Kate’s first few weeks at the University of Georgia were the typical freshman experience. While learning to navigate her new home and start college classes, she also made time to explore Athens and make new friends.
But in the middle of the excitement, Kate reported she was raped by a fellow freshman in a dorm.
Kate reported the incident to the Equal Opportunity Office at UGA a few weeks after it happened. As the ensuing internal university investigation would later conclude, Kate was the victim of “nonconsensual sexual contact” that night.
After a three-month-long investigation, John, the accused freshman, was found in violation of the “sexual misconduct” regulation, because Kate was “incapable of giving informed consent,” according to the formal hearing decision form, which was dated two months after the investigation concluded. (Editor’s Note: Kate and John are pseudonyms.)
His sanctions were a five-page paper and “educational training.”
“The panel believes an educational element would be beneficial to someone who potentially has many more semesters ahead of him,” read the formal hearing decision.
Still, Kate doesn’t have closure.
“He’s now able to walk on campus, and when he does this to the next girl, the university will have to look at her and say, ‘We could have done something to prevent this,’” Kate said.
The thought of his “many more semesters” is troubling for her, so she decided to attempt the appeal process within UGA.
This incident is just one of the sexual misconduct cases that was reported to the EOO in 2017. That year, there were 19 EOO investigations into allegations of student sexual misconduct, said Greg Trevor, UGA executive director of media communications.
The EOO is an option for students who want to avoid attorney fees and courtrooms. The standards for proving guilt within the university’s system are also lower than what is expected in a criminal court.
“It’s hard not to blame my actions on being drunk. However, looking back on it, I know what I did was wrong."
- John, in a text included in the investigation
Comprised of six employees, the EOO ensures that UGA follows Title IX policies by conducting investigations into sexual assault, harassment and misconduct. The office uses the Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, created by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, to determine appropriate sanctions for students.
EOO would not speak on record about investigating sexual assault.
However, Kate gave The Red & Black her investigation file from the EOO, which contains details of her story.
Every case of sexual misconduct is different, but the details of Kate’s case described below provide a glimpse into EOO’s process of reporting and investigating sexual misconduct.
The details of the night of the incident may be familiar to many UGA students.
It was a Thursday in late August and one of Kate’s first nights drinking downtown with friends.
She met up with John, who she had met a couple weeks earlier, and when she was ready to leave, he came with her. She said she doesn’t remember inviting him to join her.
They got back to her dorm, but instead of going in, John told her security officers were in the lobby, so he invited Kate to his dorm. In her testimony, Kate said she was “unsure” how John knew about the officers and said she doesn’t remember seeing them.
At this point in the night, Kate later told the EOO investigator she was an “eight” on a scale of 1-10 of drunkenness. She remembers vomiting in the bushes as she walked with John away from her dorm and then once more when she got to his room.
Kate’s friend was worried about her and texted John to check in. In a text message included in the EOO investigation, he told Kate’s friend, “We are not fucking. [Kate] is asleep and I’m going to sleep on the floor.”
Kate’s friend replied, “Take care of her for me.”
The next morning, Kate woke up with all of her clothes on, made it to her 9 a.m. class and remembered nothing past her and John kissing in his dorm.
According to Kate’s testimony, her friend, who had texted John the night before, sent him a Snapchat message the next day asking what happened. John replied it was none of her business.
The interaction didn’t sit well with Kate, so she sent a Snapchat to John asking for an explanation. According to her testimony, John told Kate they had had sex “for two minutes.”
Later, John would tell the investigator that he and Kate were “handsy-feely,” and that he asked her if she wanted to have sex.
According to John’s testimony, Kate said no, but when he asked again 10 minutes later, he said she agreed. He also said that about 10 seconds into having sex, she “seemed to feel uncomfortable,” and he asked her if she wanted to stop. He reported that, when she said yes, he stopped.
After Kate received John’s Snapchat explanation, she decided to skip work that night to go to the University Health Center, according to the investigative report.
The following Monday, Kate texted John about the situation again. She told him she still didn’t understand what happened Thursday night and that she was “still really mad about it.”
“I never knew you were a virgin, and I’m sorry you lost your virginity to an idiot like me,” John replied to Kate in text messages that were included in the EOO investigation. “It’s hard not to blame my actions on being drunk. However, looking back on it, I know what I did was wrong and did not mean for this to end the way it did.”
A few weeks later, Kate told the EOO that she had been subjected to “non-consensual sexual intercourse.”
John did not respond to multiple requests by The Red & Black for comment.
Kate’s case consisted of three months of investigating witness testimonies from seven students. Two months after the investigation, the hearing took place.
The sexual misconduct policies for USG and UGA both say the timeline for any sexual misconduct case should be “reasonable,” but do not set a specific time limit.
EOO associate director and investigator of the case, Kristopher Stevens, interviewed each witness individually and followed up with questions.
When he followed up with Kate, Stevens noted in the report she said she had dropped one of her classes, was visiting a school counselor every week and had become more anxious.
They were both given “no contact” provisions during the investigation, according to the report.
The hearing took one day. In a separate room with her advocate from Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention, Kate told her story via Skype to three panelists in the next room to avoid confronting John face to face. The panelists were a female representative from Human Resources, a male employee of University Housing and a female School of Law administrator. USG policy requires panelists to receive training led by EOO.
EOO declined to comment on the record about what training entails, what information is provided before a hearing and how they are selected.
When a panelist asked John if Kate was too drunk to consent, records show that John replied, “I think we both were.”
Kate felt confident that John would be given the harshest sanctions possible, given his statement to the panelists. Sanctions range from educational training to expulsion.
“When I left, I was thinking, ‘That went so well,’” Kate said. “Looking at it, I thought it was going to be a really good outcome.”
The defining decision
Five days after the hearing, Kate received a decision form, which detailed John’s sanctions. The form explained that Kate was “incapable of giving informed consent” due to her incapacitation at the time of the sexual contact.
“Further, [John] knew or should have known that [Kate] was not capable of giving consent,” the decision form read. “[John] admitted that he knew [Kate] was intoxicated at a level of 7 out of 10 when she was in his dorm room and reported to the investigator that at the time of sexual activity, his intoxication level had dropped from a 7 out of a 10 scale to a 4 or 5.”
With the sanctions given, John is still allowed to participate in school and extracurricular activities, but he is on probation and will be for the duration of his undergraduate career.
If John is found guilty of sexual misconduct again, he will be sanctioned “nothing less than suspension or expulsion,” according to the formal decision form.
John may not enroll in any classes with Kate and is also responsible for completing sexual assault and alcohol training, as well as writing a five-page personal essay explaining, “What he has learned regarding consent, incapacitation, and how drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s ability to consent,” according to the documents.
The panelists did not respond to requests for comment.
Kate also emailed the panelists and questioned John’s sanction.
“It makes me feel as if what happened to me was small in your eyes, yet [John’s] actions had a very big impact on me,” Kate’s email read. “I would greatly appreciate it if you would be able to give me your reasoning behind these sanctions, as I believe it would help me process the entire situation and speed up my recovery.”
Kate said she did not receive a reply from the panelists but received a response from Rebecca Scarbro, associate director of student conduct, who said, “It is my understanding that [the panelists] want to acknowledge receipt of your email but do not feel it is appropriate to respond.” Consequently, Kate decided to appeal the panelists’ decision.
Lisa Anderson, Kate’s attorney and the founder of Atlanta Women for Equality, said the ruling in Kate’s case was out of the ordinary, given John was found to be in violation of the Sexual Misconduct Policy.
Anderson said she had “never seen this absurd of a punishment.”
She believes this case was mishandled by UGA and is reflective of a larger issue within USG’s sexual misconduct policy, which she said is unfair to survivors of sexual assault.
“At every single level they dropped the ball,” Anderson said.
The Red & Black asked UGA for comment on “how many sexual misconduct cases result in educational sanctions,” which is information UGA does not compile “in this way,” Trevor said in an email.
For the first stage of the appeal process, Kate’s case went before Victor Wilson, vice president for UGA student affairs.
Wilson had four options: affirm the original decision, remand the case for a factual inaccuracy, dismiss the case or lessen the sanctions given to the respondent, according to the Sexual Misconduct Policy.
Wilson’s designee, Dean of Students William M. McDonald, chose to affirm the original decision.
“Reporting is like taking 10 extra hours of classes. I see now why people don’t report, because the stress and commitment is incredible."
- Kate, reported sexual misconduct
Because John’s sanctions were less than suspension or expulsion, the appeal process within the university ended with McDonald’s decision. The UGA Code of Conduct specifies that the appeal process can only continue past the vice president’s decision if the original sanctions were suspension or expulsion.
Anderson said the rights for parties to only appeal for lesser sanctions “highlights one of the inequities” of the policy.
She is now helping Kate appeal John’s sanctions to a higher level, USG. Anderson said she would not comment whether she is helping Kate file a lawsuit against USG.
“Giving someone a slap on the wrist is absolutely not acceptable, and what’s also absurd is that [Kate] has limited actions to be able to fight back against this absolutely unjust decision,” Anderson said.
John’s essay to the EOO is due May 15.
Meanwhile, Kate is also working on a document of her own. Hers will be sent as a letter asking USG to reconsider her case.
Despite having spent nearly her entire freshman year navigating the process of reporting, Kate isn’t giving up. She’s ready to spend her summer, and potentially next year, appealing John’s sanctions.
Although Kate said the process has been “therapeutic,” it has also taken a toll.
“Reporting is like taking 10 extra hours of classes,” she said. “I see now why people don’t report, because the stress and commitment is incredible.”
Outside of hearings, emails and visits with her attorney, she’s also grown more comfortable telling people about her experiences as a survivor. As the process has progressed, she’s become increasingly open with sharing personal details, as well as her opinions of how the incident was handled.
“Talking with people has helped so much with my healing process,” Kate said. “The voices of survivors have been ignored, if not completely silenced.”