University holds several routes to help students facing harassment
She was walking to class this fall, clad in workout gear and with her head down, when a man walked up to inform her that her backpack zipper was undone.
Before she got the chance to fix the pocket herself, he was behind her, zipping it up. To be polite, she thanked him and assumed he would leave. He did not. He introduced himself and said he was walking in the same direction.
“He was talking the whole way about how cute I was and how much he liked my glasses and how he just thought I seemed like a really cool person without actually knowing anything about me,” said Amber, who requested only her first name be used.
He tried to put his arm around her and followed her into the building. She attempted to say goodbye, but he insisted he was still walking in the same direction and did not want to leave. He said he wanted to keep talking to her, even after she clarified she was in a relationship.
Outside her classroom, he insisted she give him her number. She was scared. She’d heard the stories of what sometimes happens when women reject men. She gave him her Facebook messenger and decided to block him later. He immediately messaged her.
“He had been messaging me saying he thought I was cool and wanted to meet me, and he felt like I wouldn’t be like most people and say they’ll be your friend and then never talk to you,” Amber said. “I tried telling him I had a boyfriend, but he just ignored that and just started talking about how his ex broke his heart.”
She texted her sister to say she was scared that he would still be outside waiting for her, so her sister skipped her class to help. He was not waiting outside the classroom, but Amber said she remained on edge for the rest of the week.
“My sister walked me to class the next few lessons and even showed me a new way to walk so I could hopefully avoid him,” she said.
Amber said she knows her experience could have gone much worse, but it is something many women, and men, regularly experience.
Harassment encompasses a wide range of activities. While many think of sexual harassment when they hear the word, harassment is defined as a course of conduct that harasses, annoys, alarms, abuses, torments or embarrasses another, according to Texas Penal Code 42.07.
The University has multiple routes students can choose from if they are experiencing stalking or harassment, based on what their desired outcome may be. If students don’t want to pursue criminal action and would rather just make sure their harasser does not have classes with them, they can go to Equal Opportunity Services instead of UHPD.
“Students who are concerned for their safety should let someone know,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor/Vice President of Equal Opportunity Services Richard Baker. “EOS, UHPD and others may intervene directly or help the student create a safety plan. Talking through these issues may not only provide peace of mind but also a sense of security necessary for a safe environment for learning, living and working.”
Students can file a report even if an involved party does not attend UH, especially if the victim chooses a criminal route.
“A victim of a crime can always report any crime to UHPD,” said UHPD Captain Bret Collier. “We will either work directly with other police agencies to solve a crime, or if there is no clear nexus to UH, refer the case to the appropriate agency and ensure that the reportee has the appropriate contact with that agency to resolve their concern.”
Harassment can also happen electronically. Multiple texts, calls, direct messages or even a pager bombarded with messages can classify, especially if you have told them to stop, according to the Penal Code.
“If you’re finding that someone is doing these things, the biggest key is documentation,” said Ashley Griffin, the program manager for the University’s Sexual Misconduct Support Services. “I often provide individuals with a ‘stalking log’ where I want you to document all the behaviors you’ve been noticing.”
The main purpose of Griffin’s job is to provide students with all the options they can choose from. She helps students find resources and provides confidential support. If students want to meet with her, they need to make an appointment.
She said to take note of how many times they call, where you see them and how often. Griffin also said, if it’s possible, tell them to stop over the phone or text so if you decide to report them, one can see how many times they tried to contact you after you have made it clear you want nothing to do with them.
“Why? Because some people will say, ‘Well I never knew it was bothering them,’ even though a reasonable person would kind of get that this is bothering them,” Griffin said.
Sexual Misconduct Support Services also has about 100 staff and faculty members who have successfully completed the eight-hour Code Red Assist Training. This means they are capable of providing support to students who have experienced sexual violence, which includes some forms of stalking and harassment. Students can find them by going to their website or looking out for a Code Red Assist placard on the door of the staff member’s office.
“I want to try to give back power,” Griffin said. “So that you feel like you can choose, because if I get to decide, ‘Yes I want to go to police, or no I don’t want to go there,’ then you’re in control, and I’m just going to support you whichever way that you choose.”
Stalking and harassment happen to both men and women, but UHPD does not keep track of the gender of on-campus victims, so there is no way of knowing which group on campus is more likely to be a victim based on statistics alone.
There have been 10 harassment cases and six stalking incidents reported in the past 60 days, according to UHPD’s crime log. The 2018 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report shows 75 separate stalking incidents for 2017. Fifty-three were reported in 2016 and 15 in 2015.
While stalking is specifically mentioned in the report, there are no numbers for “harassment” included in the Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, though it is still possible to file a harassment report with UHPD and have a case opened and documented.
Although Amber’s incident happened last semester, she still takes measures to try and prevent something like it from happening again.
“I never saw him again,” Amber said. “But since then I’ve been very careful about making sure my backpack is all zipped up.”
She hopes people who experience something similar know it is OK to speak up.
“If someone is making you uncomfortable, they should know it,” Amber said. “If you feel unsafe for any reason, then you do what is most important for your safety, but most importantly, this wasn’t your fault.”