UVA Under Investigation for Handling of Sexual Misconduct Case
The University of Virginia is under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling a sexual misconduct case. The victim says she was drugged and raped by another student. Now that victim's attorney, James Marsh, is sitting down with NBC29.
Marsh says UVA Medical Center staff lost or destroyed critical evidence needed for his client’s sexual misconduct hearing, evidence that may have kicked the accused perpetrator out of UVA for good.
"There's a sense of betrayal not only by their victimization by fellow students but there's a sense of institutional betrayal," he stated.
The federal complaint says University of Virginia Medical Center staff lost photographs taken by the sexual assault nurse examiner and there were inconsistencies in the descriptions of the victim’s injuries.
Marsh says not having that critical evidence left his client without justice and a rapist on grounds. Now, two and half years after the incident, he says the victim is still waiting to find out if UVA violated Title IX - a law that requires gender equity for men and women in every education program that receives federal funding.
According to the complaint, third-year UVA student “Jane Doe” was raped during the early morning hours of December 2, 2011, in the suspect’s apartment.
Marsh stated, "It was a fairly calculated and brutal attack on this woman."
Doe's life at UVA changed that night after meeting a fellow student at a debate society meeting. In an authenticated online post originally published in UVA's student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, Doe writes: "He offered me a beer. The next thing I could remember was waking up in a sun-light room, naked, in pain, next to him."
According to Marsh, a drug may have been used. "We believe that she was drugged using a date rape drug and she was pretty viciously raped by this person."
On December 5, she reported the rape to Nicole Eramo, the chair of the university's sexual misconduct board. That same day Doe went to the Martha Jefferson Hospital emergency room for treatment. In the following days she was tested for AIDS at the UVA Student Health Center and reported the rape to the Charlottesville Police Department.
The complaint shows that on December 8, Charlottesville police took her to the UVA Medical Center, where she underwent an exam by Kathryn Laughon, a sexual assault nurse examiner.
"It’s a fairly graphic process of making these images, with dye and special cameras and an intrusive examination." Marsh said.
Marsh says when the time came around for the Doe's sexual misconduct hearing, the photographs taken during the exam were nowhere in sight.
"There was a long process of trying to figure out where are the images, who has them, where did they come from, were they made, where were they kept?" Marsh stated.
Marsh says that's not the only place where things went wrong. According to the complaint, Laughon wasn’t consistent in describing the injuries. Documents state Laughon told the victim's mother there was “a jagged tear of the hymen.” But, later she told Eramo that there were “no injuries.”
The complaint also claims Eramo shared confidential medical records from another medical facility with Laughon. It states: "Laughon accessed protected medical information to which she was not entitled, and shared protected medical information without consent of the victim." The complaint further explains there is to be no sharing of information with individuals other than those to whom the victim has given written authorization.
According to the complaint, the records didn't all make it to the university-run sexual misconduct hearing, including photographs that Marsh says were crucial for his client to seek justice.
Eramo did acknowledge their importance. "Sometimes those medical records or photographs can be very helpful," she stated.
UVA isn't alone; it is one of 55 schools being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Click here for more information and a list of the schools that are under investigation.
Eramo says since the start of UVA's academic year, 31 students have come to her office to talk about a sexual misconduct incident. Nine of them have filed a complaint with the university, formal or informal, and some of those victims aren't staying silent. UVA Victims of Rape is a website devoted to issue.
Emily Renda was raped four years ago, just six weeks into her freshman year at UVA.
"I definitely didn't feel that what happened was anybody else's fault but mine for a very long time and that really limited my motivation to report or go forward,” she stated.
Renda has devoted several years at UVA to educating others about sexual violence, even serving on a White House task force aimed at preventing sexual assaults on campus. As for UVA being under federal investigation, she says, "It’s a great opportunity for intense scrutiny of not only our policies, our procedures but as students, how we treated each other."
One of those policies is UVA's student honor code. It says that if you lie, cheat, or steal, you'll be kicked out of the university. So what about sexual misconduct? When asked if anyone had ever been expelled for that, Eramo said, “not in my 10 years here.”
UVA staff wouldn't comment on the case, however, they did later send a statement in an email. It reads in part: “the university has been working with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights since summer of 2011 on its review of our policies and practices in the area of Title IX/sexual misconduct. The university has worked to provide OCR any information needed, and will continue to do so." Click here to read the full statement.
As for the suspect, Marsh says he later became a teaching assistant at the university. While NBC29 cannot confirm or deny the accuracy of the statement, a spokesman with UVA says if a student goes through a hearing process and is found not responsible, then the case is closed.
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Thursday, July 24 2014 5:06 PM EDT2014-07-24 21:06:07 GMT
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