Campus Rape Ignored . . . . . Even When There's a Videotape



by Cindy Hanford, Chapter and State Development Staff
 
 

Women are well aware of the methods used to keep them silent about rape:  the justice system's reluctance to prosecute rapists, even when the evidence is overwhelming; the disbelief that survivors often face; and the insensitive and humiliating treatment women experience when they come forward.

All of these factors are compounded when rapes occur on college campuses because campus administrators and college police are determined to protect the image of their school—a safe campus image that will attract new students and more money.  And that means administrators often discourage women from reporting rapes to local law enforcement, and either covertly handle as internal matters what should be criminal investigations or overtly punish women who speak out.


College Women at Risk

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, young women (ages 16-24) are most at risk of being raped.  A study published in American College Health (September 1997) found that one out of every five young women surveyed reported they had been forced to have sexual intercourse. Yet even the largest universities report only a few sexual assaults per year, despite the requirement to report serious crimes on campus under the Campus Security Act of 1990. The general public may believe their local campus is a safe place, but in reality many young men have been sent the message that they can rape without consequence. Administrators often convince sexual assault victims to utilize the college's disciplinary system by promising that the matter will be handled quietly, an inducement not offered by civil authorities.

"College disciplinary boards have no business adjudicating rape cases. They should be turned over to the criminal justice system," argues NOW’s Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, a former prosecutor.  "These boards do not have the training or the authority to be judges, and even if they should hold a student responsible, expulsion or suspension from college is hardly an appropriate punishment for the crime of rape."


School Favors Football Players

While a student at Virginia Tech in September 1994, Christy Brzonkala reported she was raped by two football players.  In an academic disciplinary hearing, the university found one athlete not guilty; the other was found guilty and suspended for two semesters.  But the school later reversed its decision—just in time for him to rejoin the football team for its fall opening game and regain a full athletic scholarship.  Once the school exonerated both players, Brzonkala sued the athletes and the school for violating her civil rights under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  Brzonkala's suit also sought to prevent Virginia Tech from ever again privately adjudicating felonious sexual assault and argued that the preferential treatment given to male athletes was a violation of Title IX.

In July 1996, Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the U.S. District Court of Western Virginia ruled in the Brzonkala case that the VAWA civil rights remedy was unconstitutional.  (Kiser is the same judge who ruled that the Virginia Military Institute could remain all male—a ruling the Supreme Court overturned.)  The judge also ruled against Brzonkala's Title IX claims. Julie Goldscheid, an attorney at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, argued the appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Kiser's ruling on the VAWA claims, but sent the Title IX claims back to the district court.  A petition has been filed for the U.S. Supreme Court to review the VAWA civil rights remedy; their decision on whether or not to review the case should be made sometime this fall.  The NOW Foundation has signed amicus briefs in the case, Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Federal courts in other states have upheld the constitutionality of VAWA's civil rights remedy.


Woman Arrested After Reporting Rape

In the early morning hours of Feb. 27, Lisa Gier King and another woman performed as exotic dancers during a Delta Chi fraternity party at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The police reportedly received an anonymous call that a woman was about to be raped at the fraternity house and responded to the call, but left without searching the house. King charged that she was later raped by fraternity member Mike Yahraus while two or more men watched, assisted and videotaped the rape.  After the attack, King ran naked to another fraternity house and called her mother who called the University Police Department (UPD).  King was taken to a hospital on a stretcher in a neck brace.

On March 1, less than two days after the report was filed, the UPD arrested, handcuffed and took Lisa King to jail for "falsifying a police report."  The UPD (and later the state attorney’s office) maintained that the video (edited by Delta Chi members) demonstrated consensual sex even though the word "rape" is chanted several times.  King claimed that Yahraus said he would "break her neck" if she fought.

According to University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College (UF/SFCC) NOW chapter members who have seen the tape, it appears that King is being choked as Yahraus asks, "What do you want?  Your circulation back?"  The men titled their tape "The raping of a white-trash, crackhead bitch."


Judge Releases Video of Assault

On March 29, four men implicated in the rape were interviewed together by the state attorney’s office, allowing them to corroborate their stories, and were granted immunity on their testimony. Then, in May, Alachua County Circuit Judge Chester Chance released the video tape, ruling that it is a public record in a criminal case, but that he found no evidence of sexual assault against King. Florida State Attorney Rod Smith’s office handed out free copies of the video to the press and allegedly to anyone who requested it.  Later, a man offered it for sale on the Internet as a "Live frat rape tape."

Smith had originally said that he would prosecute King and the fraternity members identified from the tape with "assignation for sex" and King for performing as an exotic dancer without a license. After pressure from the campus NOW chapter, Smith eventually said that he would not pursue false report charges because he did not want to discourage women from filing sexual assault reports.

In April, Smith allegedly offered to drop prostitution charges against King if she would sign a statement that she would not sue any law enforcement agency. King refused and in July,  pled guilty to operating an escort service without a license in exchange for having prostitution and lewdness charges dropped; she received six months probation.

Smith’s office has never interviewed King and has reportedly done nothing about the rape charges. The press reported that Smith stated the evidence could not sustain a rape charge since King’s testimony was not reliable because she had consumed too much alcohol—an ironic claim since this would indicate that she was too incapacitated to give consent. The men were also inebriated, but were judged capable of clear recall.


NOW Chapter Demands Justice for King

The UF/SFCC NOW chapter has held weekly pickets of Smith's office to protest his handling of the King case.  The chapter has organized more than 25 pickets (seventeen at Smith’s office, five at the UPD, one at a disciplinary hearing for Delta Chi, and one at an Eighth Judicial Circuit dinner attended by Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth). King, her mother and members of the Gainesville Area NOW chapter assisted with the latter picket.

UF/SFCC NOW has gathered nearly 3,000 signatures on petitions demanding that the state attorney’s office investigate the UPD’s handling of the case, that King receive a formal apology, and that UF hire more rape victim advocates and earmark more money for rape prevention and victim services. Four other women have complained to the chapter about Smith's mishandling of their rape cases, and the chapter has filed a complaint against Smith with the Florida Bar. The university's sole action has been to suspend the fraternity from campus for three years.

"By arresting Lisa, the police reminded us that when we come forward to report rape, not only will we not be believed, our character and behavior will be scrutinized in a sexist manner," comments UF/SFCC NOW chapter president Candi Churchill.  "We may actually be arrested and humiliated like a criminal."


What You Can Do

UF/SFCC NOW asks for your help in demanding a thorough investigation into the Delta Chi rape by contacting State Attorney Rod Smith at 352-374-3670; Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth at 850-487-1963 and Attorney General Janet Reno at 202-514-4609. The chapter has a packet of materials to assist chapters who wish to work on this issue. Send donations or requests for materials to: UF/SFCC NOW Rape Action Committee; P.O. Box 2235; Gainesville, FL 32602-2235; or send e-mail to ufsfccNOW@juno.com.

(See conference resolution "Fighting Campus Rapes."  To keep up-to-date on this case, check out the web site www.mindspring.com/~krypto/DeltaChi.html).

Many thanks to Candi Churchill for her assistance with this article and to the University of Florida/Santa Fe Community College NOW chapter for their work to end sexual assault on campus. NOW recognizes the controversy surrounding the publishing of the names of rape victims. In the above two cases, the women’s names had previously become widely publicized.

Some good news: The Higher Education Act passed in 1998 provided funding for campus sexual assault prevention programs and to improve campus security. Schools risk financial fines for non-reporting or delinquent reporting of campus crime statistics. But advocates must be vigilant and expose colleges which are not in compliance with the reporting requirements.



Return to Fall 1999 National NOW Times
 Return to NOW Home Page / Search NOW site / Catalog / Send mail to NOW / Join NOW