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How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint

Source. "A New York Times examination of the case, based in part on hundreds of pages of disciplinary proceedings — usually confidential under federal privacy laws — offers a rare look inside one school's adjudication of a rape complaint amid a roiling national debate over how best to stop sexual assaults on campuses." Some excerpts below (it's a long piece - and pretty rage-inducing).

Later, records show, a sexual-assault nurse offered this preliminary assessment: blunt force trauma within the last 24 hours indicating "intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful." The student said she could not recall the pool table encounter, but did remember being raped earlier in a fraternity-house bedroom.

The football player at the pool table had also been at the fraternity house — in both places with his pants down — but denied raping her, saying he was too tired after a football game to get an erection. Two other players, also accused of sexually assaulting the woman, denied the charge as well. Even so, tests later found sperm or semen in her vagina, in her rectum and on her underwear.

It took the college just 12 days to investigate the rape report, hold a hearing and clear the football players. The football team went on to finish undefeated in its conference, while the woman was left, she said, to face the consequences — threats and harassment for accusing members of the most popular sports team on campus.

Yet many students come to regret that decision, wishing they had never reported the assault in the first place.

The woman at Hobart and William Smith is no exception. With no advocate to speak up for her at the disciplinary hearing, panelists interrupted her answers, at times misrepresented evidence and asked about a campus-police report she had not seen. The hearing proceeded before her rape-kit results were known, and the medical records indicating trauma were not shown to two of the three panel members.

Another asked whether the football player's penis had been "inside of you" or had he been "having sex with you." And when the football player violated an order not to contact the accuser, administrators took five months to find him responsible, then declined to tell her if he had been punished.

Hobart and William Smith officials said they have "no tolerance for sexual assault" and treat all complaints seriously, offering emotional support, counseling and, when necessary, extra security and no-contact orders. They said the school's procedures offer students a fair hearing and were followed in this case. But they cited privacy laws in declining to answer specific questions.

"Campuses are really frustrated by knowing so much about a given case and how reasonable they were and they can't tell this story," said Brett A. Sokolow, a legal adviser to the school. "It's easy to paint them as the bad guy because they are in a position where they can't defend themselves."

Yet privacy laws did not stop Hobart and William Smith from disclosing the name of the woman — a possible rape victim — in letters to dozens of students. "I'm surprised they didn't attach my picture," she said.

Although federal officials estimate that up to 20 percent of college students will be sexually assaulted in school, Mr. Tantillo said he rarely heard of such reports at Hobart and William Smith. "I guess that's your job to find out why," he told a reporter.

Around 7:30 in the morning, the nurse told Sergeant Pluretti that she had found "internal abrasions and heavy inflammation" and believed that Anna had suffered a forceful sexual assault.

The hearing, not dissimilar to what happens at many colleges, bore little resemblance to a court proceeding. Neither the accuser nor the accused were allowed to have lawyers or family members present. They could bring "advisers," but they would be voiceless advisers, prohibited from speaking.

The panelists could act pretty much as they wished, including questioning Anna about internal college reports and witness statements that she was not shown. Also absent were the usual courtroom checks and balances. The panel acted as prosecutor, judge and jury, questioning students and rendering judgment. All members were supposed to be trained for this delicate assignment.

She had to relive that evening through questions that jumped around in time, interrupted her answers and misrepresented witness statements. One question incorrectly quoted one of her friends asserting that at the dance Anna had told her that she wanted to go upstairs and have sex; in fact, the friend had said, Anna told her that the football player wanted to have sex.

Two of the three panel members did not examine the medical records showing blunt force trauma — it was the chairwoman's prerogative not to share them. Instead, the panel asked what Anna had drunk, who she may have kissed and how she had danced. It was, Anna said, as if admitting you were grinding — a common way of dancing — "means you therefore consent to sex or should be raped."

The panel asked about the Barn — even though Anna stated that she did not remember being there — and whether the friend who found her there might have misconstrued her dancing as sex. Anna responded that the pool-table witness had said she and the football player had their pants down. "I don't know who dances like that in public," she added.

It was during this discussion that one panelist asked if the witness had seen the player's penis in Anna's vagina or if he had just seen them having sex. "The questioning is absolutely stunning in its absurdity," Anna's lawyer, Inga L. Parsons, said later.

At the Barn, he said, she again pulled his pants down. "My flaccid penis was rubbing up against her vagina," he had told the campus police, adding that he had then realized their conduct "was inappropriate" and pulled up his pants.

The second football player said that while his teammate was in the room, Anna pulled down his pants and gave him oral sex. "I didn't consent," he said. "She's doing it all by herself. My hands are not touching her." After a brief period, he said, he told her to stop. "I zippered my pants up, put my belt on, and I walked out the door."

While the panel did not ask the players about their changed accounts, it did let the senior give an opening statement.

"I come from a wonderful family with strong Christian values," he said. "I have been blessed with a beautiful mother, grandmothers, nieces and amazing aunts." And he added: "I treat women with the respect and honor they deserve."

The next day, the panel chairwoman sent Anna written confirmation of the decision, informing her that if she wished to appeal, she could find directions on Page 13 of the sexual-misconduct policy.

But Page 13 said nothing about appeals. Instead, it contained a section titled "False Allegations." The college admitted its mistake, Anna's mother said.

n an email response to The Times, the panel's chairwoman, Ms. Bissell, said the members were proud of their service. "A great deal of care and focus goes into this work, including extensive training in advance of our service, as well as refresher training prior to serving on a particular panel," she said.

As students returned after winter break, amid swirling rumors of a gang rape, they were greeted by a new mandate: Everyone had to watch an interactive video designed to educate them about sexual assault. The video contained hypotheticals and a series of questions. Answer them, students were told, or be denied campus housing.

The video generated instant controversy, beginning with its title — "ThinkLuv."

"So right from the start, it's the kind of program that's fun and playful and not something that needs to be taken seriously," said Kelsey Carroll, a recent graduate who founded a student group to combat sexism. "Rape is not about love. It is about violence and power."

"Most of the students I work with say, 'Had I known how bad the school process was, I would not have reported at all,' " said Annie E. Clark, who counsels assault victims on their rights.

One reason for this disappointment is that many college hearing panelists lack even the most basic training, said Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who has investigated the quality of campus rape investigations. The senator recently surveyed 440 colleges and universities and found that one-third had failed to properly train officials adjudicating claims.

The Geneva police hardly distinguished themselves in Anna's case. Detective Brian E. Choffin, relying primarily on his reading of school records, sent the prosecutor an error-filled report.

Detective Choffin mischaracterized witness statements, put the words of one student in the mouth of another, and stated that he "never saw any discrepancies or alterations" in what the two football players told the authorities, even though they had initially lied about having sexual contact with their accuser. And while Anna's blood-alcohol tests had been done many hours after she last had a drink, he also stated unequivocally that her level "would not make a person impaired to the point of blacking out."

Against her parents' wishes, Anna plans to return to Hobart and William Smith in the fall.

"Someone needs to help survivors there," she said.


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