Former Temple University student Harmony Rodriguez felt abandoned by the college in 2014 when she tried to seek justice against her attacker.
After going to various departments throughout the university, she felt like no one was taking her reports of sexual assault seriously. The ordeal prompted he to sue the university. Her lawsuit that is still pending almost three years later.
But a recent development has given Rodriguez hope in Temple's ability to do more for assault victims.
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Temple has partnered with Women Organized Against Rape, a sexual assault crisis center based in Center City. Officials from Temple reached out to the nonprofit to help run a “satellite center” where students can call a 24-hour hotline and receive help on the main campus.
The initiative has been praised by students at the Temple News in a recent editorial, especially regarding Title IX. The law bans sex discrimination in an educational facility that receives government funding —this includes discriminating against someone based on allegations of sexual assault.
Temple received a $26,000 state grant as a part of the “It’s on Us” campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault at college campuses. The university dedicated funds to conducting focus groups and establishing support services through WOAR.
“We learned that students really wanted an alternative to police reporting,” said Valerie Harrison, Temple’s senior adviser to the president for compliance.
Rodriguez sued Temple in 2014, accusing the university of mishandling her case. She was open about her transgender status and believes it affected how she was treated by Temple officials and police officers.
“They didn’t do anything when I was there,” said Rodriguez. “You had to be lucky for them to care.”
The university’s partnership with WOAR may signal a new era for Temple —especially with skepticism surrounding Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ stance on Title IX.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey grilled DeVos on the subject during her confirmation hearing last month. DeVos refused to comment on whether she would dedicate herself to upholding Title IX during the hearing. But Rodriguez is optimistic about the fate of her case and others.
“At this point, it’s up to DeVos,” said Rodriguez. “If activists and citizens hold DeVos to her duties, she will continue to have these complaints looked at —even if it is begrudgingly.”
A 2015 survey conducted by the Department of Justice states that two out of three sexual assaults were unreported. Eighty percent of female college students who are sexually assaulted will not report the crime to the authorities, the survey stated.
“It’s accountability,” said WOAR Executive Director Monique Howard. “If someone has been assaulted, they can call our hotline and we can dispatch one of our volunteers to the campus.”
WOAR staff and volunteers who work on Temple’s campus aren’t disclosing the location of the satellite office to protect those who seek help and resources. Victims who call the hotline and can either receive confidential counseling over the phone or request a volunteer to come to Main Campus in North Philadelphia.
“WOAR gives them all the possible options, including reporting to Temple offices," said Andrea Seiss, the university’s Title IX coordinator. “This is about removing barriers.”
Temple students and any other assault victim can call the WOAR 24-hour hotline at 215-985-3333.