For three years, Benjamin Holm walked the Catholic campus at Loyola University in Chicago like any other student, pursuing a double major in finance and economics and playing for the school’s golf team.
But his life in Chicago hid the reality he faced back home in the suburbs of Atlanta.
There, he was being investigated for rape.
Holm had been accused of and arrested in the crime in the spring of 2013, weeks before his high school graduation and five months after he had committed to playing golf at Loyola, but his trial didn’t start until the end of last month — more than three years after the alleged sexual assault.
And it seems throughout that lengthy span, nobody at the university knew of Holm’s pending rape trial, not as his charges were upgraded to felony status while he was already on campus or even when he pleaded guilty to aggravated assault and statutory rape Dec. 5.
Media reports about the rape case published last week — in which the university refused comment — were followed by days of outrage from Holm’s former Loyola classmates, which included a change.org petition signed by more than 1,200 people demanding an explanation from the university.
“Students at Loyola University Chicago are disgusted by the institution’s actions and do not feel safe on campus,” wrote sophomore student Ashley Kennedy. “The administration’s silence is only making things worse.”
On Dec. 16, 11 days after Holm pleaded guilty to the sexual assault, the university issued a statement from Title IX coordinator Thomas M. Kelly, who oversees sexual assault education and enforcement on campus.
To our knowledge, we neither received information about the crime, nor had any awareness that it occurred until Monday, December 12, when we received a media inquiry. Based on media reports, the individual is in police custody in Georgia. The individual is not registered for classes in the Spring Semester.
Violence of any kind is not tolerated at Loyola, and the safety and security of all members of our campus community remain a top priority.
The uproar comes at a critical juncture in the national controversy about sexual assault at America’s college campuses, an issue that in 2016 became more prominent in part because of White House initiatives, publicity about Rolling Stone’s now-retracted article about a gang rape that wasn’t at the University of Virginia and several high profile cases.
Just this week, the California judge who sentenced Brock Turner to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a woman on the Stanford University campus was cleared of judicial misconduct by an independent state agency after critics called for him to resign because of what they considered an unjustly light punishment.
At the University of Minnesota, the football team for two days last week refused to play in an upcoming bowl game because players disagreed with the way campus officials handled the suspensions of 10 of their teammates accused of sexual assault. An ongoing investigation at Baylor University in Texas this year revealed a widespread, chronic pattern in the football program of covering up alleged sexual assaults involving football players.
And in recent months, athletic teams at a handful of colleges, including several Ivy League universities, have faced discipline for digital conversations deemed inappropriate by officials that included lewd language and physical rankings of women or other female athletes.
Other, less high-profile incidents have been chronicled in lawsuits challenging the fairness of Title IX investigations for both the accuser and the accused.
But what sets Holm’s case apart is that the assault occurred before the student-athlete stepped onto campus — something the university emphasized in its statement.
“In the past few days, Loyolans have expressed concern following media reports related to a student-athlete who was charged and pled guilty to a gender-based violent crime that occurred in his home state of Georgia,” the Dec. 16 statement said. “This crime occurred prior to the individual joining Loyola.”
Critics in the online petition argued that the university should keep closer tabs on its student-athletes, who are often offered additional resources and scholarship money not granted to an average student. A 2012 article published in the North Fulton Herald reported that Holm was offered an athletic scholarship when he committed to playing golf at Loyola, but the university Athletic Department would not confirm that information in an interview with the student newspaper.
The university publication, the Loyola Phoenix, wrote:
The Loyola Athletic Department had no comment on the situation, wouldn’t disclose information regarding Holm’s possible scholarship and didn’t confirm whether he had athletic or academic scholarships. Loyola’s Athletic Director Steve Watson and Deputy Director of Athletics Jermaine Truax, the administrator in charge of the golf program, declined multiple interview requests from The PHOENIX.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Holm’s case began in April 2013, when during a high school party weeks before his graduation, the then-18-year-old sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl at a playground at the Country Club of the South, Johns Creek police said.
The victim’s friends grew worried when she disappeared, police told the AJC, and eventually found her at the playground. Her pants were down, police said, and Holm was on top of her.
“They observed the sexual assault taking place and heard her clearly saying ‘No, stop,’ ” Capt. Chris Byers of the Johns Creek police told the AJC.
He was initially charged with statutory rape, a misdemeanor in Georgia, and pleaded not guilty. He bonded out of jail and headed to Loyola’s campus several months later. Nearly two full years after the incident, in April 2015, according to a timeline from the Loyola Phoenix, the county solicitor determined Holm should have been charged with felony rape, and a year later, in April 2016, a grand jury issued an indictment on the upgraded, more severe charge.
That spring, Holm left the Loyola golf team for unspecified reasons, reported the student newspaper.
Holm pleaded not guilty again, according to the Phoenix, and on Nov. 28 his trial began. It wasn’t until jury deliberations that Holm, now 21, reversed course and decided to take a deal offered by the prosecution, pleading guilty to aggravated assault and statutory rape.
He received a 20-year sentence, 10 of which he would serve in prison and the other 10 on probation, according to the AJC. He was booked into the Fulton County Jail.
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