UT student says school delivered only justice in sexual assault case

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A UT student who was the victim of rape told WATE 6 On Your Side that her school delivered the only justice in her case.

The conversation surrounding sexual assault has grown recently, sparked by the NFL, accusations out of the University of Virginia, the convictions at Vanderbilt and the recent indictments of two former UT football players.

Now many reports are taking aim at college campuses, saying the way they treat sexual assault cases is helping to keep attackers on the streets.

A 19-year-old UT student said she was raped by a friend’s coworker last October. WATE 6 On Your Side is calling the victim “Sue” to protect her identity.

Sue had just finished an exam and decided to spend the night at her friend’s apartment at the Tower at Morgan Hill. The majority of residents there are UT students, but because it’s off campus, the complex is not in UT Police Department’s jurisdiction.

The girls decided to celebrate the night by drinking.

“We split about a fifth of rum, and we’re both a little tipsy,” Sue said.

According to Sue, her attacker showed up at the apartment around 1 a.m.

“We have a few more beers at that point,” Sue said, “And things just get out of hand.”

Sue doesn’t remember what happened next, but hours later, she woke up.

“I wake up at about 7:00 and don’t remember anything that’s happened,” said Sue. “I feel like I’ve had sex, but I’m not sure.”

Confused and concerned about possible STDs, Sue went to the UT clinic and spoke with a campus police officer. Because the attack happened off campus, UTPD could not help with the investigation any further.

Sue was told she had two options: report it to KPD and/or UT’s Student Conduct.

“So I first decided I would do student conduct and that would just be because I was a student and he’s a student,” said Sue.

According to UT Vice Chancellor for Student Life Vincent Carilli, student misconduct cases can be handled three different ways: a hearing by the Student Conduct Hearing Board, an administrative hearing or an administrative procedures act hearing.

Sue’s case was heard by the Student Conduct Board which includes a panel of three student jurors. Ultimately, the case came down to whether or not the victim was able to give consent.

According to UT’s Student Code of Conduct, a student cannot give consent if they are intoxicated.

“I don’t think he realized the impact that had. He wouldn’t say I was asleep, but he wouldn’t deny that I was unconscious,” Sue explained.

Sue’s attacker was expelled from campus. The rape will show up in crime statistics, but there is no criminal record of it.

“The fact that he was expelled made me feel good, but his reaction to that… that he didn’t really care he was expelled. It made me feel like I wasn’t finished.”

Sue said her attacker’s reaction angered her.

“He’s going to be able to go out. He’s going to be able to get a job, be successful,” said Sue. “Nobody’s ever going to know that he sexually assaults women.”

One month after the attack, Sue went to the Knoxville Police Department and filed a report. Her case was sent to the District Attorney’s Office, but in the end, she was told there was not enough evidence for charges to be filed.

This is because UT’s burden of proof in student conduct cases is much lower than the state’s.

“[For] the university, having not said ‘yes’ was enough to say it wasn’t consent, but for the state, that wasn’t enough,” said Sue.

Sue later filed an order of protection against her attacker. She has not seen him since the UT student conduct hearing.

Four months after her attack, Sue has resumed her studies at UT. Now, she says, she has new plans to help other victims.

“I feel like I’m on the right path,” said Sue. “School’s going good so far as I can tell. And I’m heading toward a bright future with a medical degree and helping others like me in the future.”

UT Deputy Chief Emily Simerly teaches rape aggression classes and has handled a number of assault cases.

She says unresolved cases are all too common.

“The prosecution rate on our cases is very low,” she said.

Simerly says, unlike some campuses, UTPD can be the lead investigator on a rape case and present findings to the district attorney if the assault happened on campus.

WATE 6 On Your Side requested sexual assault reports made by UT students to university representatives from 2011-2014. UT clarified that not all reports made to the university result in a criminal report to the UT Police Department or another police agency.

UT pointed out that there are a variety of reasons why reports made by students do not result in Student Conduct cases or no one is found responsible in those cases. For example, UT says a student may no longer want to pursue charges, the accused is no longer a student or the investigation reveals there is not enough evidence to file a Student Conduct charge.

Thirty-six alleged sexual assaults were reported in 2014 to the university. Of those, five students were charged with violating the UT Student Code of Conduct. Ultimately, three students were found responsible. Two are currently in process.

“I anticipate that number increasing,” said Chief Deputy Emily Simerly. “I think people feel more comfortable with the process and they realize I want my information to be heard. I want people to be able to do something.”

The University of Tennessee sent the following email to students on February 25.

In recent weeks, there has been increased discussion about the campus process for responding to reports of sexual assault.

It is important that victims are able to trust that our campus will support them if they choose to report a sexual assault. Victims who report a sexual assault will receive support regardless of whether they pursue campus discipline against the perpetrator. We believe that it is important to share with you two pieces of information. First, statistics showing the types of help victims have received from the campus are available at https://tiny.utk.edu/careandsupport. In addition, we want to share with you statistics that show how many sexual assaults have been reported and what happened in those cases, including where the assaults occurred. The document available at https://tiny.utk.edu/sexualassaultreports will help us all understand more clearly the disposition of these cases that have been reported to the university.

All students must be able to trust that our process for investigating sexual assaults is fair and thorough and that it will not inflict additional trauma. The standard used in these investigations is referred to as “the preponderance of the evidence,” which simply stated means “Is it more likely than not that a violation occurred?” If the investigator finds that the evidence regarding an allegation of sexual assault is equally balanced, then the allegation has not been proven by a preponderance of the evidence and a student will not be charged with violating the Code of Conduct. Such a finding does not mean that a sexual assault did not occur.

By law, the Title IX coordinator is responsible for ensuring that investigations of sexual assault are conducted thoroughly. I recently referred a case to the Title IX coordinator for independent review and further investigation because of concerns about the thoroughness of the initial investigation. That was the appropriate action based on our interim policy on sexual misconduct. You can read the policy at https://tiny.utk.edu/interimpolicy.

People in multiple offices on our campus are diligently working to respond to reports of sexual assault, support victims, and provide educational programming to prevent sexual assault.

We are committed to moving forward with this work and recognize the legitimate challenges involved in situations that involve real people. Please remain engaged in the conversation and our ongoing efforts.

There are a variety of resources at UT to help victims of sexual assault.

Students may call the Sexual Assault Response Team at the Center for Health Education & Wellness at (865) 974-HELP (4357). Students or employees may call the Title IX coordinator at (865) 974-2498.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911 or UTPD at (865) 974-3111.

The Helen Ross McNabb Center’s Sexual Assault Center of East Tennessee‘s 24/7 crisis hotline is (865) 522-7273.

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