San Diego Union-Tribune (Sunday)



For months, most people did not know that a 17-year-old girl reported she’d been raped at an offcampus house party near San Diego State University last fall.

She cooperated with the police investigat­ion. She underwent the intensity of a rape exam. She saw a therapist, she journaled, she switched her senior year of high school from on-campus to virtual. She said she developed an eating disorder.

And she waited.

The allegation­s that took shape: Gang rape by SDSU football players. Police reassured her they were investigat­ing. But months passed without updates, she said.

Then out of nowhere, in June, media reports revealed the reported rape and that San Diego

State had deferred investigat­ing the allegation­s of misconduct by student athletes.

And a teenage girl was suddenly overwhelme­d. Part of her was grateful to know that there was still movement in the case.

“But the other part of me was very uncomforta­ble with the world being able to read about something so personal, especially since it wasn’t coming from me.”

In late July, the now 18year-old went public with her story, speaking to media outlets, sharing details of what she said happened that night and the months that followed with no word from investigat­ors or school officials.

On Thursday, San Diego police submitted their ninemonth investigat­ion to the District Attorney’s Office to review. No one has been arrested, and it’s unclear if criminal charges will be filed.

The university said it would open an internal investigat­ion.

Two federal laws — Title IX and the Clery Act — are designed to ensure that young people are protected against crimes such as sexual violence. Experts say that while the university may not have been required to launch an investigat­ion because of the specific nature of the described rape — the young woman was not a student at the college and the reported incident didn’t happen at a campus location — the university’s obligation to do what it can to keep students safe remained.

Experts say it is not uncommon for police department­s to ask universiti­es to stand down while they look into serious incidents. But waiting could put the safety of students at risk.

“What if this were to happen again and the school is on notice ... and they didn’t do anything about it the first time they found out about the assault?” said attorney Shiwali Patel from the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C.

Agonizing aftermath

According to the young woman, an acquaintan­ce posted something on social media about a Saturday night house party, so she and her friends, who were already out, decided to swing by. The Union-tribune generally does not name alleged victims of sexual assault.

Halloween was approachin­g, and she was in a fairy costume. She was already intoxicate­d when a man approached. He made small talk, he offered her a drink, she said, and he led her to a room.

Several men were there, she said. She said she was thrown face down on the bed.

She said she was in and out of consciousn­ess as men assaulted her. Her belly and nose piercings were ripped out.

Her friends had been looking for her. She said she stumbled out of the room, bloodied and bruised.

“I was super out of it. I was crying. I had blood all over my face and body and costume,” she said. Her friends bombarded her with questions. She told them she had been raped.

She asked them to take her home. A friend went with her to a police station a day later, on Monday, where she called the nonemergen­cy dispatch line and was placed on hold. It took four hours before an officer responded.

“The officer I talked to was actually amazing, so kind and so very supportive,” she said.

She turned over her costume and underwent a “really traumatizi­ng” rape exam — swabs and flash pictures and videos, tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitte­d diseases.

She used the officer’s phone to call her father and ask him to come to Rady Children’s Hospital. When he got there, she told him why. “To see my dad freaked out in tears after giving him that news was really, really rough,” she said.

She cooperated with police as they investigat­ed. But after about two months, she said, the communicat­ion withered. When she asked for updates, “they would tell me they were trying to be as thorough as possible and that there was nothing, no informatio­n they could give me.”

She waited. On campus, rumors were flying.

Within three days of the alleged rape, the girl’s father spoke with a University Police Department official about it. He thought that conversati­on meant he was reporting it. The school did not see it that way, saying that while a family member had contacted police, that relative had not filed an official police report.

On Oct. 19, San Diego police told university officials they were investigat­ing the off-campus incident and asked the school to hold off on any internal inquiries for fear of compromisi­ng the criminal investigat­ion. The school agreed to stand down.

“Ignoring SDPD’S request could have caused irreversib­le harm: Potential suspects might have destroyed evidence, there could have been collusion among suspects or witnesses, and survivors could have been harassed or harmed further,” the university said this week.

San Diego police officials said Thursday that, by waiting, the college safeguarde­d the department’s investigat­ion.

Plus, the school said, it did not have the alleged victim’s name until late last month, and no witnesses had stepped forward.

Several people reached out to the school about the incident through an anonymous system called Realrespon­se. San Diego State officials said the students were not witnesses to the reported rape, but the school forwarded their statements to San Diego police.

Realrespon­se is a tool that allows student athletes to communicat­e with the school anonymousl­y on a host of issues, including incidents of sexual misconduct. The university was not immediatel­y able to say how many messages it receives through Realrespon­se every year or how many result in school investigat­ions.

As the school year rolled on, San Diego police said they were investigat­ing.

More than 20 investigat­ive personnel worked on the case, resulting in nearly 200 hours of overtime. Detectives obtained and executed 10 search warrants, interviewe­d multiple witnesses, examined physical evidence and reviewed more than 3 terabytes of digital evidence.

According to San Diego police statistics, 571 rapes were reported across the city last year. The rape clearance rate, which measures how often cases are solved by arrest or closed because of circumstan­ces outside the control of investigat­ors, was 10.5 percent.

The national rape clearance average in 2019, the year data is most recently available, was about 33 percent. San Diego’s rape clearance rate that year was 20.5 percent.

Beyond Title IX

On Monday, the school said it would open its own administra­tive inquiry into the allegation­s because police told them it would not interfere with the criminal investigat­ion.

On a webpage SDSU set up to answer questions about this particular case, the university said it has begun exploring whether any of its policies were violated and will review “all known and confirmed informatio­n and evidence through the lens of SDSU and CSU (California State University) policies.”

That process will go beyond the “confines of Title IX” and will look at policies related to discrimina­tion, harassment, sexual misconduct and violence, the school said.

Title IX prohibits discrimina­tion on the basis of sex in any educationa­l institutio­n that receives federal funding. Title IX investigat­ions look at policy violations — not criminal acts — and could result in disciplina­ry action including expulsion.

Title IX doesn’t seem to apply here. The alleged victim is not a student, and the incident happened at an offcampus party. Two attorneys who are Title IX specialist­s said that means the school would have been required to dismiss a Title IX complaint.

Still, the spirit of the statute should be in play, said Patel from the National Women’s Law Center.

“That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be taking steps,” Patel said of the university.

The allegation “very much has a real impact on students and they should be taking steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

Attorney Brett Sokolow said while the school would be required to dismiss the claim, the school could open an investigat­ion “if they think there is a clear danger.”

And sometimes a school will take action “not because it has an obligation, but there will be a hue and cry if they don’t react because of the public expectatio­n.”

Plus, he said, if an incident is deemed to be outside of Title IX jurisdicti­on, the school has more latitude to act than it would for an investigat­ion specific to Title IX.

Relatedly, the Clery Act requires that universiti­es send timely warnings to its students when certain crimes are committed that pose a serious or ongoing threat to the campus community.

However, the law is only invoked when crimes such as murder and sexual assault happen on campus properties, adjacent to campus properties or at certain noncampus locations, including those owned or controlled by recognized student organizati­ons.

The reported rape did not occur at one of these locations, officials have said.

A pivotal time

The allegation­s and the subsequent investigat­ions come at a pivotal time for the college and its athletics department. The university is about a month away from opening Snapdragon Stadium, which is being built at the site of the old San Diego Stadium in Mission Valley. Advertisin­g for the new stadium includes trolley wraps featuring Aztec football players.

And this summer USC and UCLA announced they will be leaving the Pac-12 Conference for the Big Ten — moves that could open up new opportunit­ies for the Aztecs, who are part of the Mountain West conference.

On Tuesday, a few days before fall camp was to kick off, head football coach Brady Hoke said that the team and its staff will assist the rape investigat­ion in any way they can, and that their “hearts go out truly to the victim.”

“Being a father myself, joined by others on the staff, we will not tolerate this type of alleged behavior within our football program,” he added.

Officials have not released any suspect names or informatio­n about whether any are current or former football players.

 ?? NELVIN C. CEPEDA U-T ?? Members of the San Diego State Aztecs football team started their first practice of the fall camp on Friday.
NELVIN C. CEPEDA U-T Members of the San Diego State Aztecs football team started their first practice of the fall camp on Friday.

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