IN 1997, I was sexually assaulted by a fellow student at the University of Virginia. At a closed hearing, the university’s committee on sexual assault found him responsible. His punishment? A letter in his file.
It’s not clear how many women have won their cases through the university’s system since they were first allowed to enroll as undergraduates in 1970. I am one of the women who won, but winning wasn’t really winning, was it?
The hearing on my case took place in March 1998, two months after a criminal trial that ended in disappointment and frustration for me when the judge dismissed the charge that the Commonwealth of Virginia had filed against my attacker.
OK, the criminal case:
In May 1997, after a preliminary hearing, a local grand jury formally indicted the man who sexually assaulted me. The commonwealth attorney in charge of prosecuting the case asked me to refrain from pursuing a complaint at the university until after the criminal trial. In January 1998, halfway through my third year, I took the stand as a witness in the criminal case. I sat in front of a judge, the jury and a courtroom packed with university students and locals, including my friends, some of his friends and fraternity brothers, as well as both of our families and a sexual assault education coordinator from the university’s women’s center, who was there to support me, not as a representative of the school.
My whole body shook as I testified. I was on the stand for a few hours, answering questions about how much alcohol I had drunk and whether or not I had been aroused during the assault. Responding to an archaic system that put my credibility on trial, the prosecutor had three character witnesses testify on my behalf. Experts were called to the stand to discuss the evidence, including my physical state and the presence of tranquilizing drugs in my system.
After the prosecution rested, the defense made a motion to strike the commonwealth’s case. The judge granted the motion, dismissing the charge. My attacker’s fraternity brothers cheered. The judge concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the defendant knew that I was incapacitated and that he was acting against my will. The defense never had to call a single witness. The man who assaulted me walked away.
OK, investigation, charge, trial, no case to answer. The solution to this is?
In the late 1990s, I followed the rules, spoke up and fought for a place within both the criminal and university systems, but found no justice in either. The university listened and believed me, but did nothing about it other than a meaningless letter in a long forgotten file. They didn’t care that I had to walk past my attacker’s Lawn room on the way to class, that I felt physically sick when I saw him on the grounds.
Many people believe that university sexual assault hearings are fatally flawed, and that these cases should be handled by criminal courts. Despite my experience at the University of Virginia, I disagree. The burden of proof in a criminal trial is often unattainable in typical sexual assault cases, where the assault occurs between people who know each other, in private quarters with no witnesses, often with alcohol involved. Many colleges, including the University of Virginia, use definitions of sexual assault that differ from those of the legal jurisdictions of which they are a part. The burden of proof on college campuses, typically framed as a preponderance of evidence, is more realistic.
The punishment for a guilty verdict in a criminal setting is jail time; the punishment for being held “responsible” on a college campus should be expulsion.
she wants people to be punished without there having been proved that a crime took place nor that the accused committed the crime?
Shit, let’s just bring back the ducking stool why don’t we?