Illustration of a girl in a pink shirt standing alone and looking scared

Syracuse University’s Title IX office is supposed to be the go-to resource for students facing sexual harassment, violence, or gender-based discrimination. Many students, though, do not report their experiences to the university, and some instead turn to outside resources for guidance and support.

Vera House, a non-profit organization in Syracuse that works with college campuses to end sexual and relationship violence, is just one of the alternative resources available to students in need of support. The organization’s advocacy and prevention team works with nine local colleges, including Le Moyne College and SUNY-ESF.

“The reporting process is difficult, and often traumatic,” Xiushi Zhao, a sexual assualt advocate for Vera House, said of Title IX. “Between interviews and paperwork and hearings, we’re talking about months of recounting really violating experiences.”

Sexual assault is pervasive on college campuses: 13% of college students in the U.S. have experienced sexual assault or violence in their career, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Only a small number of survivors, however, go on to make a formal report. Know Your IX, a nonprofit that works to inform college-aged survivors, found that 12% of all survivors report to law enforcement and even less to their campus’ Title IX office.

At SU, 19% of students have had non-consensual sexual contact, and 95% did not report it to the university, according to its 2020 Survey on Sexual and Relationship Violence.

Vera House works one-on-one with victims and survivors of violence, providing crisis intervention and support in navigating options and reporting systems, as well as connecting survivors with advocates that are unaffiliated with the student’s campus to offer emotional support. The non-profit also provides prevention training for students and staff.

“The neutrality and full level of confidentiality that advocates can have are beneficial for survivors because the full interest of the survivor is put first,” said Chris Kosakowski, the campus team coordinator at Vera House, who organizes a team of two other volunteers to provide these services to students.

Limited staff at Vera House and an overload of cases, however, has led advocates to recommend that students report to Title IX in addition to using their services. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination by colleges that receive federal funding.

The reporting process begins with the initial complaint, according to SU’s sexual harassment, abuse and assault prevention policy. A recent lawsuit, however, highlights alleged challenges students may face after they make a report.

An anonymous student sued SU in September 2021 regarding an alleged sexual abuse incident on campus between the student and former men’s lacrosse player Chase Scanlan. The student claims that SU and the Title IX office acted indifferently to the student’s harassment, which was “so severe, persuasive and/or objectively defensive that it deprived her of access to educational programs and opportunities,” according to The Daily Orange.

The lawsuit also claims that “SU deliberately dragged its feet on investigating Scanlan as the Men’s Lacrosse Team closed out its season.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” lawyers for SU wrote in a September motion to dismiss the lawsuit, according to The Daily Orange. “The University responded immediately and compassionately to (the plaintiff’s) complaints.” Scanlan was arrested on domestic violence charges last year but agreed to a possible deal in April that would dismiss the criminal charges if he continues to stay out of trouble, reported.

Abigail Tick wears glasses and a pink turtleneck while posing for a portrait

In the 2020 Survey on Sexual and Relationship Violence, SU withheld student responses to a survey question that addressed how fairly and thoroughly the university’s Title IX office helps students navigate their assault. SU’s Title IX office did not respond to multiple requests for comment from The NewsHouse.

Recently, SU announced that it would partner with Vera House to offer weekly office hours with organization representatives at the Barnes Center at the Arch. The partnership is intended to provide support and education to students while maintaining confidentiality.

“The Title IX reporting option is a step in the process of a journey… universities can do a better job of providing ongoing support,” Kosakowski said.

Stand with Survivors SU (SWSSU), an anti-sexual assault advocacy group, is also working with SU administration, meeting once a week to implement changes to SU’s response to sexual abuse cases. SWSSU protested on Comstock Avenue on Nov. 6 regarding multiple open sexual assault cases that had allegedly occurred that month within a single fraternity.

In addition to the resources from Vera House, students have the option to seek help from Callisto, an online resource and support program for survivors that currently works with about 22 colleges and universities.

Callisto offers survivors a range of resources, from legal information to a survivor matching system. The matching system allows survivors to enter features about their perpetrator, such as their name and social media handle, and it connects them with other survivors who have described the same perpetrator.

Abigail Tick, SU’s campus champion for Callisto, works to increase engagement and spread awareness about the resource. Tick believes strongly in the work that Callisto does. “(Survivors) need someone who understands the process thoroughly,” she said.

“Even while someone is working towards justice, they also need to be working towards healing,” Tick said.