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Mills student advocates for survivors of sexual violence

Kendall Anderson is working on becoming a survivor advocate. (Emily Mibach)
Kendall Anderson is working on becoming a survivor advocate. (Emily Mibach)

Mills College Junior Kendall Anderson turned a traumatic experience into a means of advocacy for sexual assault survivors after her own rape in 2013. Since her assault, Anderson has become a public advocate for Senate Bill 967, which requires sexual partners to explicitly consent.

College campus sexual assaults are not an uncommon occurrence. A 2000 research article by the National Institute of Justice reported that a college that has 10,000 females could experience approximately 350 rapes a year. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 60 percent of rapes go unreported. At Mills, two rapes occurred in 2013 and a total of five on-campus rapes between 2011 and 2013, according to a Mills Department of Public Safety report.

Anderson, a junior PLEA major, has publicly advocated for SB 967 in publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle and the Huffington Post by sharing her story with them.

Anderson said that she thinks the bill, which was passed on Sept. 28,will hold school investigating procedures more accountable. SB 967 allows community college districts, the California State University system, the University of California system, and independent postsecondary institutions to receive state funding in order to adopt policies regarding domestic and sexual violence, and stalking, as well as prevention and outreach programs.

“I also think it gives students more of the tools to be able to report it,” Anderson said. “I know that for me, I really struggled with being [able to report it], how do I really prove that I didn’t consent. It’s obviously pretty forceful and I had injuries and stuff, but I was so afraid. I didn’t really scream or say “no” very forcefully. I think [the bill] makes victims really realize that what happened to them was wrong…”

The bill has also lead to numerous campus discussions regarding consent across the nation.

“[California’s] kind of cutting-edge approach has been inspired in part with cases like [Anderson’s],” said Anderson’s former professor Edith Kinney, who is now an assistant professor of justice studies at San Jose State University.

Edith Kinney encouraged Anderson to seek out help. (Ari Nussbaum)
Edith Kinney encouraged Anderson to seek out help. (Ari Nussbaum)

Anderson was prompted to become an advocate for SB 967 when she was allegedly met with resistance and little support from the Oakland Police Department (OPD) after reporting her assault. Anderson said her investigating officer treated her insensitively, asking her questions such as “What were you wearing during the attack?” and “Were you a virgin?” The male investigating officer also suggested that she was confusing the idea of rape with rough sex and that she bled because “[the suspect] was too big for [her].”

“If I had known I was going to be subjected to this treatment, I would have never reported my rape,” Anderson said.

Anderson also said she was pushed to do the interview without a lawyer present. According to Anderson, her investigating officer asked, “Why would you need a lawyer if you’re not guilty of a crime?”

Rape victims in Alameda County are entitled to a rape crisis advocate to help them through the legal process which, according to Anderson, was a fact that she was not aware of until after she was interviewed by OPD. According to Wendy (whose last name cannot be disclosed for safety reasons), an Oakland-based rape crisis advocate who worked with Anderson, sexual assault victims are entitled to have two people with them for the interview, an advocate and a person who can offer emotional support.

“The experience [that Anderson had] was not a good experience,” Wendy said. “We did raise concern about that. We do think, unfortunately, that does happen. Not all victims know that they’re entitled to an advocate.”

She was also allegedly asked by her investigating officer to call her rapist, having been told that it was a protocol called a “pretext phone call.” A pretext phone call is an investigative tool used by law enforcement to acquire incriminating statements from the suspect, according to an article written by Detective Harold Eisenga of the San Diego Police Department. In most cases, the phone call is recorded and it is between the victim and the suspect. According to Anderson, her investigating officer instructed her to call the suspect and claim to be pregnant, or else the case would be “flimsy”; because this was not true, Anderson chose not to make the phone call.

Anderson issued a formal complaint to the OPD about her investigating officer’s behavior during her interview, which was only met with more abrasiveness from the investigating officer’s supervisor. After a month-long wait, Anderson reportedly received a phone call from the officer’s supervisor, who told her that the officer could “come off as a jerk” but that he “meant well.”

The Oakland Police Department did not return a call for comment.

After six to seven months of investigation, the prosecutors and the district attorney investigating her case, Paul Pinney, came to the conclusion that the suspect could not be charged because the consent was “blurry” and that Anderson had waited two days to get the rape kit done at Highland Hospital, Anderson said. She also stated that the suspect was never brought in for questioning.

Kinney said that Anderson’s case presents questions about broader legal issues, along with a cultural issue.

“If you’re getting this treatment, what does it mean about broader sexual assault policy?” Kinney said. “[Alameda County Head District Attorney Nancy O’Malley] is a champion of domestic violence victim’s rights, at the same time Kendall’s case was being processed, [O’Malley] was winning awards in Washington [tied to victim’s rights].”

Anderson said Wendy told her that the way OPD handled her investigation was not unique.

“Many victims feel further victimized reporting their rape; many investigators have attitudes similar to rapists — that’s actually what the rape crisis advocate told me,” Anderson said.

It was Anderson’s professors at Mills who encouraged her to speak out against her treatment.

“I was kind of thinking it was just bad luck,” Anderson said.  “[Professors] were like, ‘No, you need to speak out about this. Show that what happened to you was not right.’ If it happened to me, it’s probably happening to other people.”

One of the professors who encouraged Anderson to speak out was Kinney, who said that Anderson’s case was horrendous in terms of the treatment she received.

“To me, it was a wake up call,” Kinney said. “You can do the best you can for your survivors but still not succeed.”

Kinney discussed shared frustrations regarding the system with Anderson,and helped Anderson connect with advocacy and academic resources.

“If a woman like [Anderson] can’t get attention to her case, or those are the gaps that the justice system has, we need to find different ways to empower women to take different steps,” Kinney said. “We need to think outside the box a little more with the treatment that people are getting.”

Anderson is thankful that she is comfortable speaking about her assault and has not had a need to seek out long-term counseling for trauma, though she did seek it briefly. She uses this to her advantage to speak out about injustices within the legal system.

“I can talk about it without feeling upset or feeling triggered,” Anderson said. “I think that it’s really important that I use my voice.”

After Anderson became a public advocate for SB 967, she received a large amount of support from Mills community via emails, many of which came from people she did not even know.

Anderson plans to continue doing advocacy work for women’s and civil rights once she finishes her undergraduate studies at Mills. She is also considering going to law school.

“I’m so lucky that I had this opportunity so early in my academic career to do this, so I definitely want to continue,” Anderson said. “This is really something that is so important to me.”