ATHENS, Ga. — A Channel 2 Action News investigation is raising questions about the way the University of Georgia handles sexual assault cases. Investigative reporter Wendy Halloran spent months digging into the case of a student who says she was sexually assaulted and how her assaulter got a much lighter punishment than other similar cases.
The student was a freshman in college in the summer of 2017 partying with friends in a downtown Athens bar, where she met a freshman guy and they talked.
Her friend gave them a ride back to campus and she says he persuaded her to go to his dorm. “And I was like I can’t go in there so it’s just, he kind of convinced me,” the victim said.
The victim reported to a campus investigator that the walk was blurry, and she was walking fast to keep her composure. When she got inside the dorm, she threw up in a bathroom.
The victim’s friend was concerned. The male student texted her friend: “I’m gonna sleep on the floor. I will help her back at 8:00 tomorrow and everything will be fine.” He was quick to shut down any notion that they were having sex, texting: “We are not f***ing.”
But that’s not what happened. “Did you black out?” asked Halloran. “Uh, yes. So, I woke up the next morning in his bed,” the victim answered. “He raped me.”
The next day he sent a text message: “I know what I did was wrong.” He also apologized texting “I’m mad at myself for getting that drunk and being so under the influence for something like this to occur. That’s why I’m not gonna let it happen again and why I’m so sorry that it did happen in the first place.”
She reported it to UGA. Later, he even told a campus investigator she said no the first time he asked if she wanted to have sex, but about 10 minutes later he claimed she said yes, even though he knew she was drunk.
“There’s a line and you don’t cross it and people know that,” the victim said.
A three-person hearing panel comprised of UGA graduates heard testimony from the accused that was recorded. But UGA won’t give a copy of this recording to the victim or her attorney. The victim’s attorney told us what she heard.
"He said, 'I don't want to be accountable,' because of his wealth and power," said Lisa Anderson, the founder of Atlanta Women for Equality, which helps victims of sexual harassment.
Our investigation revealed he comes from a wealthy family with ties to UGA and attended an elite boarding school.
“And so, I think he wanted them to, you know, know who he is, who his family is,” said the victim.
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Anderson said this case reeks of affluence. UGA found him responsible for sexual misconduct.
“They just gave him probation, which is basically like saying you get a freebie first rape,” said Anderson.
The panel’s sanctions against him include probation throughout his entire undergraduate career, meaning he cannot sexually assault again or he will be suspended or expelled. He also was told to undergo counseling and write an essay on how alcohol and drugs can affect a person’s ability to consent.
“I was a virgin before this,” the victim told Halloran.
Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, is an internationally renowned expert on campus sexual assaults. He reviewed the investigative documents in this case and says the consequences were too lenient.
“The investigatory report in this case indicates it is a serious form of misconduct that warrants a suspension,” said Carter.
Our investigation showed in four similar cases, the accused was suspended. But not in this case.
“It’s just not fair,” said the victim.
UGA Executive Director of Media Communications Greg Trevor issued the following statement:
“The safety and security of the campus community is the highest priority at the University of Georgia. The university has comprehensive procedures in place to address allegations of student misconduct, in compliance with all applicable local, state and federal laws and policies. Federal law prohibits the university from commenting on specific student conduct cases.
"Each incident is addressed on a case-by-case basis by an independent three-person panel of faculty and staff. Under University System of Georgia policy, the panel may impose a broad range of sanctions based on its careful consideration of a variety of factors, including the nature of the offense, history of past conduct, acceptance of responsibility, weight of the evidence, and the well-being of the university community. UGA faculty and staff involved in these investigations are thoroughly trained and approach their work with the utmost respect for the lives and privacy of all individuals involved.
"The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia has the discretion to review final decisions of the universities in the system.”
The panel members who heard this case are Kizmet Adams, UGA’s director of work/life balance; John Trawick, assistant to the executive director of UGA housing and Shannon Shipley-Hinson, associate director of admissions and director of dual-degree programs.
We reached out to each member. Adams and Shipley-Hinson told us “no comment.” Trawick did not respond.
“I mean, I don’t know honestly how they can sleep at night,” said Anderson.
We asked UGA about the panel members' training and qualifications. UGA emailed us:
“Before they can serve as panelists, UGA faculty and staff must complete comprehensive annual training that includes information about Title IX, the Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, USG policies governing student conduct, UGA’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy as well as the university’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy. Prospective panelists also receive training about the formal hearing process.”
The victim in this case decided not to pursue criminal charges. She said it has been hard enough and she’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
She has appealed UGA’s decision with the Board of Regents. A decision is expected later this month. We will continue to follow this case.