The 19-year-old Ohio girl came to Georgia Tech in July 2011 to visit a high school friend. After drinking at a few parties, they returned to his fraternity. As the night wore on, she grew tired and another fraternity brother made what seemed like a chivalrous offer — she could sleep in his bed and he would sleep elsewhere.
The next thing she knew, according to her narrative to police, he was on top of her and, she said, raped her. Distraught, she later told her friend what happened and he called campus police.
When officers shared their investigation with the Fulton County District Attorney they were told there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute. Instead, an assistant prosecutor suggested the young woman go to the Fulton County Courthouse and obtain her own arrest warrant, according to the police report. It’s rare enough that women report rape to police. Not surprisingly, she returned home with her parents instead of navigating the court system on her own.
Campus police at nine of Georgia’s largest universities logged 152 allegations of rapes and sodomies since 2010, according to law enforcement documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Not one resulted in criminal prosecution.
The journey from crime to conviction is always fraught with pitfalls. But in cases of sexual assault involving college students, the AJC found a range of roadblocks that prevent an allegation of rape from resulting in justice for the victim.
In the vast majority of cases reviewed by the AJC, the victim either didn’t come forward to authorities or chose not to pursue charges. In nearly half of those sex assaults, police didn’t even know the name of the victim and only learned of the attack through counselors or health center reports. In the cases that remained, most of the victims declined to pursue charges.
Alcohol abuse drenched many of the cases reviewed by the newspaper, and was often why victims found themselves in bad situations — and the reason they could not pursue criminal charges. Alcohol-induced blackouts prevented victims from recalling details and, in a handful of cases, even identifying their assailants.
An AJC review of hundreds of pages of police and law enforcement records showed that even in the handful of instances where the victim seemed willing to work with authorities, prosecutors didn’t bring charges.
Women often don’t come forward because they fear they won’t be believed and the lack of prosecution for the few who do try bolsters that view, experts said.
The result is perpetrators remain unpunished, free to rape again, and the system of criminal deterrence and accountability fails.
“You can essentially rape with impunity in this country because the odds are very, very slim that you will ever get caught,” said Kimberly Lonsway, of End Violence Against Women International, a group that researches sexual assault issues. “Those messages are very powerful.”
Public officials from the president and members of Congress to campus administrators are calling for dramatic improvements to campus safety. But the AJC’s analysis shows that won’t happen without deep changes to campus culture and student behavior, particularly when it comes to drinking. At the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech alone, alcohol played a role in more than six out of 10 reported sex assaults, according to an AJC review. Another one-third of the reports didn’t say one way or the other.
The University System of Georgia launched its own review of campus safety in September and last week appointed a new committee to look specifically at the role alcohol plays in campus crimes.
Nationally, there have been several high-profile cases. Heisman-trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of raping a fellow Florida State University student but not charged criminally. A school investigation is pending.
The University of Virginia was roiled by a bombshell article in Rolling Stone detailing a young woman’s allegations that she was gang raped at a fraternity, but the magazine has since apologized for the piece after inconsistencies surfaced.
There are no known national statistics on prosecution rates for campus rape. But research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice suggests that overall between 8 and 37 percent of all rapes ever lead to prosecution. Other studies suggest that number is even lower, no more than 5 percent, according to Lonsway’s group.
At the Georgia campuses examined by the AJC as part of this investigation the lack of a single criminal prosecution over five years troubles experts.
“It shows the system is broken,” said Amanda Farahany, an Atlanta attorney who has filed sexual assault lawsuits against several colleges in Georgia and elsewhere.
Not everyone agrees
Former DeKalb County District Attorney J. Tom Morgan, who trains fraternity members on legal issues surrounding sex and consent, said many of the cases should never see the inside of a courthouse.
“If prosecutors are not bringing a case it may very well be because there isn’t one,” Morgan said. He argued that if a woman cannot recall what happened, then how does she know if she did or didn’t give consent?
Criminal courts aren’t the only recourse. A small number of cases move through a student disciplinary process where the maximum penalty is expulsion.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he reopened the Ohio woman’s case at Tech’s Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity after being asked about it by the AJC.
“It should not have been handled that way,” Howard said in an interview. “That was done without my authority.”
Although Howard’s office initially declined to pursue the case, Lambda Chi said the member involved in the 2011 incident was suspended from the fraternity for almost three years after a disciplinary hearing. The identities of the fraternity member and the victim were redacted in the Georgia Tech campus police report so they could not be contacted.
Howard’s jurisdiction includes Tech, Georgia State University and the the trio of Atlanta’s historically black universities — Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta. Together, those campuses reported 38 rapes and sodomies since 2010. Yet, the last campus rape prosecution Howard’s office initiated was 16 years ago — in 1998. His office won a conviction in an aggravated sodomy case at Georgia State in 2004.
“In almost every case, the victim is usually drinking,” Howard said. “In many cases, she does not even remember the event. That creates a real problem with a prosecution when there is a real problem with the issue of consent.”
Emory University — which for the last two years has recorded the most sexual assaults of any college in Georgia — has not referred a single rape case to the DeKalb County District Attorney. Campus police note that in most of the school’s reports — 8 out 10 according to an AJC analysis — the victim is anonymous.
Likewise, Kennesaw State University fielded 14 rape reports since 2010 but none were forwarded to the Cobb County District Attorney. Cobb DA Vic Reynolds said he was “surprised” to discover that Kennesaw hadn’t brought cases to him when asked about it by the AJC. He said he’s hopeful a new victims’ advocate at KSU will encourage more women to report.
At the University of Georgia, there hasn’t been a campus rape prosecution since 2002 when three basketball players were charged. One was acquitted and charges were then dropped against the remaining two players. Prosecutors in Athens did accept a plea deal in one 2013 case involving a University of Georgia student allegedly raped off campus by a student from another school. That case was handled by Athens-Clarke County Police.
“These are the most difficult cases we deal with,” Athens-Clarke County District Attorney Ken Mauldin. “To prosecute you need evidence and, unfortunately in most of these cases, that doesn’t exist or, if it does, it’s conflicting.”
In Fulton County, Howard’s office is currently weighing whether to move forward with two high-profile campus rape cases. In one, three Morehouse College basketball players are alleged to have drugged, raped and kidnapped a female Spelman College freshman. That case has lingered since March 2013.
In another, a Georgia Tech fraternity brother was charged with raping an Agnes Scott student at a party earlier this year, and his case is pending. The victim, as well as another Agnes Scott student who says she was raped by the same person, recently filed lawsuits against Phi Kappa Tau arguing the fraternity allowed a rape culture to flourish. A member of the fraternity wrote an email — that soon became notorious — instructing brothers how to “lure rapebait” by plying young women with alcohol.
‘I didn’t want this’
It was 3:20 a.m. on March 1 when UGA police arrived at Busbee Hall responding to a sexual assault call. The victim was hysterical and her worried roommates summoned authorities.
A few hours earlier she’d been celebrating her birthday, drinking at a party in her dorm room with friends.
At one point, a male party guest suggested he had marijuana in his room in nearby Rooker Hall and invited her to come with him to smoke. Once inside his room, their accounts take sharply different turns, according to a UGA campus police report.
He says they had consensual sex. She says he raped her.
Friends discovered her soon after the encounter shaking and crying outside her own dorm. Ushered inside, she tearfully described to her roommates what happened.
“He pulled my legs apart, he forced it, I didn’t want it,” she said, according to the police report.
Then she broke down again, uttering a long string of “no, no, no.”
At first, the woman signed a form saying she didn’t want an investigation but by the afternoon changed her mind and had a rape exam conducted.
She was adamant that she had been raped, telling investigators she “is not ashamed of her sexuality.” If it was a case of regret for having casual sex with a stranger, she “would deal with it and move on.” Instead, she said, she believes she was taken advantage of because she was intoxicated, the police report said.
Campus police took the case to the Athens-Clarke County DA’s office.
“After reviewing the case (assistant district attorney Brian) Patterson said he did not feel there was sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution. He also did not feel there was enough probable cause for an indictment by a Grand Jury,” the police report said.
Mauldin told the AJC he could not recall the case. “But if the evidence is there we will prosecute,” he said.
It’s cases like this one, experts said, that make many women unwilling to come forward. It is hard enough to lay out the intimate details of a sex assault. But to do so only to be told that there isn’t enough to make a criminal case can be devastating, they said.
Then in some cases, the victim may have a change of heart because, more often than not, she knows her assailant.
Bulloch County District Attorney Richard Mallard said he brought one October 2013 rape case at Georgia Southern University before a grand jury and the victim in the case recanted, saying she didn’t want to ruin her attacker’s life. The grand jury refused to indict.
“The young women, they are sometimes confused and feeling a lot of pressure,” Mallard said.
At Georgia Tech, police declined to move forward with a case in which a woman claims she woke up at a fraternity house without a top on and with words — such as “sexy” — scrawled on her torso. She had been at a highlighter party, in which guests write on each other’s T-shirts. Still, the woman says she has no idea how she ended up topless with the graffiti on her skin. She was initially found by police disheveled and disoriented the next morning looking for her car.
She has since filed a civil lawsuit against the fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta.
‘She did not wish to meet with law enforcement’
Sex was on the agenda for the freshmen who trooped onto the University of Georgia campus earlier this year for orientation. The main message: consent.
“It can’t come from someone unconscious. It can’t come from someone incapacitated,” Capt. Dan Silk of the UGA Police Department tells the room full of fidgety freshmen and their anxious-looking parents. Sex without consent is a crime, Silk explains.
Yet, what arrives regularly by fax and email in the airy offices of UGA’s campus police is invariably a version of the following:
“The University of Georgia Police Department received notification from the University Health Center that a sexual assault occurred…The victim advised University Health Center personnel that she was acquainted with the person that assaulted her and that she did not wish to meet with law enforcement.”
Such brief reports are required by the federal Clery Act, designed to measure campus crime. But they also point to how little authorities are able to do to combat a problem that still exists largely in the shadows. Police have nothing to work with because women who come forward to seek counseling or medical help balk at talking to authorities.
A new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds this is particularly true on campus. Eighty percent of rapes and sexual assaults of college students go unreported to police, compared to 67 percent of women in the same range in the general population, the study said.
Take the case of Katherine Garcia, a 19-year-old sophomore who says she was raped after drinking alcohol-laced punch at a UGA fraternity party. Garcia, who agreed to talk to the AJC to help raise awareness about sex assault, said she lost memory but regained consciousness to find a man having intercourse with her. She believes she may have been slipped a date rape drug but isn’t certain.
It took Garcia three weeks for her to summon the will to tell friends what happened. By that time, she’d completely withdrawn from social activities, was missing some classes, struggling in others and sinking into depression.
Friends encouraged her to seek counseling at the off-campus counseling center, The Cottage, which she didn’t know existed.
Garcia never reported the matter to police, saying she was so inebriated she’s not sure she could even identify her assailant.
“I didn’t want anything on my record, which is what I was worried about,” Garcia said in an interview with The AJC.
“At the time it was so traumatic. I wanted to continue with my ‘normal’ life.”
She soon realized that wasn’t going to happen.
“Everything changes once you experience something like that,” said Garcia, who graduated in May.
UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson acknowledges his department is often hamstrung dealing with sex assault cases.
“I wish we could do more, I really do,” Williamson said. In other types of cases — such as domestic violence — police investigate even without a cooperative victim. Williamson said he’d like to be able to do that in some rape cases but is met with resistance from an unlikely place: victims’ advocates.
“This one of the few cases where we let the victim sometimes decide what to do,” Williamson said.
Advocates believe that sexual crimes, like rape, leave victims feeling powerless. Being told by authorities that they have no control over such a personal matter can traumatize them all over again, advocates believe. Most schools and counseling services have adopted a survivor-focused methodology — indeed, those who report assaults are called “survivors,” not victims. The approach concentrates on getting the victim counseling and support, not urging them to prosecute their attacker.
“That isn’t what we do,” said Devon Sanger, a counselor at The Cottage, the off-campus sex assault counseling center in Athens which works with many UGA students. She said she provides students options and describes the pros and cons of each.
“It’s catch-22 because if the survivor doesn’t come forward then you have a rapist who isn’t prosecuted,” Sanger said. “But at the same time, it’s difficult to encourage women to report because the system is so poor.”
Alcohol, consent and campus police
Nearly everyone interviewed for this story said that in order to truly combat sexual assault on campus officials need to tackle rampant alcohol use.
In some cases, police records show, victims remember nothing of what had transpired and learned they had sex the following day.
One UGA student told campus police in 2010 that she learned via text that two male students had sex with her the previous night while she was blacked out. Confused, she texted one of the men and he confirmed, without hesitation, that they had intercourse.
“And of course we used protection,” he volunteered in a text, according to a police report.
“This sickens me because I do not remember this at all and did not give consent for it at all,” the woman told police.
The woman declined to prosecute because she was embarrassed and feared being ostracized.
Under Georgia law, rape is defined as carnal knowledge of a female with force and against her will. Case law has held that if someone is too intoxicated to give consent then that also constitutes rape. The mandatory penalty for a rape conviction is 25 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Mauldin, the Athens prosecutor, said the severity of that penalty, coupled with the challenge of proving “with force and against her will,” make cases even more difficult to make. He said prosecutors might be more successful proving rape cases if there was a lesser charge available that would remove the element of “force,” sometimes hard to prove in date-rape cases.
“Giving a different option could help. Those are two high hurdles to get over,” he said.
Howard disagrees with that. But he argued campus police need far better training to handle sex assault cases. He has not done much yet to communicate that to the police agencies, but told the AJC he plans to do so.
“These are not specially trained officers. We have huge difficulties in the skill levels of these campus police departments that we deal with,” he said.
But Robert Connolly, interim police chief at Georgia Tech, countered that investigators on his campus police force each have 20 hours of training specifically on sexual assault cases.
“Look at our reports. Don’t they look thorough?” he asked.
Emory University Police Chief Craig Watson said his officers recently completed 32 hours of training apiece through a DeKalb rape crisis program.
“We take this very seriously,” Watson said.
The university system’s task force on sexual assaults at Georgia colleges is also examining the adequacy of training for campus police, along with the policies and procedures in place for victims and perpetrators, said Chancellor Hank Huckaby.
“We just want to do everything that we can to prevent any of these kinds of issues occurring on campus,” Huckaby told the AJC.
In a report updated this year, End Violence Against Women International outlined some best practices in training for law enforcement agencies handling sex assault cases. They included creating ways for women to report to police anonymously, establishing more third-party reporting and not asking victims about their willingness to prosecute until after an evidence-based investigation.
Having options and knowing where to turn would have been helpful to Garcia, the UGA student who’s spoken publicly about her experiences since graduating.
“I think people have to hear about it. I hope that by speaking out myself and other students, hopefully other people will speak out about their own experiences for other people to get the resources they need,” she said. “The fact that I had to go looking for something and that I didn’t really know what was available to me as a sophomore, involved student was problematic.”
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