Before it disappears from the web forever, it is worthwhile to review the Boston Globe article that publicized the most famous alleged sexual assault at Williams in the last 15 years. Previous coverage here. Comments:
1) I continue to believe that the College could do much more to decrease the (low) rate of sexual assault on campus. Unsurprisingly, my recommendation is unlike anything you would read elsewhere. Make every male student at Williams vividly aware of the Foster case by showing him a picture of Foster at his arraignment, perhaps even having the first years try on a pair of handcuffs. The lesson that every male Eph should have drilled deep into his bones is that having sex with a female Eph is a risk unless you are 100% certain that she is a full and eager participant. A credible accusation of rape — an accusation that will turn your life upside down for a decade or more even if you are (found) innocent — requires only a credible accuser. And all Eph women are credible. Foster didn’t think that it could happen to him. Foster was wrong. Don’t make the same mistake he did. If if Foster is not a rapist, he is most certainly not a gentleman. The punishment for caddish behavior at Williams is much higher than you think it is. Don’t be a cad.
2) Gensheimer graduated last spring and Foster is in his senior year. This has been a painful topic to discuss while they were current students. By next fall, it may be easier for the rest of us to get some perspective.
3) Is the transcript for the trial available somewhere? From the excerpts that we have seen, I suspect that it would make for compelling reading.
It was a Saturday night, March 15, a week before spring break, when Maryl Gensheimer met up with a new boyfriend. They had both been drinking, and they went to his dorm room after she began to feel sick. There, Gensheimer said, she was raped.
The Williams College sophomore reported it the next Monday to the college health center. When she did, Gensheimer said, the college’s response was lacking. No one sent her to the hospital for a rape exam or suggested she call police; it was days before her counselor told the school’s head of security.
Two and a half months later, Williams officials are still looking into what happened that night. Frustrated by the college’s response, and by its handling of her case, Gensheimer asked Williamstown police to step in. They brought their case to a Berkshire County grand jury, which indicted Mark Foster, 19, of Concord on a rape charge May 23, according to the Superior Court clerk’s office. Foster’s lawyer said he will be exonerated.
More than a decade after new federal laws mandated the reporting of sex crimes on college campuses to the US Department of Education, Gensheimer’s experience at Williams shows how colleges can fall short when one student accuses another of date rape. Without sophisticated forensic equipment and subpoena power, often relying solely on the statements of the two parties, college officials struggle to resolve such complaints – and don’t always call in more capable authorities, said some police and lawyers.
”There are always concerns about colleges and sexual assault – whether they’re reporting it in a timely fashion and whether students are encouraged to avail themselves of the services outside the college” such as police, said Berkshire District Attorney Gerard Downing. ”We’re always concerned because colleges can have competing interests when they’re having that conversation” with alleged rape victims.
Nancy Roseman, dean of Williams College, said the college made mistakes in Gensheimer’s case, and said the investigation has taken longer than usual. With the accused student’s future at stake, however, she said she will not rush to judgment. The school has tightened some of its policies since the Gensheimer family took issue with them. But she also said that there is no deep, systemic problem to address at Williams and that complaints such as Gensheimer’s about how the case was handled are almost unheard of.
”It’s very rare that someone is angry about how they were supported. That gets my attention,” said Roseman, referring to the handful of sex assault reports the college investigates each year. Gensheimer and her family see a deeper problem, however. They said the delayed investigation is the latest in a series of missteps by Williams staff and administrators in her case.
”My focus should have been on surviving, not on making the college realize something had happened and getting them to do something about it,” said Gensheimer, a 19-year-old art history major from Maine. ”Once you report it, it should start a series of steps … They should take responsibility, keep records, tell you your options, and move things forward.”
Gensheimer’s case was, in many ways, typical of college date rape allegations. She had been drinking that night, and she said Foster was drinking, too. Dancing at a party in their dorm, she felt sick, and he helped her back to his room. She doesn’t remember everything, but she told police that he took off her clothes, physically restrained her, ignored her when she protested, and forced her to have sex. She said she had bruises the next morning. She went to her room, showered, then found a friend and told her what happened. The next day, another friend took her to the college health center.
That’s where the mistakes began, Gensheimer and her parents said. A staff member at the health center did not suggest she should go to a hospital and submit to a rape exam. The same staff member didn’t mention she could speak to local police, never offered to arrange counseling, and made no record of the visit. Then the health center did not report the allegations to campus security for several days. No one at Williams offered to move Foster out of the dorm they both lived in until Gensheimer’s mother asked. Gensheimer had to get a restraining order to remove him temporarily from the two small classes they shared; a judge later terminated the order after finding Gensheimer was not in immediate danger.
Williams administrators would have offered to move Foster out of the dorm eventually, said the dean, but removing him from classes while he is still a student would make the school vulnerable to a lawsuit. Roseman also said that Foster’s indictment would have no bearing on the school’s investigation and that he remains a student in good standing.
Northampton lawyer John Callahan, who represents Foster, declined to discuss details, but contends the college has handled the case properly. He said the judge dropped the restraining order against Foster after a court hearing in April, ruling she was not in immediate danger. At the hearing, students who were near Foster’s room that night testified that they heard no sounds of struggle, Callahan said. Gensheimer said she did protest.
Williams, with an endowment of about $1 billion, is one of the wealthiest colleges in Massachusetts. Like many small colleges, however, the 2,000-student campus has no dedicated sexual-assault officer and relies on volunteer staff members as a first line of response to assault complaints. All discipline is ultimately handled by one person, Roseman.
Frustrated by the way Williams responded to Gensheimer’s allegation, Williamstown Police Chief Arthur Parker said he wants a trained officer from his department to respond to every sexual assault report on campus.
”Everyone’s goal should be to better the process for the next victim,” he said.
He asked for a meeting with college officials two months ago, to review their policies and offer help, and said he never received a response. Asked by the Globe why the college had not responded to the police request, Roseman said on Friday that she plans to meet with Parker. She said she would consider having a police officer nearby when campus sex assaults are reported to the school, in case the victims want to talk.
Until recently, Roseman said, Williams’s sexual assault response team assessed on a case-by-case basis whether a student was ”ready” for information about medical exams and outside investigations. The school has now changed its procedures, she said, so that every student who even hints that a rape has occurred is asked whether she wants an exam and a police interview. The system for notifying security has been similarly streamlined, so a call is made immediately even if a student hesitates to call what happened rape.
Roseman said the college routinely reports all sexual assaults to police, though students almost never agree to cooperate with an investigation.
”Bad things happen on college campuses, and it’s incumbent on us to be open and honest about them,” she said. ”Not to do so is immoral and unfathomable to me. As dean, once you lose your integrity, you might as well resign.”
After Gensheimer reported being raped, the dean alerted the campus by e-mail. Several other women came forward as a result, she said, to say they had been assaulted. Concern grew on the rural campus, and a public forum to discuss the problem was held last month.
”People in general are now more willing to see this as a public, campus issue, one that they could potentially be affected by,” said Heather Foran, a leader of the school’s student-run rape hot line.
At other schools, frustrations similar to Gensheimer’s have led some victims to seek change through the US Department of Education, which can withhold federal funding from schools found to discriminate against women. At Harvard last year, administrators’ attempts to change the school’s sexual assault policy – making corroborating evidence a prerequisite for the university to fully investigate – drove students to file a discrimination complaint with the department’s Office for Civil Rights. A similar federal complaint was filed last year by two Boston University students who said the school’s policies have a ”chilling effect” on reporting by other victims.
In both cases, the government found no violation by the universities. According to the Department of Education, no college or university has ever lost funding because of school handling of sexual harassment, which includes assault. Last year, the Office of Civil Rights investigated 63 sexual harassment claims against colleges, in some cases working with the schools to revise their policies.
Stephen Hennessy, a Milton lawyer who filed civil rights complaint on behalf of the two BU students who alleged date rape, said schools tend to err on the side of the accused.
”A lot of institutions view it as such a serious allegation, they’re really reluctant to find a male student liable without imposing a criminal beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard,” he said, noting that most schools use a lower standard of proof for other kinds of discipline. ”Behind closed doors, they think if they find someone liable, they have to discipline him severely, and they’re ruining his life – so they darn well better not get it wrong.”
Wendy Murphy, the Boston lawyer who filed the federal complaint on behalf of the Harvard students, said it’s a myth that only rape produces difficult ”he said, she said” cases. ”In almost every crime, it’s the credibility of one person that makes or breaks the case, whether it’s a cop watching a drug deal, or a woman who’s raped,” she said. ”You challenge their credibility, assess their demeanor, and render a judgment. That’s what the justice system is all about.”
Gensheimer gave up her plans to work at the college art museum this summer and went home to Maine instead. Her grades fell from straight A’s to B’s and C’s this spring. She said she has nightmares, and she isn’t sure whether she’ll study in England this fall as planned.
”Everything that happened reinforced the stigma of rape, that you should cover it up, go on with your life, and pretend nothing happened,” she said. ”The only way I could think of to get my life back was to fight hard enough that something has to change.”