Sleeping with the Enemy?
‘It was clearly evident that the incident was not a sexual assault.’
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
UTA defends giving a student accused of rape a job — on campus.
By HANNAH SEDDELMEYER
When a student at the University of Texas at Arlington told police that she had been raped and beaten unconscious by another student in May 2003, college officials took action. First, they determined that the reported attack didn’t indicate any other students might be in danger, and therefore declined to issue a public warning about a possible predator prowling the campus. And two weeks later — as the complaint was making its way to a grand jury to be investigated — they gave the alleged attacker a job as a resident assistant in the very dorm in which he had been accused of attacking the young woman.
The man, according to records obtained under the Texas Public Information Act, worked as a resident assistant (RA) for a year before the Tarrant County grand jury decided to take no action against him.
Despite the fact that the man was never arrested, charged, or prosecuted, questions remain about why the university would have put a person accused of a violent crime into a position of authority over other students.
UTA officials have defended their handling of the case, saying they don’t generally issue crime alerts when the accuser knows the accused and that their investigation discredited the allegation.
UTA police said after they investigated the incident and concluded it wasn’t “clear cut,” the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office also passed on the case, then referred the complaint to a grand jury for further review.
“When the district attorney’s office has a case that is not a clear-cut offense, they will put the case before a grand jury for them to hear all the facts, talk with the parties involved, and they then make a determination to issue an indictment or not,” said James Ferguson, UTA’s interim police chief. “The grand jury can also request additional investigative information before making a determination.”
Another UTA official defended the decision to hire the student as a paid mentor to other dorm residents even while he was under investigation.
“As a result of our investigations, it was clearly evident that the incident was not a sexual assault,” said John Hall, vice president for administration and campus operations at UTA. “We certainly would not have hired someone as an RA if we had any uncertainty concerning the incident in question.”
A former resident assistant who is familiar with this incident, as well as other rapes reported on campus, said that some sexual predators will deliberately befriend naïve students. Predators know, the former RA said, that a complaint filed by an acquaintance is handled as a date rape, with little or no consequences.
The student was accused of rape on May 4, 2003, and hired, according to UTA, as a resident assistant May 21, but the grand jury didn’t decide to close its investigation until slightly more than a year later — on May 28, 2004. Fort Worth Weekly reported in December 2004 that UTA officials had declined to issue a campus crime alert after the student reported she had been assaulted. The story, written by University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University journalism students as part of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’ Light of Day project, documented apparent widespread failure by Texas colleges to comply with a federal campus crime law. The Jeanne Clery Act requires campus police to publicly disclose crime information and issue alerts when students are in danger. As a result of the story, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation that is still going on.
It’s not clear what happened in the woman’s dorm room on the night in question. Neither the accused nor the accuser could be reached for comment. It’s also not clear from the available public records and interviews with UTA officials what caused law enforcement and a grand jury to question the woman’s account of the incident.
The student told campus police that her acquaintance, a fellow student she had met that semester, sexually assaulted her and knocked her unconscious after walking her home from a party at which she had been drinking. UTA police decided, as they have in similar cases, not to issue a campus-wide crime alert about the reported rape, apparently because the alleged attacker was known to the woman.
Under that criterion, according to rape crisis officials, UTA officials would decline to issue alerts in almost all rapes. Numerous studies show that most rapists do know their victims. Deborah Gardner of Women’s Center of Tarrant County said that 90 percent of women who are raped between the ages of 14 and 24 are assaulted by an acquaintance. Overall, 60 percent of all reported rape cases are acquaintance rapes.
“False reports of rape are rare,” Gardner said. Prosecution is sometimes made more difficult, she said, when drugs or alcohol were involved.
About 30 RAs live in five dorms on the UTA campus and serve as mentors and problem-solvers for other dormitory residents. They are paid about $90 a week, plus meals.
The Weekly filed an open record request with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office for records that would show the disposition of the woman’s complaint. Assistant district attorney Ashley Fourt responded with a letter saying no charge was filed in the case. “The Tarrant County grand jury merely conducted an investigation of the incident and on May 28, 2004, concluded that no further action be taken,” she wrote.
Why it took the grand jury a year to dismiss the allegation is not clear. Amy Cullum, the assistant district attorney who presented the case to the grand jury, said she could not comment about the specifics of the investigation. But grand juries, she said, sometimes take a case on “direct review” after a complaint, but no arrest, is made.
Hall would not comment on the former RA’s claim that some predators work by befriending students before assaulting them so their complaints would be treated as acquaintance rapes not subject to campus crime alerts.
The former RA said: “They know a flyer won’t be posted about them. These people know the system. They don’t want to get caught. Befriending [potential victims] is the best way to not get caught.”
Hannah Seddelmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christina Jancic contributed to this report. Both are students at the Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism at the University of North Texas. This story is part of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’s Light of Day Project.
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