POLITICS
08/31/2016 02:57 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2016

She Was Raped During Study Abroad. Then Her School Said She Couldn't Talk About It.

A female student is accusing her small Minnesota college of failing to support her after she was sexually assaulted overseas.
A College of St. Scholastica student is accusing the school of silencing her when she wanted to speak about be
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A College of St. Scholastica student is accusing the school of silencing her when she wanted to speak about being sexually assaulted during study abroad.

Emilee Franklin wanted to help protect other women. Franklin says she was sexually assaulted during a study abroad trip to Ireland last year and hoped to share a warning message with students getting ready to spend a semester overseas. 

Administrators at Franklin’s school, the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, initially told her she would be able to address about a dozen students preparing to go abroad, she said. 

But a day before the meeting, the school’s chief student affairs officer sent Franklin an email to rescind his invitation. 

“If you were to show up anyway I will cancel the meeting and follow up with current students individually,” Steve Lyons wrote in the message dated Dec. 13, 2015, which The Huffington Post obtained.

It was a crushing blow for Franklin. She filed two federal complaints against St. Scholastica this summer, alleging that the school had mishandled her sexual assault case ― something she says she might not have done if she’d been allowed to talk to other students about her experience. 

In the complaints, Franklin claims the school failed to inform her about her rights and available resources, didn’t help her communicate with Irish police, and took months to respond to her requests for assistance.

“I would love to see a change in the way [school officials] handle these cases and complaints,” she told HuffPost. “I don’t want any survivor to deal with what I’ve dealt with. This has been a whole lot worse than the assault.”

A man not affiliated with St. Scholastica raped Franklin on April 14, 2015, she says in the complaints. She hesitated to report it because she wanted to avoid “ruining the trip for anyone else.” But after consulting with friends and a supportive professor, she went to the police on May 6, one day before her trip ended. Irish officials did not inform her until Dec. 9 that they wouldn’t prosecute the accused rapist, she said. At that point, she thought she could at least talk to other students about what had happened. 

“She wanted to make the campus safer, to make a study abroad safer, and they really shunned her and it backfired on the campus,” said Laura Dunn, an attorney with SurvJustice, which assisted Franklin in filing her complaints.

Schools refuse to work with survivors to enhance their responses to sexual violence far too often, Dunn said. 

“Survivors are better than any paid expert coming in and training a school on how to respond under [the gender equity law] Title IX ― they really are a resource,” she continued. “I think it’s the number one mistake schools across the country continue to make, is to not listen.”

I don’t want any survivor to deal with what I’ve dealt with. This has been a whole lot worse than the assault. Emilee Franklin, student at the College of St. Scholastica

St. Scholastica declined to comment for this story, except to issue a statement saying it takes these issues seriously. 

The federal complaints allege that Franklin told Lexie Generous, the school’s violence intervention coordinator, on April 29, 2015, that an assault had taken place. Franklin claims she did not receive any information about reporting to the police or finding resources on or off campus at the time. She was given a partial list of resources ― for example, it didn’t include information about seeking legal assistance ― on May 21. 

A professor helping Franklin allegedly asked Lyons in June for help communicating with Irish law enforcement about whether authorities planned to prosecute the accused rapist. The complaints say Lyons waited nearly two months before reaching out to the student.

Franklin also asked the school last summer if it would issue a no-trespass order against her accused rapist so that he wouldn’t be able to access the study abroad campus, she said. The school didn’t ask her for a photo of him until this spring. When it finally issued a notice about the ban, St. Scholastica used a photo of three individuals and didn’t identify which person had been accused of the assault. 

Sexual violence is on every college’s radar, and decades of research indicates that about 1 in 5 female students are sexually assaulted by the time they graduate. Many schools are issuing climate surveys to get a better understanding of how prevalent such violence is on their campuses. But almost none ask about whether it occurs during study abroad trips, even though surveys of students in other Western countries show similar rates of assault. A report last year recommended that Minnesota require colleges to report data of sexual assaults during study abroad trips. 

“This is one of those areas that remains a black box in the context of campus sexual assault,” said Bill Flack, a Bucknell University professor who wrote one of the three studies about sexual assault during study abroad. His research suggests that it’s at least as likely that a student will be sexually assaulted while studying abroad as it is that they will sexually assaulted while on campus ― but, Flack cautions, “we need a whole lot more research on this.”

Flack has also led study abroad trips to Northern Ireland. Bucknell’s Title IX coordinator typically meets with faculty and staff before trips to discuss what to do if a student is sexually assaulted while overseas. 

The St. Scholastica case “is a reminder that campus sexual assault just isn’t an issue in the United States and between peers,” Dunn said. She said she has handled several study abroad cases where colleges were not prepared for how to respond to a sexual assault while the student is studying outside the country. 

A group of researchers from the University of Oregon released a study in June that found that a school’s response to incidents of sexual assault during study abroad can often exacerbate the post-traumatic stress victims experience.

More than one-third of students who reported a traumatic experience ― such as a serious accident, a natural disaster or a sexual assault ― also experienced at least one form of institutional betrayal, the study found. The most common betrayal actions from schools included making the experience seem “normal,” responding inadequately when the experience was reported, and “suggesting your experience/s might affect the reputation of the institution.” 

The Oregon researchers concluded it is a “necessity,” not “an added speciality,” for college administrators to be prepared to support their students when they experience violence while studying abroad.  

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Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter who covers sexual violence and is based in New York. You can reach him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade. 

 

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