The Washington Post

Former JMU student says assailants were given light punishment

A former James Madison University student who said she was sexually assaulted by three male students on a spring break trip has charged that the university gave the men a light punishment despite finding them responsible for misconduct, according to television reports this week.

The reports on WHSV-TV, a station based in Harrisonburg, Va., showed interviews with the woman and her correspondence with the university concerning a disciplinary case that arose from an incident in March 2013. The woman, then a sophomore, said she was drunk and was groped while topless without her consent during a trip to Florida. She said a graphic and humiliating cellphone video of the incident subsequently circulated among JMU students.

After a university investigation, the men were found responsible for sexual assault and harassment and were given a punishment of “expelled upon graduation,” WHSV reported. That effectively meant they would not be allowed on campus after graduating or allowed to participate in commencement exercises.

“I was not okay with that,” the woman told the TV station. “I told them I was not okay with that type of punishment.”

The woman, 21, confirmed the account Thursday evening in a telephone interview with The Washington Post. She said she decided this year to leave the university because she felt let down. “I couldn’t see myself staying there,” she said. She plans to finish her degree elsewhere.

The Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

JMU, a public school in Harrisonburg, this month landed on a list of more than 60 colleges and universities under federal investigation for their handling of sexual violence complaints.

The University of Richmond also is under investigation, a probe that began on June 12. University officials said Thursday that the school has been notified of the federal complaint and will cooperate.

“At the University of Richmond, the prevention of sexual misconduct is an institutional priority,” school officials said in a statement. “The University devotes substantial attention, time and effort to responding to this problem and to providing appropriate resources and support to its students.”

JMU, responding to reports about the incident in Florida and subsequent disciplinary proceedings, said that it, too, will cooperate with the federal investigation and that it takes sexual assault and harassment seriously.

“It is an important and deeply troubling problem, and the public discourse should serve to bring focus to the topic,” JMU said. “Due to legal/privacy requirements, there are limitations to what we can say publicly about a pending matter of this type. There are some important clarifications that need to be made, however, regarding the public discussion and media reporting on this matter:

“In this instance, it is important to note that the media has reported allegations of inappropriate touching that occurred on a spring break trip in Florida. Although allegations in the media do not involve rape, inappropriate touching is covered by the university’s sexual assault policy, and is taken very seriously.”

The university added that internal disciplinary proceedings must protect the rights of both the complainants and accused. The three men have not been charged with any crimes.

“The sanctions available under these processes are intended to reflect the facts and circumstances of a particular case as best they can be determined, and are premised on the university’s role as an educational institution,” the university said. “The facts matter and are carefully weighed in the process. Individuals who want to press criminal charges in cases of sexual assault may do so through the court system.”

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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