She convinced herself that his perception of their sex was different from hers. She knew she said no. She said no more than once.
“I stayed in denial,” she said. “I didn’t want to believe my friend of 3½ years could do this to me.”
Six months after the 23-year-old University of Toledo student was raped, she reported the near-campus incident to school officials, kicking off an investigation by the Student Conduct Board and, later, a second investigation by the university’s Title IX investigator.
In a little more than a month, the board would find the woman’s friend “responsible” — the university, noncriminal equivalent of guilty. His punishment: counseling and probation.
“It’s ludicrous. Like, what the hell?” the woman said. The Blade does not identify victims of sex-related crimes. “I was very upset because it’s like a total violation of my body.”
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The woman appealed the sanction and Kaye Patten Wallace, the university’s senior vice president for the student experience, agreed and ordered the perpetrator to be suspended for a year. The man appealed the suspension and the initial punitive action was reinstated.
“It seems ludicrous to find someone responsible for something as serious as rape and yet not have a serious punishment attached to it,” said Deb Stoll, director of the YWCA Northwest Ohio’s H.O.P.E. Center. She declined to comment on this specific case, but spoke generally about rape cases and punitive action.
In contrast, on Tuesday, Bowling Green State University announced a two-year suspension for William Houston, a university football player, who is facing attempted rape charges in Wood County Common Pleas Court. The BGSU Student Conduct Board found Mr. Houston, 19, of Mansfield, “responsible of sexual contact without permission” for a July 21 off-campus incident.
The victim in the University of Toledo case, working with End Rape on Campus, a Los Angeles-based group that helps students file federal Title IX and Clery Act complaints, expects to lodge formal complaints this week against UT, said Annie Clark, co-founder of the organization, who would not comment specifically on the exact nature of the complaints.
Advocates at End Rape on Campus helped the woman compile her complaint; the group has helped victims file nearly two dozen federal complaints against various universities since 2013.
Citing federal privacy laws, university officials also declined to comment on the University of Toledo case but, in general, said that sanctions for violating the student code of conduct vary and depend on individual complaints and incidents. Perpetrators of any conduct violation could face sanctions that range from a warning to expulsion.
Documents produced during rape investigations are shielded by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and, thereby, not releasable to the media or public, university officials said. The Blade obtained a copy of an investigatory report written by Kevin West, the university’s inclusion officer — the Title IX investigator — who, separate from the Student Conduct Board, investigates sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. Mr. West’s investigation was independent of the Student Conduct Board, but also determined that the perpetrator should be held accountable.
The Blade is not identifying the man because the case was not pursued criminally, a decision made by the victim. The victim did file a report with Toledo police, but decided to drop the case because she will be studying abroad this fall and did not want to be subpoenaed back to Toledo for court proceedings.
The night in question
On Sept. 26, the woman was ready to celebrate her release from the hospital after suffering from food poisoning for two weeks. She called her friend and proposed they get together to drink. She bought the drinks, with the promise he’d pay back half, and the two spent hours in his apartment drinking. At some point, he left to see a friend and she fell asleep on the couch.
When her friend returned to his apartment, the two went to bed with their backs toward each other. The woman said her friend moved her hip and forced his hand into her underwear.
“I haven’t had sex in about 10 months and I don’t want to,” she told him. He climbed on top of her. She tried to push him away, she said. She yelled, scratched a wall, she said no. She grabbed at his hands.
“Just one time,” he said.
“I said no so many times,” the woman told The Blade. “I just had to give up and let him do what he wanted to.”
The two had had sex before, the woman said, but it was consensual. They had sex again after, but it, too, was consensual.
“I think the most difficult thing about rape, especially acquaintance rape, is the want to understand why,” she said. “Why he did it and what could have been done to prevent it. Because when a friend takes your dignity and your spirit in that way, you’re left with immense confusion and pain and you don’t understand.”
To try to understand “why,” the woman maintained her friendship with the man. She convinced herself that he was scared or that “he really just wanted me.”
She never thought of it as rape.
In the weeks that followed her life spiraled: she started drinking more and was smoking marijuana. She dyed her hair, changed the way she dressed. When a man offered her $300 to give her oral sex, she accepted.
“I wanted some type of control,” she said.
She had anxiety attacks, she was fired from her job, she lived out of her car.
Late last year she started therapy. It wasn’t until she was told that she had been raped that she sought help from the university.
Rape culture that blames victims ingrains in those who do become victims that maybe the attack is their fault.
“It’s a very common reaction,” Ms. Stoll said. “ … We have to convince them sometimes that they are not [at fault] … Sexual assault and rape are the most victim-blaming crimes we have. People look at the victim and make the victim at fault for what happens to them. When that is the general reaction it makes it hard to come forward.”
Rape, as defined by the FBI, is, “The penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”
Ms. Stoll said about 20 percent of rapes of college-age people are reported. In 2010, three on-campus sex offenses were reported to the University of Toledo; two were reported in 2011; one was reported in 2012, according to university data.
How reports are handled
Colleges and universities have been scrutinized in recent years for the way they handle reports of sexual assault and rape. A report released in July, “Sexual Violence on Campus,” commissioned by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, an independent from Missouri, stated that many schools fail to comply with laws and best practices when responding to sexual violence.
The report, based on a survey of 440 four-year institutions, found that 40 percent of schools surveyed have not investigated a single rape report in the past five years. The report also stated that less than 5 percent of college students who are raped report the assault and that, as a result, many universities do not understand the prevalence of sexual assault.
Another major point against schools was confusion among students as to how to report sexual assault. University of Toledo officials said students have a variety of reporting options.
In the report, of sampled schools, 20 percent do not provide sexual assault response training for faculty and staff; 31 percent do not provide training for students. Officials at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University said numerous training opportunities are provided for students, faculty, and staff.
Reports of sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or rape can filter to the university’s Student Conduct Board or the Office of Inclusion. Residence advisers, for example, who live on campus in student housing, are required to report sexual assault if a student confides in them. Students also can make reports to city and campus police, to on-campus advocates — UT has five full-time advocates — off-campus advocates, or any university official. The university also has peer-to-peer educators.
The H.O.P.E. Center works with the University of Toledo to provide counseling and services to students who might feel more comfortable working with an off-campus advocate, Ms. Stoll said.
“I can say that the University of Toledo has reached out to us and we do partner with them,” Ms. Stoll said. “They have a good counseling program for students.”
The Student Conduct Board is made up of five people, a faculty member, a staff member, and three students. Appointment to the board is for one year. The same is true at Bowling Green State University.
Mary Martinez, the University of Toledo’s student conduct officer, said she goes through annual training and regular updates; she has visited other schools that are seen as having the best practices in investigating sexual assault.
Mr. West, the university’s inclusion officer, has been through Title IX and advanced Title IX training. Another investigator in human resources has gone through the initial Title IX training. Mr. West has a law degree from the University of Toledo.
“Both myself and Mary and others involved, we take this very seriously,” Mr. West said.
The woman who was assaulted by her friend left the University of Toledo after the attack, she said. She planned to finish her degree at a university in her hometown. Her anxiety, she said, was amplified in June when she received a copy of Mr. West’s report.
She claims her words were twisted and the report contains inaccurate information. In the last page of the 19-page report, Mr. West wrote that the rape was a “nonconsensual sexual encounter which is not serious enough to warrant the extreme punishment [the victim] has requested.” (Expulsion.) Because the suspect had a “relatively clean criminal record [he] is not a danger to the University community,” the report states.
The report also states that the perpetrator is more credible because his story did not change. The perpetrator was interviewed once; the victim was interviewed three times.
Mr. West also wrote that the victim was too easily able to remember, in chronological order, what happened during the attack. Because the duo had been drinking, he reasoned the victim should not have had such a clear memory.
The victim said university officials suggested that she file two additional sexual assault complaints because other times she and the perpetrator had sex, she was drunk. In Mr. West's report, he cautioned the victim against filing false charges.
The Student Code of Conduct and Title IX investigations, without a rape kit or other physical evidence, show the difficulty investigators face when handling “he-said-she-said” cases.
The man accused of rape told Mr. West that the victim never asked him to stop having sex, only “to go slow.” Both the man and woman told investigators they had a history of drinking, smoking marijuana, and then having sex.
Still, because investigators determined that “consent was withdrawn” by the woman and the man did not comply, that the university’s sexual assault policy was violated and the man was found “responsible.”
“Clearly he’s responsible but you want to call it ‘nonconsensual sexual encounter’? It hurts to read that,” the woman said.