Twenty-eight female UT students reported rape in 2012, according to the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee.
Although UT provides a multitude of resources where students can report sexual assault, this web of outlets could create more confusion.
"What I find is that our students are so bombarded with messages, that a lot of times, until they are in a crisis, or until they are in a situation where they really need the information, they don't realize that there is some information there," said Jennifer Ritcher, the associate director of the Office of Equity and Diversity.
At any point after the incident, students may file complaints involving sexual assault. Most often, Ritcher stated, they choose to report sexual assault to the Office of Equity and Diversity, Student Health Center, Safety, Environment and Education Center, UTPD, the Dean of Students Office, Judicial Affairs or the UT Medical Center.
After a student has contacted any resource regarding sexual assault, several other resources on campus are then alerted of a potential situation. The victim is then directed to a meeting with Dean of Students Maxine Davis or the resource they are most comfortable with, such as a resident assistant, hall director or SEE Center counselor, with whom they will discuss a series of options for pursuing charges.
If reported to her office, it is Davis' first priority to secure emotional and physical care for the victim. But gathering information about the circumstances of the assault and the perpetrator's whereabouts is also crucial.
"You want to make sure the victim is OK," Davis said, "and, at the same time, you have to think about the community."
While most victims choose to speak with their RA, Ritcher "always encourages" an additional report to be filed with law enforcement.
If reported to a UT campus resource, including UTPD, a sexual assault incident is brought to the attention of university administration and the Office of Judicial Affairs, who will pursue justice to whatever extent the victim permits. The extent to which the university may act on behalf of the victim depends on his or her willingness to provide details, like the victim's name or the name of the perpetrator. Davis said these details are often necessary to continue prosecution.
The university, including UTPD, however, cannot prosecute the perpetrator. UTPD may only furnish "assistance" in prosecuting and access to resources in the community, like the hospital, the counseling center or the Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee.
"It could be handled simultaneously in the criminal system as well as the university system," said Sergeant Cedric Roach of UTPD's Community Relations Unit. "If it's going to be prosecuted, of course, we hand it over to the district attorney's office.
"No matter if it gets prosecuted or not, the university will still be involved administratively, of course."
However, Davis explained that should the accused perpetrator claim the act was consensual, the act then becomes "alleged." This, Davis reported, is a "typical" situation.
After becoming an "allegation," the victim must "go before a hearing" before the judicial conduct process can continue. Victims rarely agree to a hearing, Davis said. Most often, the victim simply releases the perpetrator's name, desiring the perpetrator to be "talked with" and "put on notice and documentation." Davis said victims often wish the situation would simply "go away."
A lack of rape shield laws in Tennessee leaves any student seeking justice through the law no way of remaining anonymous. If the victim chooses to press charges, his or her name could be released to the general public.
Davis said this policy may deter some victims of sexual assault from coming forward.
"I'm sure there are more female victims out there," Davis said. "There are more male victims out there, they are just not reported."
During all investigations, though, the university takes measures to separate the victim and the accused. The greatest penalty the university can exercise is indefinite suspension.
Eradicating sexual assault, Davis said, begins with ensuring that every assault is reported – a feat that will demand partnership between the university and the students.
"The higher the number, as far as I'm concerned," Davis said, "means that we are doing our job."
Yet, Ritcher admits that the reporting process, as it currently operates, spreads a number of responsibilities across many entities and offices.
"We want to have a one stop place where, if you were (online) looking, it would always come up first," Ritcher said. "We are working on that now, as a matter of fact."