PART TWO: MMA graduate shares personal story of being assaulted on campus 14 years ago
“Even somebody who never came forward and knows what happened to them, even if they’re made to feel just a little bit better by this. Okay, We’ve done something.”
CASTINE, Maine (WABI) - Last fall, a website that published personal stories of sexual assault at Maine Maritime Academy started a serious conversation on campus.
Bringing the past to light and holding others accountable in the future is the mission of the website creator and of those who have shared their stories.
I have been speaking to students and school leaders since October of 2020.
It was ten years ago this month that Kaitlyn Harmon graduated from Maine Maritime Academy.
She says she walked away from the school with a degree and with an assault she feels was never dealt with, despite her reporting it.
There have been others with similar claims including assaults and sexual harassment. Two of those accounts shared in an advocacy blog.
The school leaders I spoke with say support is there, and they want students to feel it going forward.
”I have like snapshot memories. I remember waking up to him taking my clothes off and then I would pass back out. And then I remember waking up and he was on top of me and then I would pass back out,” said MMA graduate Kaitlyn Harmon.
Kaitlyn says 14 years ago she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student at Maine Maritime Academy during her first week of school. It happened after a night of drinking.
“I woke up the next day very, very sore and very confused and very sick.”
Kaitlyn says her friend convinced her to get help, so she went to the Student Life director, who immediately contacted a school security guard.
“They took me to the hospital, and I had a rape kit done. A couple weeks later, they gave it back to me. They never tested it. Being told that this happened because I was drunk and had I been in more control of myself, it probably wouldn’t happen, has stuck with me quite literally until a couple years ago when I finally told my husband, and he was like you know he’s wrong. It’s been 14 years and I am just now coming to terms with all of this,” said Kaitlyn.
The Hancock County District Attorney tells us the man Kaitlyn says assaulted her was charged with allowing a minor to possess or consume liquor and fined $1,000.
Another former student told me the alcohol policy is so strict at the school, that if you were to report any kind of sexual assault that had been related to alcohol in any way you would be penalized, which then discourages people from reporting.
“It’s uncomfortable, but it needs to be addressed. Assault. Rape. Those are really hard words to say,” said Janice Harmon, Kaitlyn’s mother. “‘My daughter was assaulted. My daughter was asleep and she was raped.’ That doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy, and I cried, and I’ve cried and cried and you know I still cry over it. But she’s the one that has to live with it every day, she’s the one that has the nightmares about it. Be comfortable in having those really uncomfortable conversations.”
“We’re really moving forward and taking a look at what we do for our students and supporting our students of all types here,” said Janet Aker, MMA Chief of Staff and Executive Assistant to the President.
School officials I spoke with say one thing they started after the Maritime Legal Aid and Advocacy website posted two stories from former students was listening sessions.
Dr. Elizabeth Tru is the Vice President for Student Affairs.
“If you are the survivor of sexual assault, and you disclose in the investigation process that you had been drinking and you’re under age, there’s amnesty. That is such a minor issue compared to the sexual assault crime. We realized we knew this, but they didn’t know this, so we put it very explicitly in a big bubble on a lot of our pages, the amnesty policy, and in our listening sessions we talked to students about this,” said Tru.
She says the rules regarding sexual assault also changed. In the past, the school was required to investigate, regardless of the survivor’s wishes.
“Which I think had a chilling effect on reporting, because you had no control,” said Tru. “So now a student has to make a formal complaint for there to be the investigation and the remediation. However, we’re allowed to take supportive intermediate measures to help protect the student in the process, regardless of whatever they want to do.”
The school says they have a ‘no retaliation’ policy and recently went through a Title IX audit conducted by a legal firm that’s available on the MMA website. In the audit conclusion it states appropriate policies and procedures are in place, and while good work is being done, more is needed to establish as effective a system as possible, which the school agrees with.
“I would like anybody who you spoke to, and others who haven’t reached out to know that we’re going to do better,” said Aker.
“Even somebody who never came forward and knows what happened to them, even if they’re made to feel just a little bit better by this - ok, we’ve done something,” said Kaitlyn.
Kaitlyn’s mother says she hopes her daughter’s story may encourage others to talk about their experiences and know it wasn’t their fault.
Help is available 24 hours a day through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.
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