College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim Even after reporting her rape to campus security, Margaux found the school reluctant to punish her assailant. And she didn't feel safe with him still on campus. So she took her case to the federal level.
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College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim

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College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim

College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Yesterday, we introduced you to a woman who told campus police she had been raped by a fellow student. Her complaint then went to a campus judicial proceeding.

NPR's investigative team worked with reporters at the Center for Public Integrity. And our investigation shows that campus discipline systems rarely expel men when they're found responsible for a sexual assault. To make matters worse, women haven't been able to count on help from the government oversight agency, either.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro has part two of our story.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Margaux walked the campus at Indiana University, scared. She'd startle if she saw someone who resembled the classmate she said raped her. One month before, she'd come back to her dorm, drunk. She said a man who lived down the hall came into her room and raped her as she passed in and out of consciousness. The man would say the sex was consensual. Now, Margaux and that man were called together to attend a campus judicial hearing.

On a college campus, this isn't a formal legal process, like a court of law. It fell to two campus administrators to sort out the truth by asking the accused and the accuser for their sides of the story. The hearing quickly turned chaotic. Margaux was in one room with a speaker phone. The man, with his father, was in a room on another floor, and started calling Margaux names.

MARGAUX: It was just a shouting match, then he's trying to call me - called me a slut. And his dad, who was not supposed to speak, starts talking and saying, these college girls have one-night stands all the time.

SHAPIRO: Documents show the accused man had left a trail of trouble. Another woman said he tried to rape her in her bed, but she'd fought him off. And the man, a freshman like Margaux, had been arrested and charged with a felony for beating up a male student.

The man Margaux accuses did not answer NPR's requests for an interview. Officials at Indiana University cited student privacy laws, and also declined to be interviewed. After the hearing ended, Margaux waited in the room with the speaker phone. An hour later, the hearing officer came to explain.

MARGAUX: So the door opens, he comes in. He sits on one side of me. I remember him saying and he used the word rape and he said, I know that he raped you, and then he went back up on what he said. He said, I believe you, I know that that happened.

SHAPIRO: The campus official told Margaux the man had been found responsible for an offense called inappropriate sexual conduct while the two of them were drunk. Campus disciplinary procedures are run by educators, not by lawyers. And educators tend to think less in terms of justice, and look for what they call teachable moments.

Documents show the man Margaux accused continued to insist the sex was consensual. But he did admit to having a drinking problem, and that was a teachable moment for the hearing officer.

MARGAUX: He tells me that - that my rapist was crying and admitting that he's an alcoholic. And I remember him saying, I think we really made a breakthrough.

SHAPIRO: As a result, the punishment was light. It was already finals week of spring term. The man was suspended through the summer semester. He was told he could return in the fall if he stayed away from Margaux, and got counseling and alcohol treatment.

NPR's investigation found that most men found responsible for campus sexual assault get only mild punishment. Reporters at the Center for Public Integrity obtained a database of about 130 colleges and universities that got federal grants because they wanted to do a better job dealing with sexual assault. Even when men at those schools were found responsible for sexual assault, only 10 to 25 percent got expelled. Margaux expected the man she accused to be expelled.

MARGAUX: Of course, the sentence was weak and horrible. But the fact that I had to sit there and listen to this guy tell me that he was feeling bad for the guy who just raped me - not only raped me, but was completely unapologetic. And he, what? He breaks down and cries and this guy is telling me how bad - he's telling me how bad he feels for the guy who just raped me. I mean, it's just, that's really what broke me down the most. And it just made me feel really defeated, which - I was already feeling defeated.

SHAPIRO: A few days later, a dean overrode the hearing officers, and extended the suspension to last one full year. Still, Margaux couldn't stand the thought that she'd be on the same campus again with the man. So, like large numbers of women who take sexual assault charges to campus judicial hearings, she dropped out of school.

EVA: This was a purely predatory crime.

SHAPIRO: That's Margaux's mother, Eva. NPR has agreed to use first names to protect the family's privacy.

EVA: A man waiting in the wee hours of the night for a woman to come in who he could overpower - and that's exactly what he did. You believe the victim - and you're going to suspend him, and force this victim to look for another school? It's unfathomable.

SHAPIRO: Margaux's family took another route that's available to women, but rarely used. They asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Indiana University, for the way it handled the sexual assault, as a violation of Title IX.

You probably know Title IX as the federal law that requires equality in men's and women's sports teams. But the law is broader than that. It says that any school that takes federal funding cannot discriminate against women. And that means putting an end to sexual harassment.

EVA: You know, our OCR complaint was really our best hope of effecting any meaningful change.

SHAPIRO: The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, opened an investigation. Margaux argued that it created a hostile environment for her to be on the same campus as the man who'd been found responsible for assaulting her. But the department concluded that Indiana University did not need to expel the man.

Between 1998 and 2008, the Office for Civil Rights ruled against just five universities out of 24 complaints. There were no punishments, just orders to universities to improve their disciplinary procedures. That's according to the documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Russlynn Ali is assistant secretary of education for civil rights. Presented with those numbers, she says her office will be more aggressive. She says she's prepared to use strong sanctions that have not been used in the past.

Ms. RUSSLYNN ALI (Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights): We will use all of the tools at our disposal, including referring to justice or withholding federal funds, to ensure that women are free from sexual violence.

SHAPIRO: Ali says she can't speak specifically about Margaux's case.

Ms. ALI: What I can say is if a similar fact pattern presented itself now, we would work closely with university officials to make sure that that woman was protected from a hostile environment at any point during her tenure at the university - and that the behavior change, that other women were not subject to similar acts of violence.

SHAPIRO: Still, that will come too late for Margaux and her family. Margaux's mother, Eva, has become a national anti-rape activist. She's gone back to Indiana to work with a new county prosecutor, who has improved the treatment of rape victims. Margaux is trying to get her life back on track. She's enrolled in a college in Chicago.

As for the man found responsible for attacking her, he dropped out of Indiana University, too. Now, he's going to school in Chicago as well; he lives not far away. Margaux still startles when she sees someone on the street who resembles him.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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