New York Times Cover Story Reveals How Hobart & William Smith Massively Failed Student Rape Victim
It has the elements of so many sexual assault allegations before it: fraternity members, a lot of alcohol, football players, freshman girls. And like too many other stories about sexual assault, this one also includes a university that failed a sexual assault victim and allowed campus rapists to get off scot-free.
This weekend, The New York Times published a gut-punch of a piece (on their front page, in fact) about a young woman called Anna who is a student at Hobart & William Smith, a college in upstate New York. During her first few weeks of college, Anna was sexually assaulted while drunk by several football players on the night of a frat party. After Anna sent texts that she was afraid, a friend found her drunkenly bent over a pool table, face down, surrounded by six or seven football players, including one right behind her who had his pants down.
Her friends called campus security, who called the paramedics and took her to a hospital. When Anna had a rape kit taken, the nurse found injuries, such as abrasions, consistent with forceful sexual assault. Anna gave statements to campus security the very next day saying that she had been raped by one player and forced to give oral sex to another. A third student was accused of holding her down. I would like to think that because Anna’s friends acted quickly, the campus security paper trail and the medical evidence would be on her side.
But NOPE. Much like we’ve seen happen again and again and again and again and again with other student rape victims (especially when campus athletes are involved), Hobart & William Smith’s hearing and disciplinary proceedings failed Anna. These types of hearings on college campuses are typically made up of a panel of employees, including administrators, at the university. In Anna’s case, it was a panel of three: a VP of human resources, a professor of psychology, and the director of the campus bookstore. Let me say that again: THE DIRECTOR OF THE CAMPUS BOOKSTORE was sitting on a panel assessing whether a student had been the victim of a violent crime.
The chairperson of the panel had access to Anna’s medical records from the hospital, but two of the three panel members didn’t read them. Neither Anna nor the accused were allowed to have lawyers or family members present during the hearing. The hearings are usually confidential, but the Times has a transcript of Anna’s proceedings. She was grilled about how she had been “grinding” while dancing and whether other people at the party had been doing cocaine. The three accused football players denied sexually assaulting Anna; in fact, one of them accused her of giving him oral sex without his consent. The panel did not ask two of the players about lying to campus security when they were initially questioned.
You’re not going to be too surprised to find out that the panel cleared all three players. Or that when Anna was told she could appeal, she was directed to look at a page of the sexual misconduct policy that addressed “false allegations.” Not surprisingly, this May, Hobart & William Smith was included on a list of 55 colleges being investigated for possible violations of their handling of sexual assault investigations. (Twelve more colleges were added to the list last month.)
This Times piece is the best that I’ve seen illustrating why colleges are ill-equipped to handle allegations of sexual assault. The director of the book store shouldn’t be adjudicating sexual assault in a confidential, behind-closed-doors panel where lawyers are not allowed. Rape is a crime; crimes should be in the hands of the police and the justice system. Anna deserved better — a million times better — than what she got. And I shudder to think about the young men who assaulted her (as well as the other young men who stood by watching) who are out there in the world, partying with our sisters and daughters and friends.