Crime & Courts

Furman University botched investigation into alleged rape, lawsuit says

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The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday that women who accuse someone of sexual misconduct deserve to be heard, even if it involves President Donald Trump.

Two former Furman University students say the school botched an investigation into a rape allegation in 2017, court documents show.

The complaints come from both the female accuser and the accused, neither of whom are named in a federal lawsuit filed by the woman. The accuser said the university dragged its feet in conducting the investigation and shared sensitive material with the accused’s attorney. The male student said the university ignored crucial, exonerating evidence before suspending him for three and a half years.

The case, which was filed in May but is still ongoing, underscores a nationwide debate on consensual sex, the #metoo movement and how colleges weigh the rights of the accused versus the accuser.

The alleged rape occurred after the two were drinking at a party together and later went to the woman’s house, according to the lawsuit filed against Furman, the male student and the male student’s fraternity Beta Theta Pi. Both agree they had sex, but disagree on whether it was consensual.

Medical experts who examined the accuser’s bruises were split. One sexual assault nurse examiner — a type of nurse who specializes in treating sexual assault survivors — said the bruises were most likely the result of a sexual assault. However, a second examiner said the bruises were “absolutely consistent with both consensual and non-consensual sex,” according to court documents.

The male student slept over and left early the next morning for a ceremony at his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi. Minutes after he left, the two had a conversation via text. That conversation, the defense argues in its response to the lawsuit, exonerates the male student but was buried in the final report of the school’s investigation.

Here is what the texts said, verbatim:

  • Jane Roe: Text me when you make it back

  • John Doe: I’m alive. We have a ritual rn (3 face with tears of joy emojis)

  • Jane Roe: Good! I found your underwear. I’ll get it to you sometime this week A ritual? (one

    face with tears of joy emoji

    )

  • John Doe: I don’t know how I made it But I did

  • Jane Roe: I’m glad you did Only you and I should know about this okay?

  • John Doe: I am 100% aware of that

  • Jane Roe: Perfect I just thought I would double check The last thing we need is drama

  • John Doe: Nah drama is bad no drama

“The only reasonable explanation for those text messages is exactly what Mr. Doe would later tell Furman—that he and Ms. Roe consensually cheated on their significant others, and Ms. Roe wanted to make sure that no one found out about that,” the defense argued in court filings.

Attorneys for the accused point to testimony from the accuser’s roommate, who was in the next room when the alleged rape happened and who testified she did not hear the accuser say “no” as the accuser alleged. Further, the defense argues that the accuser’s story has changed multiple times since she originally reported the alleged rape.

However, court documents show university investigators still found the accused guilty of sexual assault because of a documented phenomenon where sexual assault survivors often have fragmented or incomplete memories of the attack or may act in counter-intuitive ways after an assault.

To bolster this point, attorneys for the accuser said she sought a psychiatrist and a therapist and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident, court documents show.

Unlike the criminal justice system, Furman University, and many other colleges, do not require the accused to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, many colleges use a “preponderance of evidence standard,” which means there is a greater than 50 percent chance the claim is true, according to Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute.

Even though Furman ruled in favor of the accuser, her attorneys allege in court documents the university acted with “deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s report of sexual misconduct and harassment.”

For one, the accuser’s attorneys allege Furman released private medical records to the accused’s attorney and an expert witness without the accuser’s consent. Her attorney alleges the accused’s attorney was also given access to “confidential and sensitive” parts of the information and was allowed to submit evidence less than a week before the school held its hearing to determine whether the student engaged in sexual misconduct, court documents show.

A spokesman for Furman University referred questions to the school’s attorney, Kevin Dunlap of the Spartanburg-based Parker Poe law firm. Dunlap did not comment on the specifics of the case, but emailed the following statement:

“Federal student privacy requirements prohibit the university or its representatives from commenting on the specifics of this case or correcting any factual inaccuracies. Furman takes very seriously any and all claims of sexual misconduct, and it stands behind its handling of the matter underlying this lawsuit. The University disagrees with the allegations against it and has responded to them in its filings,” Dunlap said.

Attorneys for the accused declined to comment. Attorneys for the accuser did not respond to multiple voicemails and emails seeking comment.

Lucas Daprile has been covering the University of South Carolina and higher education since March 2018. Before working for The State, he graduated from Ohio University and worked as an investigative reporter at TCPalm in Stuart, FL. There, where he won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his political and environmental coverage.
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