Content warning: This story contains references to sexual violence.

Jane was a student at Duquesne University in recent years when she was sexually assaulted by another student, whom she had been dating for about a month. 

More than half of sexual assaults among college students occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories and investigation into what’s being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area. Explore the series.

After the assault, she cut ties with him and blocked him on social media. Jane tried to avoid any chance encounters on campus, too. 

She coped with her trauma by trying to forget it. The thought of reporting to authorities was overwhelming to Jane. So, similarly to many people who experience sexual violence, she didn’t report it. 

But over time, what happened to her became harder to ignore. She filed a Title IX complaint months after the assault. Even after going through the university’s judicial procedures, Jane’s assailant seemed to continue to follow her around campus for months without repercussion, underscoring what experts see as limitations to what colleges can do to rein in sexual violence and harassment. 

https://www.publicsource.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Bridge-with-smoke.mp4
Rain falls on Duquesne University’s Uptown campus on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022. Beyond the pedestrian bridge is Pittsburgh’s downtown skyline. (Video by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

In Jane’s case, Duquesne University followed the Title IX protocol; they considered her report seriously; they conducted an investigation and held a hearing. But after the Title IX process was complete with a final ruling and disciplinary measures against her assailant, Jane still felt stalked. 

Jane asked PublicSource to shield her identity because she doesn’t want the experience to harm her any further. Duquesne University declined to comment, citing the need to maintain student confidentiality, and did not make anyone from its Title IX office available for an interview.

Jane’s story raises questions and concerns about what happens after the Title IX process is technically complete. What happens after the final ruling? How does the enforcement work and, if a no-contact order is issued, what are the mechanisms to prevent stalking? 

When Jane returned to campus the semester after the assault, she believes her perpetrator began stalking her. Under the overwhelming load of stress, Jane started having sleeping problems, migraines, extreme fatigue and anxiety. 

https://www.publicsource.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Rain_Duquesne-1.mp4
Rain drips from tree branches at Duquesne University as people pass along the campus paths. (Video by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

She went to Duquesne counseling services and showed the psychiatrist all of her evidence of  stalking: text messages, social media accounts he used to reach her and his efforts to befriend Jane’s friends. Because she only talked about stalking at that point, the psychiatrist told her to go to Duquesne campus police. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines stalking as “a pattern of harassing or threatening tactics that are both unwanted and cause fear or safety concerns in a victim.” 

“[Jane] thought she reached justice only to find out that the no-contact order was a piece of paper that did nothing for her in the long run.”

Amy Mathieu, Jane’s lawyer at the Marsh Law Firm

Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men in the United States experience stalking at some point in their lives. According to the latest data from the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from 2016-17, more than half of female stalking victims experience stalking for the first time before they turn 25 years old. 

The campus-specific results of a 2019 survey from the Association of American Universities provide a window into the prevalence of stalking among Pittsburgh college students. Duquesne University did not participate in the survey, but the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University did. 

About 19% of Pitt students and 12% of CMU students reported that they had experienced at least one type of stalking behavior since coming to campus. Women and transgender, gender nonconforming and questioning students at both universities reported higher rates of stalking victimization than their male peers. 

Even after going through the university’s judicial procedures, Jane’s assailant seemed to continue to follow her around campus for months without repercussion, underscoring what experts see as limitations to what colleges can do to rein in sexual violence and harassment. (Photo by Agnes Lopez for PublicSource)

When she felt followed…

Jane says after her psychologist told her to, she went to Duquesne police to tell them about stalking and harassment. A detective she met listened to her. He said they could try to scare the student away if they went with Jane to a club meeting, one she said her assailant had started to attend. 

The detective had asked Jane if the student who stalked her had ever hurt her physically. 

“And I kind of just sat there for at least like 20 or 30 seconds, like a significant amount of time … Because in my head, I was just like, ‘I can’t report this now’ … It overwhelmed me, when he asked me that question. 

“And the next thing that the detective said at that point was: ‘If you tell me he physically hurt you, I’ll go arrest him, like right now.’ And so that was obviously horrifying. So clearly, I wasn’t going to say anything.”

After the conversation with the detective, Jane received an email from the Title IX office; they introduced themselves and asked her if she needed anything. But Jane wasn’t clear about her options. 

Her health quickly deteriorated, and she left school mid-semester. She stayed home for almost a year before returning to school. 

The CDC data shows that stalking can have long-lasting psychological trauma. “Most female victims (90.7%) felt fearful, threatened or concerned for their safety due to the behaviors of the perpetrator, and 68.5% were threatened with physical harm.”

Moving forward with Title IX 

Jane didn’t find peace while on leave. During her absence, her assailant made a post on social media that was public to some Duquesne students. She learned of it from a friend. The post didn’t name her explicitly but it was clear from the post he meant her; the bold letters accused her of being disrespectful and of reporting him to Title IX.   

“So when that happened that day, that was like my breaking point…”

She called Duquesne police that night to report the sexual assault. 

And the response on the other end of the line was: “Why didn’t you report this earlier?” Jane recalled.

She didn’t know how to respond. She told the voice that she wasn’t ready back then. The voice said: “Well, I can’t do anything now. You’re going to have to talk to Title IX.”

https://www.publicsource.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Duquesne-Police-1.mp4
A Duquesne University Police vehicle sits outside the school’s student union. (Video by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Shortly after that conversation, Jane got an email from the Title IX office and from that point, she began the fact-gathering process to support her claims of rape, sexual assault and stalking. 

The process felt long to Jane. She filed the official complaint the following semester, and the hearing was scheduled a couple months later. 

The challenge of stalking allegations

Unlike Jane, people who experience stalking may not report to their universities or the police for several reasons, said Christina Dardis, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Towson University. 

They may not yet understand that the stalking behavior isn’t normal, she said. They may fear repercussions or struggle to recognize that their stalker — often a person they know or have been romantically involved with — is trying to harm them. They may not know how to report or if doing so will help.

University officials should clearly explain to students what happens after reports of stalking and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence are made and how they will be supported throughout the process, Dardis said. She also said officials should make the consequences of violence known on campus and consistently apply them in adjudicated cases. 

“It is only when survivors have confidence that their reports will be responded to with care, compassion, and action that they will feel empowered to come forward to the university,” Dardis said in a follow-up email. “That trust must be earned through the institution’s actions.”

Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men in the United States experience stalking at some point in their lives. (Photo by Agnes Lopez for PublicSource)

After Jane reported that she felt stalked, according to emails, the Title IX office reached out to her to meet, share the administrative policies regarding sexual misconduct and share a “Here to Help” card with university and community resources she may find useful.

In an emailed statement, university spokesperson Gabriel Welsch wrote: “The University dedicates numerous resources to support an environment free of all forms of misconduct, and responds swiftly and appropriately to reported violations.” Duquesne’s Title IX office coordinates education, prevention and response efforts, the spokesperson wrote.

Where is the enforcement?

The trial-like hearing over Zoom, in Jane’s words, was “horrific.” She wasn’t allowed to finish her opening statement because they said they needed to give her and the accused equal amount of time.

All she remembers him saying is ‘I plead not guilty.’

The hearing lasted for two days, with a week in between. 

Jane received the final ruling about a week later. Her assailant was found guilty of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment and dating violence. He was found not guilty of stalking, domestic violence and retaliation. 

“They had basically dismissed the stalking,” Jane said, “I guess he didn’t physically, like, break into my apartment or something like that. They had mentioned it would have to be like a more severe form of stalking. They didn’t really care about the emotional stress of the stalking that occurred.”

His sanction included a no-contact order, and it said he couldn’t live in on-campus housing throughout the duration of his academic career at Duquesne. 

The no-contact order included “direct or indirect contact via phone, email, text, fax, other methods of telecommunications, social media, or third parties.” It wasn’t specific about physical contact.

It didn’t cover the parameters of Jane and her assailant being in the same place on campus, and there was no repercussion for her perpetrator staying in the same physical space.

“When people study domestic violence, homicides, frequently, stalking was present. And people didn’t always appreciate that it was a sign of lethality.”

Lorraine Bittner, chief legal officer of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh

To Amy Mathieu, Jane’s lawyer at the Marsh Law Firm, Jane’s case demonstrates a certain degree of uselessness in the Title IX process. 

“What’s the purpose of going through this whole endeavor? It’s traumatizing for victims to sit through a hearing and talk about what happened. And to what end? [Jane] thought she reached justice only to find out that the no-contact order was a piece of paper that did nothing for her in the long run,” she said.

T.K. Logan, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine whose research focuses on stalking, trauma and partner abuse, makes a careful distinction between a no-contact order and a protective order. A university may issue no-contact orders at the beginning of the Title IX process or at the end of it. 

“An order at a university is not a protective order, it does not come with consequences,” she said. “When you get a protective order … there are very different consequences for breaking that. 

“Protective orders out in the community or given by a court often are accompanied by footage. So this perpetrator cannot be within 100 feet, 300 feet, 500 feet. So that often helps with, ‘OK, it doesn’t matter if it’s a public place, but when he sees her, he is required to leave.’”

Protective orders can be helpful, Logan said. She co-authored several studies that have found that women who were being stalked by their abusive intimate partner and were able to get a protective order felt safer. A number of the stalkers did stop because there is a real deterrent.

It felt like nothing would keep him away

The college campus can create challenges for students who are experiencing stalking, as there is often predictability to their schedules and sometimes a finite number of places to spend time on campus, said Dardis, the psychologist and professor. 

“It certainly makes it easier to ascertain what the victim or target’s schedule is going to be and how you might be able to run into them, and maybe even make it seem like you’re just running into them,” Dardis said.

For Jane, the stalking seemed to continue until her assailant graduated. From her perspective, he too often ended up being at the same place, same time, especially if his friends saw her, Jane said. She recalled him sitting behind her in a study area once and followed her around a gym another time. 

Jane said the “Fishbowl,” or the popular Duquesne Union, was one of the places where she studied a lot and where her assailant would stalk her. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Every time Jane moved from one area or one machine to another, she said he would follow her and use a machine that was directly behind the one she was on. Jane’s friends witnessed it. She also has a video from the campus security camera that was in the gym. She even has a picture she took of him sitting behind her while she was on a treadmill.

Jane collected evidence for the Title IX office to investigate. She got the video from the gym submitted to the Title IX office.  As part of the investigation, the university said they reviewed surveillance footage from the gym and the Student Union and reviewed swipe-in logs for Jane and the respondent. After the review, they concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to find that the respondent had violated his sanctions. They said there would be no additional sanctions imposed but that the sanctions imposed on him after the Title IX hearing remained until his graduation.

Jane was left wondering if the only way she could prove stalking occurred was to have “taken a selfie with my rapist/stalker.”

Jane believes she went above and beyond to advocate for herself and other students and she felt disregarded. “[Duquesne] claim[s] to uphold such high moral standards like written in their mission statement. But clearly, they don’t because they say they have strict no-tolerance policies, but clearly they do tolerate it and they allowed everything to continue for me.” 

Brittany Conkle, legal director of the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, has worked with Pitt and CMU students who’ve experienced stalking from non-students. She said the universities banned their stalkers from entering campus and helped survivors get protection-from-abuse orders, which were helpful measures. 

“That’s what you want to see from the universities and colleges,” she said.

Lorraine Bittner, chief legal officer of the center and shelter, said it’s simpler for a court to prohibit a non-student from entering campus under a protection from abuse order than it is for a student. While the orders can prohibit non-students from entering campus at all, when the stalker is a student, the court may have to specify areas on campus they’re not allowed to go to.

https://www.publicsource.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Fishbowl_Duquesne.mp4
People enter and exit the student union at Duquesne University, one of the busy places on campus where Jane said she was stalked while studying. (Video by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Universities, judges and police should all view stalking as behavior that could become deadly, Bittner said. In 76% of completed intimate partner femicides and 85% of those attempted, stalking occurred in the year prior to the attack, according to the Stalking Prevention, Awareness and Resource Center.

“When people study domestic violence, homicides, frequently, stalking was present. And people didn’t always appreciate that it was a sign of lethality,” Bittner said. “I just think we all have to take it very seriously.”

Jane ultimately chose to graduate earlier than planned to leave campus as quickly as possible. She struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and feels like her educational experience was destroyed by what she experienced.

Mila Sanina is an independent journalist and assistant teaching professor of journalism. She can be reached at mila.sanina@gmail.com.

Emma Folts contributed reporting.

This story was fact-checked by Matt Maielli.

Our process:

For this project, conducted over six months, PublicSource held interviews in person, on the phone and via Zoom with survivors and then worked with them to corroborate their accounts to the extent possible. We asked for any notes, legal documents, journal entries, emails and texts and/or asked to be connected with people in whom survivors confided at the time. The provided documentation was used to further detail the survivors’ experiences and provide independent verification for our robust fact-checking process.

Reporting on sexual violence requires journalists to adhere to standards of accuracy and fairness while mitigating harm and the retraumatization of survivors. 

PublicSource reporters adhered to industry best practices for trauma-informed reporting, including those developed by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. From the onset, reporters strived to ensure survivors understood how their stories may be shared in the project and remained in touch as the reporting process continued. 

They practiced empathetic interviewing and worked with survivors to determine how they’d like to be identified. In journalism, anonymity is typically granted to people who have experienced sexual violence. PublicSource provided varying levels of anonymity to those who have shared their stories of sexual violence with us to respect wishes for privacy and to prevent further trauma. Their identities are known to us, and the information they’ve shared has been vetted.

The reporters also reviewed the profiles with the survivors, reading back quotes for accuracy, in an effort to ensure they felt in control of how their stories were told. They remained open to survivors’ comfort levels with participation changing and, as needed, provided opportunities to decide if they’d like to continue.

PublicSource is grateful to the survivors for going through this process with us and sharing their stories with the Pittsburgh community to improve understanding of the risks of sexual violence and its effects on college campuses.

Explore this series

The Red Zone

More than half of sexual assaults among college students occur in the fall. Resources, survivor stories and investigation into what’s being done to protect those at risk in the Pittsburgh area.

Do you feel more informed?

Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.

Mila Sanina served from 2016-2021 as the executive director of PublicSource, a nonprofit, non-partisan newsroom delivering public-service journalism in the Pittsburgh region at publicsource.org. Under...