Villanova student halts her rape case

Police said she would not press charges. That does not mean three dismissed football players can return.

Posted: July 27, 2007

A Villanova University student who told the school that she had been raped by three incoming freshman football players, who have since been kicked out of school, does not want to press charges, Radnor police said yesterday.

"It was clear in the victim's mind that a forcible sexual assault and rape had occurred against her in a South Campus dorm room," police said in a statement. However, the woman told them that she was not interested in having them continue their investigation, Police Superintendent John L. Rutty said.

That does not preclude her from changing her mind, he said.

On Wednesday night, Villanova announced that it had investigated the incident, which the woman said occurred late July 14 and early July 15, and had rescinded admission for the three players on ground that they violated the school's code of conduct.

The woman's decision not to seek charges will not affect the dismissals, a Villanova spokeswoman said.

The federal Clery Act requires colleges to keep a log of crimes and report them annually to the Department of Education. Schools must alert their campuses to threats in a timely manner.

If a victim does not want to press charges, however, police may never hear of an incident.

"You have to have a victim, because that is the one you're getting your information from," Radnor Lt. Joe Lunger said.

"Any crime that we are informed about, we investigate," he said.

Radnor law authorities learned about the allegations from "a source" Tuesday evening and contacted the university the next day. They interviewed the alleged victim Wednesday.

"We spoke with her at length . . . and she did not want to proceed further," Lunger said.

Villanova's department of public safety does not have arrest powers, he said. Radnor police are working with the District Attorney's Office to clarify Villanova's obligation to report allegations of serious crimes, he said.

The District Attorney's Office did not return calls for comment.

In counseling the student, the university told her that she could report her allegations to law enforcement, Villanova spokeswoman Liz Kennedy Walsh said. The university's policy is not to call police without the accuser's consent, she said.

The incident was reported to campus security July 15. After school officials investigated, the athletes were told to leave campus by last Friday.

On Wednesday, when the decision to rescind the men's admission was announced, Walsh cited the university code of conduct. "There was certainly behavior that was in violation," she said.

The allegations left the school in the difficult position of balancing the privacy of the woman and the accused with the need to ensure campus safety and the school's reputation as a place that acts quickly and appropriately.

"They handled it well," said Greg Kannerstein, dean of Haverford College and a former athletic director. "It seems like they avoided the two perils of rushing into an announcement before you know what's happened, or waiting so long you could be accused of covering it up."

"It's a challenge," Walsh said yesterday. "It's really important for us to respect and protect our students, all of our students. But at the same time this is a big deal, and we have got to share as much as is appropriate."

As soon as the incident was reported July 15, Walsh said, the school's procedure for handling crimes on campus kicked in.

"We went strictly by the books," she said.

For colleges, whose capital lies in their reputations, the only thing worse than a scandal is getting caught trying to hush one up.

At Eastern Michigan University, president John Fallon and two other senior officials were fired last week for covering up the rape and murder of a 22-year-old woman in her dorm room in December. The university denied knowledge of foul play for 10 weeks to protect the school's image, according to a federal investigation.

Schools typically "keep as quiet as they can" about crime on campus, said Kathryn Reardon, senior lawyer at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston, which provides legal aid to alleged sexual-assault victims.

Villanova's handling of the matter "seems pretty speedy," she said.

Schools are limited in how much they can share about students. The federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prevents them from releasing any information about students 18 or older without consent.

"What the law says and what gets out are two different things," Reardon said. "On campuses, everybody knows everything, and sometimes that gets to the media."

When athletes are involved, any episode can spiral into a national story.

Athletes at a prominent school such as Villanova, which plays Division I-AA football, "are in the public eye," Kannerstein said. "But the privacy laws that apply to all students apply to them. It's a real dilemma."

The three football players were enrolled in a two-week course for athletes to get a jump on their studies. While they were on athletic scholarships, they were paying for their room and board for the summer. They apparently knew the accuser.

The fact that the men were not yet full-time students made action easier for Villanova, Kannerstein said.

"If it had happened during the academic year, they would have had to have some kind of hearing. Since they were not matriculated, they were not bound by the same disciplinary procedures," he said.

Many schools have faced situations similar to the one Villanova confronted.

When a La Salle University student accused two basketball players of rape in 2004, the scandal cost coaches their jobs and tarnished the college's reputation. The players were dismissed. Both were later found not guilty.

A third La Salle player was accused in a separate case that was dismissed in 2005. He never rejoined the team after the charges were brought in 2004, and his scholarship was suspended.


Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|