WILLIAMSBURG -- Three weeks into her freshman year at the College of William and Mary, 18-year-old Katie Koestner says, she was raped by a student she had invited to her dormitory room.

College officials who heard her complaint agreed that a sexual assault took place, but now Koestner feels she has been victimized a second time. This time it was by a system she says let her assailant off with little more than a slap on the wrist: He got to stay in school with some mild restrictions.

That wasn't enough for Koestner, who decided to go public, setting off a furor at one of the nation's oldest universities. Her dramatic story has prompted the administration to reexamine its policy for handling so-called acquaintance rape. Other women have come forward to say they too have been victims, and the whole issue, along with the larger one of campus behavior, has grabbed headlines.

The storm brewing behind the ivied walls of this genteel 7,200-student state university comes as Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, testing the waters for a presidential bid, has issued strong demands for campus administrators to clamp down on student conduct, with special emphasis on substance abuse and date rape.

"So-called date rape is no different than any other rape," the governor told a group of college administrators last week. And, on his orders, the State Council on Higher Education will spend $100,000 this year to study rape on campus.

Koestner's story also puts the spotlight on the issue of date rape -- a complex legal question that has become increasingly urgent in recent years.

The incident occurred after Koestner invited a date to her room to dance and talk. After two dances, she said, he began pressuring her to "make tonight really special."

Hours of argument ensued until, sometime before dawn, the alleged rape occurred. "I was so tired and weak," Koestner said. "He just wore me down all night. I couldn't do anything."

As far as Koestner is concerned, she had sexual intercourse against her will and was therefore raped. The 18-year-old man who accompanied her to her room that night declined to be interviewed, but he has told other newspapers that he does not believe he raped Koestner.

Twenty-four hours after the incident, Koestner said, she went to the student health department. She said a nurse gave her a sleeping pill and sent her back to her dorm. The next day, after a medical examination, she went to talk to the dean of students.

"She told me I had three choices," Koestner said. "I could forget about it. I could file formal charges, which would be really hard. Or I could pursue it through the college's judicial process, which was a lot more private and discreet. So that's what I did."

William and Mary, after an administrative hearing on the case in November, determined that a sexual assault had occurred but that it did not merit severe punishment, said Koestner and other sources.

The man remains on campus, forbidden to enter any dormitory or fraternity house other than his own for the next four years.

After the hearing, Koestner went to see Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth's Attorney George C. Fairbanks IV, but was told a criminal case would be weak.

In frustration, she called half a dozen local newspapers, told them her story and encouraged them to print her name.

"It makes it more personal," said Koestner, the eldest daughter of a Harrisburg, Pa., FBI agent. "I'm not just some 18-year-old freshman from William and Mary. There's a person and a face and a name." William and Mary officials decline to discuss individual cases.

William and Mary's vice president for student affairs, W. Samuel Sadler, said that it is college policy to call a doctor to immediately examine any student who says she has been raped and that the college always urges victims to talk to campus police. "As far as I can determine," he said, "that procedure has been strictly followed" in all recent cases.

Nonetheless, Koestner's public complaints about the way her case was handled have prompted William and Mary President Paul R. Verkuil to appoint a committee of students, faculty members and administrators to recommend changes in the college's judicial process.

Since 1989, William and Mary students have reported 10 sexual assaults to the college, Sadler said. "But I don't think you can judge the seriousness of the issue by the number of women who come forward . . . . I don't think any of us know the full extent of date rape on college campuses."

Of the 10 reported assaults, he said, four victims chose to pursue their cases administratively rather than file formal charges. Of the four, the college found two students guilty. One was expelled. The other received probation.

Unless there are "extremely mitigating circumstances," Sadler said, a student found guilty of sexual assault is separated from the college.

In Koestner's case, many students want to know exactly what those mitigating circumstances were.

"This man should have been separated from the college," said Jenny Worley, co-chairman of William and Mary's Women's Issues Group. "The most shocking thing is, {college officials} don't see it as a violent crime. They're treating it like it was some kind of misunderstanding."

Different campuses have varying policies on how to handle the cases, but experts say cases of date rape in which the issue is consent are difficult to prosecute in state court.

"By the very definition of the thing, these people have an affinity for each other," Fairbanks said. "What made one person think that something was appropriate when the other did not becomes the focal point."

Tried under most colleges' standards, which require only a preponderance of clear and convincing evidence, offenders stand a better chance of being found guilty. Yet, the harshest punishment a college can impose is expulsion.

Most people, including women, feel that date-rape victims are partly responsible for what happened to them, said Bernice R. Sandler, of the Association of American Colleges Project. Interviews with women who said they had been date-raped at William and Mary confirm that as a prevalent view.

"I think he thinks I made a mistake and then called it rape to cover it up," said one sophomore of the man she accused of raping her.

Another woman, a junior, tells of a drunken struggle between her and a date that occurred during her freshman year. Because she had consumed so much alcohol, the woman was unsure of what happened.

"I remember we were in his room for about an hour, and when I finally left, he stood in the doorway in his boxer shorts and said, 'I had a really good time,' " she said. She woke up the next morning, unable to walk. A subsequent hospital examination revealed vaginal bruising.

When the woman reported the incident to campus police, she said, she was discouraged from filing state charges. She took steps to use the college's administrative process, but after weeks of anguish, decided to drop the case so she could get on with her life.

Other colleges also are struggling with the issue, and most officials say they think date rape is underreported. Of 18,600 undergraduates at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, three have reported date rapes in the last three years, according to a campus spokesman.

Of about 34,000 students at the University of Maryland, one has reported being raped since 1988, said Director of Public Information Roz Heibert.

All of the colleges surveyed, William and Mary included, have been making an effort to raise student consciousness about date rape during freshman orientation programs.

Still, said William and Mary's Sadler, "I truly don't believe things have changed much in spite of the educational efforts we've made."

Koestner is not waiting. She's decided to transfer to another university at the end of the semester.