A Rape Case That's Not Going Away

June 19, 2009

Controversy over a sexual assault at the University of the Pacific has moved from the campus to a national student affairs organization in the blink of an eye. A letter signed by 13 rape prevention and health professionals across the country calls for NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education to reassess its recent choice to be president-elect, Elizabeth Griego, who is also vice president for student affairs at Pacific, because they believe she was irresponsible in handling the allegations about the assault.

Last spring, Pacific received a report that a student, identified only as Jane Doe, had been raped by three male basketball players. A similar case had been reported just a month earlier, but no students had been tried in the case. The university's Judicial Review Board determined that the students had violated the Student Code of Conduct; one student was expelled and the other two suspended.

Unsatisfied with the verdict -- instead hoping that the other two students would be expelled as well -- Doe chose to leave Pacific and file a lawsuit in March. Now, health professionals are demanding in a letter circulating through NASPA's leadership team, its member listservs, and even Facebook, that the organization reconsider letting Griego take charge of the group.

"It's just really horrid," said John Foubert, an associate professor and program coordinator of the College Student Development Master's Degree Program at Oklahoma State University, and the leader of the team who put together the letter. "There is sufficient concern based on what the university is willing to admit that NASPA needs to look very seriously at whether they want her to be their president. This is a year when they are taking initiatives on issues of violence and it's a legitimate issue."

Griego disputed the claims in another letter addressed to all members of NASPA, saying, "Many unfounded and fabricated allegations in the lawsuit have been reported as fact in the media and online, resulting in vicious attacks on the university, my colleagues and me."

She wrote that the lawsuit filed against the university came 10 months after the victim's family praised the Judicial Board's decision in the case. She also asserts that the victim refused to cooperate with an investigation into the incident, leading the university to contact the police.

Foubert's letter -- which summarizes a complaint filed against Pacific by the assault victim -- alleges that Griego was not sensitive enough to the victim. One complaint charges that Griego told the victim while she was waiting for a verdict from the Judicial Board on the status of the accused rapists that there were "multiple truths" to the case. A university complaint filed on March 18 corroborates this.

Foubert's letter adds that Griego told the victim while the case was pending that the three alleged rapists were "victims as well."

"This is in the context of the woman asking why the verdict was taking so long to be passed down while she was waiting for the campus judicial board. [Griego] was not adjudicating the case, she was there to provide information," Foubert said. "One of the cardinal rules of dealing with a rape case is to not tell the victim 'I don't believe you.' When you say there are really multiple truths to the case because the people charged with gang rape say they didn't do it, that is re-traumatizing to a survivor, that is egregious."

The letter continues that in a correspondence between Griego and Doe, Griego "stated that she believed the perpetrators weren't aware that 'Jane Doe' did not consent and that they were very popular men on campus and did not need to force anyone to have sex with them." Griego denied the truthfulness of this statement in her response letter to NASPA.

Kaaryn Sanon, senior director of marketing and communications for NASPA, said that leaders of the organization have received the letter and discussed it extensively. She would not divulge what had been said because of the confidentiality of ongoing litigation issues. However, she said that NASPA has not received any calls or complaints asking that Griego be removed.

"In looking back at the letter, it doesn't call on NAPSA to take any particular action," Sanon said. "We have not gotten any requests for anything to be done as to removing her status as president-elect. We are aware of the situation and taking [our members] into consideration, but we he have not been asked to take any actions. All we are seeing is what's out on the Web."

She did not know whether NASPA's bylaws would allow it revoke the officership of an elected president.

Pacific President Don DeRosa, in a letter addressed to NASPA Executive Director Gwen Dungy, asserted that the allegations against the university are not warranted.

"It is important to remember that allegations in lawsuits must always be viewed just as that -- allegations made by one party against another," DeRosa wrote. "It must also be noted that lawsuits, like this one, are financially motivated. Therefore, what was quoted in yesterday's letter from Jane Doe's lawsuit and represented as the truth are simply unsubstantiated allegations."

He went on to note that, "Dr. Griego has my full confidence and support, as well as that of the University."

A Facebook group is also raising questions about Pacific's treatment of rape victims. This criticism comes out of a comment by a university spokesman differentiating between "outright rape" and "date rape." He said that Doe was not in fact a victim of outright rape. The group was titled "Memo to University of Pacific: Date Rape IS outright rape," and on Thursday night, it had attracted 388 members.

"University relations speak for the entire university, so that statement had to be based on someone's input," Foubert said. "Whose input went into that statement? Who was around when that statement was made? Who thinks that it wasn't outright rape? The person who was in charge of that is the vice president for student life."

The spokesman who made the statement in question retracted it, saying that in fact date rape is considered outright rape, but that he meant to say there was no threat of an unknown stranger rapist on campus. The Stockton Record wrote an editorial condemning the mangled speech and hinting that it was indicative of larger issues at the university.

According to Steven McAllister, one of the signers of the letter and a health educator at the New School University, cases like Pacific more often gain national attention when the college is accused of mistreatment.

"While we often hear about universities mishandling their response to incidents of sexual assault, there are universities out there that get it right," McAllister stated in an e-mail. "I think colleges and universities need to communicate more about best practices, and come to some kind of consensus about how to best help survivors and educate our students."

Since the lawsuit against Pacific went public, the university has attempted to do damage control by creating a Web site with facts about the case and repeatedly claiming that it has not done anything wrong. A March 20 press release regarding the lawsuit explained: "other important inaccuracies will be brought to the attention of the Court by the University’s attorneys. These inaccuracies include many quotes attributed to Vice President for Student Life Elizabeth Griego and that there were seven rapes in one year."

However, the university's denial of Doe's statements are too often imbued with a condescending tone, McAllister said.

"It is not uncommon for parties to a lawsuit to disagree about the facts," he said. "While I expect the university to deny allegations that they treated 'Jane Doe poorly, the victim-blaming tone of their response is troublesome, and unfortunately not uncommon in sexual assault cases."

Foubert, an author who has long been outspoken on issues of rape prevention, says he has for years attempted to shine the spotlight on rape victims who have been mistreated. Though he doesn't know what effect his letter will eventually have, he notes that, "either way, I think [NASPA] will be better informed about the case and make their own decisions."

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