside of the Marquette community. However, like other supportive resources, Wichgers said MUPD places no pressure on a survivor to use the Milwaukee court system.

Advocacy Services, the Counseling Center, Title IX and MUPD are all resources victims at Marquette can use to navigate sexual assault and sexual harassment. They are all supposed to work together to design a support response that best fits an individual.

One difference between Watson’s and McKeough’s case was knowledge of a perpetrator’s name. Regardless of if a victim’s harasser is identified, victims should have complete access to these resources and have their concerns taken seriously.

This story was written by Maria Crenshaw. She can be reached at maria.crenshaw@marquette.edu