CONTENT WARNING: sexual assault, domestic violence
This article covers breaking news and is being updated to reflect the most recent information.
Alexandra Docken stood alone in the rain. Two cardboard signs in her hands declared to the students passing by: “I was raped and UConn silenced me.”
On Thursday, Feb. 3, on the stone wall outside the Rowe Center for Undergraduate Education at the University of Connecticut, Docken decided to make her story public.
Last semester, Docken, a fourth-semester molecular and cell biology student, was overwhelmed with grief when she received the call notifying her that the investigation into sexual assault allegations she made against a fellow student had concluded. The university found her alleged perpetrator not in violation of the student code.
With the 60-page final report of the investigation in her lap, Docken said that she began to notice a number of details that did not sit right. Among other problems, Docken said she encountered discrepancies in treatment, a lack of communication with UConn officials and a coercive conclusion that forced Docken to accept the outcomes of the investigation in order to end the process.
“I knew that my case could not have been the only one handled like that. I realized that it was not just my case. It was part of a system,” said Docken. “I thought, what can I do to create the most chaos?”
Docken and other students who spoke to The Daily Campus described “invalidating” experiences with UConn’s reporting entities, including the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and Community Standards. Students claimed that UConn reduced their alleged abuse to “he said she said” situations and let their alleged perpetrators walk free despite providing investigators with what students say was inculpatory evidence and witness statements. Now Docken, with the support of the student community, is demanding that the university take action to support survivors of sexual violence.
“In the most crude way, I hope it lights a fire under their ass,” said Docken.
University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said in an email to The Daily Campus that while UConn cannot discuss specific students or cases, the university “has a robust system to respond to reported incidents, combat sexual and interpersonal violence and harassment, and provide support. UConn will always do its best in terms of education and awareness; holding those found responsible for misconduct accountable; focusing on the impact of trauma on mental health; and responsiveness to survivors.”
“UConn is committed to providing a safe, supportive environment on all our campuses and has a range of strategies and practices in place to further that mission,” Reitz added.
This is not the first time the university has faced criticism under such allegations. In 2014, UConn made national headlines when it settled a nearly $1.3 million federal lawsuit in which five students claimed the university botched its handling of sexual assault allegations. At the time of the settlement, UConn maintained that the university did not commit any wrongdoing.
Last year UConn recorded the lowest number of university investigations and disciplinary actions for sexual violence since 2014.
In 2020, UConn received reports for 80 incidents of sexual assault, 70 incidents of intimate partner violence (IPV) and 16 incidents of stalking, according to UConn’s annual legislative report. The 166 cases resulted in three investigations of sexual assault and one investigation of IPV. In the IPV investigation, the perpetrator was found responsible and received probation and a written warning. The three sexual assault investigations concluded that no violation had occurred or that the alleged perpetrator was not responsible.
The UConn 2020 Clery report, which records crimes that occur on UConn owned or controlled locations and campus-adjacent public property, documented nine cases of sexual assault on the Storrs campus as well as six cases of intimate partner violence and six cases of stalking.
“The most reliable indicator of sexual violence reporting over time on UConn’s campuses is found in annual federally mandated Clery reports. Separately, UConn’s Office of Institutional Equity’s annual report to the state has far broader parameters and therefore larger numbers. They include incidents with no connection to UConn, incidents that occurred before the reporting year, or other circumstances that prevent UConn from intervening in an enforcement role. These reports are critical to help us provide support, but are not an indicator of on-campus single-year incidents,” said Reitz.
On the evening of Aug. 26, 2021, a member of a university-recognized fraternity allegedly raped Docken at an off-campus frat party. Three days later, on Aug. 29, Docken said she submitted three separate reports of her alleged assault through three university websites. For days, Docken waited for a response, but according to Docken, she received none.
On the fourth day, Docken said she found another link on the OIE website. She then submitted a fourth form through OIE and received a response the next day.
According to the investigation report of Docken’s case, OIE did receive an incident referral on Aug. 29 from Docken. On Aug. 31, OIE named Kim Colon as the investigating student conduct officer. But it was not until Sept. 3, five days after Docken’s original report, that Colon first spoke with Docken.
The university did not comment as to whether this timeline follows appropriate protocol.
Docken said that within the early stages of the reporting process she felt some of the comments made by the OIE attempted to discourage her from continuing the process. Docken claimed that before making a formal report to launch an investigation, she was told to take her schoolwork into account and determine whether she would be emotionally available for the process. According to Docken, she was told that the investigation could take weeks or months. She said that because of these comments, she considered walking away.
Docken said that despite the OIE reiterating the emotional impact of an investigation, Docken said she was not made aware of services within the Dean’s office that could alleviate academic stress, nor was Docken referred to mental health services, she said. Instead, Docken said Colon recommended she speak to a UConn faculty member who was not a therapist.
The university did not comment specifically on Docken’s claims. Reitz said that UConn’s investigatory processes employ a trauma-informed approach emphasizing student agency.
Initially, the university processed Docken’s case through the Title IX grievance process. Under UConn’s Title IX procedures established in 2020, the Title IX Sexual Harassment and Resolution Process has jurisdiction under “Any off-campus premises that UConn has substantial control over. This includes buildings or property owned or controlled by a recognized student organization.”
Docken said that she was initially led to believe that her alleged rape would fall within Title IX’s jurisdiction because it occurred at an off-campus fraternity house. According to the investigation report, Docken’s case was removed from the Title IX Grievance process in early October after OIE determined the alleged assault “did not occur within the University’s programs or activities.”
Precipitating this decision was an email between Colon and the Director of Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services John Armstrong, on Sept. 27. Per the investigation report, Colon identified the location of the alleged assault only by nickname and asked Armstrong if he was aware of the house. Armstrong said he did not have knowledge of a residence known by that name.
On Oct. 1, the alleged perpetrator provided Colon with the address for the residence where the alleged assault occurred. The investigation report does not indicate that Colon followed up with Armstrong once she received the address for the house.
The university did not comment on whether such action is typical in determining what properties are under Title IX jurisdiction.
After a failed appeal through Title IX, Docken successfully moved her case to the general student conduct process on Oct. 21, according to the investigative report. Under the Title IX process, the case would have received a live hearing through UConn. The general student conduct process does not require such measures however, students can elect to continue the process and request an administrative hearing. By Nov. 12, Colon closed the investigation and had determined the alleged perpetrator was found not in violation of the student conduct.
“I felt pathetic. Like I had just lost.”Alexandra Docken, fourth semester UConn student
Docken said that she feels UConn dismissed her allegations as a “he said she said” situation even though five witnesses provided testimony in support of her claims, according to Docken. The investigative report states that two witnesses provided testimony to Colon on behalf of the alleged perpetrator. A private investigator for the alleged perpetrator procured a drafted statement from a third student who also served as a witness for the alleged perpetrator.
Docken claims that the alleged perpetrator has a number of other alleged victims that have chosen not to report. Docken said she does not know why the university chose to side with the alleged perpetrator.
According to Docken, Colon told her she could request a hearing, but the hearing body would come to the same “not in violation” conclusion. Docken said that Colon also told her that an appeal would not be possible unless Docken had new evidence.
By December, Docken had decided to no longer move forward with the investigation. However, in order to close the investigation, Colon told Docken that she had to resolve the case via an “Administrative Conference” where Docken would need to accept the recommended outcomes of the investigation and forfeit her right to future appeals.
In an email to Colon, Docken said she did not agree with the investigation’s recommended outcomes but said she would accept them because she did not wish to move into a hearing.
“I felt pathetic. Like I had just lost,” Docken said, “I felt like a letdown not only to myself but everyone else because, at this point, other people knew I was going through this.”
In response to Docken’s claims, the university did not comment specifically on its administrative conference policy for student misconduct investigations. Instead, Reitz provided the following statement.
“UConn uses a trauma-informed approach – among best practices advised nationwide by experts in the field — that gives agency to impacted students by letting them decide whether they wish to participate in an investigation or hearing. The University honors their wishes and if they decline, it only proceeds in limited and specific circumstances. However, even in matters where a student does not want to pursue an investigation, UConn still takes responsive or preventative actions, and always prioritizes support services,” Reitz said.
A former UConn student who wishes to remain anonymous said that she experienced a similar situation with OIE while she attended the university. After months of alleged domestic abuse in UConn’s dorms, the former student said she gained the courage to report her experiences to the UConn Police Department in February of 2021. Because the alleged abuse occurred on UConn property, OIE took over. But after nearly a year of investigation, the student said her abuse case was dismissed in January because she had graduated.
The former student said that, to her knowledge, the alleged abuser is still enrolled at UConn.
“I was not treated right,” she said. “I shouldn’t have had to be afraid of going to work or walking around campus in case I saw him. I was very disappointed because UConn’s reasoning was that it became a ‘he said she said’ situation, which made me feel invalidated and that they didn’t care about me, although there was clear evidence, photos, videos, witness statements, that the abuse happened.”
According to the former student, UCPD documented her alleged abuse, but she said it ultimately did not affect her case.
“The police had taken pictures of my wounds at the station and submitted them to the case as well, but even that was not enough to be conclusive,” she said.
“I shouldn’t have had to be afraid of going to work or walking around campus in case I saw him.”Anonymous former UConn student
The former student added that the university needs to do more to believe survivors and hold perpetrators of sexual violence liable for their actions.
“They need to do what they say they will when something like this happens. If they say they will protect their students, they should protect their students. Otherwise, they’re just lying to them. There are so many cases that get swept under the rug, and it’s not good,” she said.
The university did not specify what factors result in UCPD cases falling under the jurisdiction of OIE. Reitz provided the following statement:
“Law enforcement will pursue investigations when they receive a report of an incident, with UConn Police having jurisdiction on campus and Connecticut State Police handling off-campus reports,” Reitz said.
Both the former student and Docken said they felt they were treated with a lack of empathy and described feeling stressed and “lost” during their investigations. They said that one of the most damaging parts was needing to relive the trauma of the alleged incidents each time they were questioned or asked to provide another statement.
Reitz said that UConn focused on the impact of trauma on mental health for survivors.
Docken said that she leaned on her hometown best friend and sorority sisters at Alpha Epsilon Phi for support throughout the process.
“Those girls that were at that party. They were the ones who brought me home and put me back in bed after it happened. And they were the ones with me when I submitted a form. They’re the ones who were willing to talk and, you know, give their statements. They were the ones who called me when I cried,” said Docken.
Docken said that she understands that the investigating student conduct officer must be impartial, but she said that at many times her tears were met with a numbing absence of “emotional reciprocation.” Docken said that UConn needs to provide more compassion and mental health resources specific to survivors during the reporting and investigation process.
“Hopefully this [protest] doesn’t just blow over and become another statistic. I hope that they will listen to survivors for input on how to not only make this campus safer, but also more emotionally safe,” Docken said. She added that she hopes UConn will “support survivors and continue to advocate for the safety of everyone so that our numbers and statistics can go down because right now, they’re very bad.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, three out of every 10 sexual assaults are reported. Among female college students, reporting rates are even lower. Only 20% of college women report their assaults, according to an 18-year study by the U.S. Department of Justice. Research has shown that male sexual assault survivors are even less likely to report assaults. A Department of Defense report determined that among members of the military, only 10% of male survivors reported their assault compared to 43% of female survivors.
Docken said that during the protest, the most powerful moments were when other survivors of sexual assault expressed their support.
In a photo that circulated across Instagram, which received more than 50,000 likes in less than 24 hours, Docken is pictured with an umbrella. Docken said that when it started raining, a student came up to her and shared that she too was a survivor of sexual assault and asked if she could hold the umbrella for Docken. When the student had to go to class, she told Docken to keep the umbrella, because what she was doing was more important.
Docken said she also has a collection of notes from students thanking her for speaking up because it was something that they, as sexual assault survivors, thought they could never do.
“It’s insane because you don’t know this person at all. And yet, you have such an intimate and strong connection. In that moment, when you’re talking to them, there’s such an understanding of emotions, feelings, experiences that other people don’t necessarily have … You know, I understand you, I love you, I’m here for you, that kind of thing. And that space, it was just so surreal.”
Docken said that she hopes that her protest leads to real change for the UConn community.
“I didn’t do this to shame the perpetrators or to get back at them for revenge or that kind of thing. You know, I didn’t write his name in big bold letters. I did it as a liberating thing for me and for everyone else who hasn’t, or can’t [come forward],” Docken said. “I’m realizing after talking to so many people today as well, how much bigger it is than I originally thought … There could really be a change if I step up to do it. So, I hadn’t planned anything else, but I’m willing to go and make my voice heard for all of those who can’t.”
In an email to the UConn community Sunday night, Interim President Radenka Maric announced plans for a university task force to examine sexual violence prevention, survivor support, and the administrative response to allegations.
“I have asked Dean of Students Elly Daugherty to join me in bringing together students, staff, and faculty to assess our current educational programs for students (including orientation and online trainings), how we support victims of sexual violence, and the university’s processes regarding sexual assault and intimate partner violence,” said Maric. “Determining what more we can do will be an essential question for me and my administration.”
Maric condemned sexual violence and said that UConn “does its best” to support and care for survivors of sexual violence. She called on the university community to work together to transform the culture of UConn’s campuses.
“We also have a solemn and serious obligation to do all we can to combat, prevent, and address sexual assault in our community through the most effective strategies. We want to eradicate sexual violence. But policies and procedures alone will not achieve this. We need to work together to continually shape a culture on our campuses that is rooted in respect, awareness, supporting one another, and an extreme intolerance towards any form of sexual violence,” said Maric.
Maric said that student well-being and success are her top priorities. She said that UConn and its community must do more to address sexual violence.
“No one should stand alone,” said Maric. “To me, that is the unresolved question for our university: ‘What more must we do to support victims and increase education and awareness throughout our community?'”
Reitz elaborated on portions of the 2020 annual legislative report in an email to The Daily Campus on Monday, Feb. 7, documenting why UConn could not investigate 77 of the 80 alleged incidents of sexual assault reported to OIE.
Of the 80 reports of sexual assault, Reitz said that 22 had an alleged perpetrator connected to the university. In the remaining 58 reports, Reitz said the alleged perpetrator was either unidentified or “had no UConn connection, which precludes UConn from investigating or disciplining that person.”
Of the 22 reports with an alleged perpetrator connected to UConn, Reitz said 10 alleged survivors chose not to pursue an investigation. Of these 10 cases, UConn met with three alleged perpetrators named in the reports, said Reitz.
Reitz said the university did not proceed with six investigations because the alleged perpetrator had left UConn, and therefore, the university no longer had jurisdiction over the case. Three of these six cases had an ongoing criminal investigation, said Reitz.
UConn could not investigate three additional cases where the alleged survivor reported anonymously, or a third party reported the alleged incident and did not identify the alleged survivor, said Reitz.
The university investigated a total of three sexual assault allegations and found that no violation had occurred or that the alleged perpetrator was not responsible in each case, according to the legislative report.
Of the 70 IPV reports, 20 identified an alleged perpetrator connected to UConn and fell under the university’s jurisdiction. For these 20 cases, 18 alleged survivors chose not to pursue an investigation. Of these 18 cases, two had an ongoing criminal investigation, and UConn met with one of the alleged perpetrators, according to a document Reitz gave to The Daily Campus on Tuesday, Feb. 8.
UConn could not investigate eight of the 16 stalking reports because the alleged perpetrators were either unidentified or not connected to the university. Of the remaining cases, six alleged survivors chose not to pursue an investigation, and two alleged survivors “requested no contact directives, which were implemented, and chose not to pursue an investigation,” according to the document.
In 2020, 34 of the 80 reported assaults were said to have occurred in that calendar year as well as 45 of the 70 reports of IPV and 13 of the 16 reports of stalking, according to the legislative report.
“These reports can include any incident that has occurred at any time or place in the student’s life, whether or not there is a UConn connection. This wide definition is meant to ensure UConn can provide support to students no matter when and where an incident took place,” said Reitz.