Live 5 Investigates: Hush money and alleged gang rape
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Live 5 Investigation explores how a local college handled an alleged gang rape involving members of a winning athletic team.
It happened six years ago, but you are first hearing about it now because of hush money involved.
That case has prompted us to take a hard look at the problem of on-campus rape in our state, and how advocates say the victims almost never see justice.
In April of 2012, the College of Charleston baseball team was on its way to a spot in the NCAA tournament. On April 22, 2012, the team wrapped up a stunning three-day sweep of The Citadel.
The next night, a freshman girl went to Room 208 of McAlister Residence Hall to "hang out" where there's "drinking and dancing," according to a College of Charleston Public Safety incident report.
Twenty-four hours later, from a hospital room, she reported a sexual assault, according to a draft lawsuit by the alleged victim.
The CofC incident report states she remembered sitting on a couch, then waking up "in suspect -blank's- bed."
We don't know which suspect that was.
There were five suspects listed on the heavily redacted incident report we requested from the College of Charleston through the Freedom of Information Act.
But a document from the State Insurance Reserve Fund shows the five were members of the baseball team.
We reached out to all five via Facebook and had no response.
The state document also shows, after she threatened to sue, the young woman was paid $350,000 agreeing to a confidentiality agreement, a deal to keep quiet.
Advocates who work with rape victims aren't shocked.
"I think what is unusual is actually to get a settlement," said Janie Ward Lauve of People Against Rape.
When there's a rape reported on campus, it's considered a violent crime that must be reported to the federal government.
We compared those federal records for six South Carolina colleges over a three year period.
SC State has three reported on campus rapes, and smallest enrollment.
The Citadel, with 700 more students shows twice SC State's reported rapes with six.
Winthrop, almost doubles the Citadel's enrollment, and reported sexual assaults, with 11.
Clemson, with a student body of 23,000, reports 18 on campus rapes.
USC, at just over 34,000 students has ten reported on campus rapes.
The College of Charleston, with one third of USC's student population, reports two and a half times that number, with 25 over the three year period ending in 2016.
That's not counting an unsolved case in College of Charleston dorm last fall.
The State Law Enforcement Division, SLED is investigating that case.
"There's still no suspect in that case," said PAR's Lauve.
South Carolina law mandates SLED assist in sex crime investigations on state campuses.
The 2012 alleged gang rape was handed to SLED more than a week after it was reported.
But two days after she reported her assault, the young woman received a letter from the college warning her not to contact the five suspects, or she could be disciplined, according to the draft lawsuit we received under the Freedom of Information Act.
The same document alleges she was violently assaulted with injuries, the college investigation didn't collect text messages or emails of the accused, or collect dorm room evidence for toxicology analysis to see if she had been drugged.
Experts say alcohol and other drugs are often no longer in a victim's system by the time an assault is reported.
Dr. Ted W. Simon, a toxicology expert, said, "It comes down to he said she said."
Simon contends the toxicology samples from the woman, who went to the hospital the next evening, would be useless.
"Say about approximately twelve or thirteen hours later, any alcohol would very likely begone from her system, as would other drugs," Simon explained.
We reached out to the young woman, but she did not return our call.
Her draft lawsuit also contended one of the five admitted to assaulting her after she passed out, that suspect was expelled but never charged, and that this has happened before with an alcohol and sex culture well known by college administrators.
In September of 2012, the young woman did not return to the college, but three of the athletes did, and played baseball according to the College of Charleston roster.
In October, two things happened: the team headed to a new conference as College Trustees voted to explore a switch to the Colonial Athletic Association, and, for the Public Safety Department, it was case closed for alleged gang rape.
There was a lack of evidence according to letters from the college's Public Safety Department to the five accused.
The victim's letter explained, "The SLED Toxicology Report was negative for any signs of date-rape drugs or ethanol (alcohol.)"
But the toxicology expert said often, the blood tests are taken too late.
"Many times, they are useless because it depends on how quickly the drug is cleared from the body, alcohol is cleared quite quickly," Simon explained.
PAR's Lauve agreed.
"It's very hard, it's very hard to prove," she said.
As a result, rape cases rarely go to court, leaving victims reluctant to seek justice.
According to Lauve, "We can try and prevent and treat, but if perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions, we're never going to get anywhere."
Lauve's organization works with the College of Charleston.
She says the college is trying.
Although the college did not agree to interviews, we received this statement which reads:
The College of Charleston does not comment on prior legal matters or personnel matters.
As a university with one of the oldest victim services offices in the nation, the College of Charleston strongly encourages survivors of sexual assault and sexual misconduct to come forward and to report these crimes to campus police, college officials, and/or victim services advocates.
Because the College fosters an environment of trust and compassion in which all reports of sexual assault are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated and in which survivors are supported and provided access to a wide range of advocacy and counseling services, our students may feel more comfortable coming forward than may be the case at other universities.
Comparing sexual assault data from different schools can be misleading given that each campus setting and culture is unique and that terminology, definitions, expectations, and reporting standards related to sexual assaults may differ from one school to another.
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