Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect, freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right. It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children entrusted to them.
Let’s play a little game of “one of these things is not like the other.” It’s a multiple choice. The “sexual misconduct” policy outlaws:
a. premarital sex
At Catholic University, “Sexual Misconduct” is defined as “[p]hysical contact of a sexual nature that is unwanted by either party and/or that is disruptive to the university community.” Outlawing both consensual and nonconsensual sex in the same sentence is one way to make the seriousness of your anti-sex policy clear—but it also downgrades nonconsensual sex to any other youthful indiscretion. When students are never allowed to consent to sex on campus, how is truly nonconsensual sex punished?
Despite its prohibition of all manner of sexual contact, Catholic University reports single-digit sexual assault figures in most school years. In 2001, the first year the rule was in place, Catholic University reported two sexual assaults on campus. Since then, it’s reported 11 more, peaking in 2006 with four reported assaults. Some of these incidents involve less-than-pious strangers coming on to campus to forcibly compromise the chastity of the student body. Other sexual assaults on campus have originated closer to home.
Last year, two students filed lawsuits in U.S. District Court against the university—and each other—after engaging in on-campus premarital sex.
It was spring semester, 2008. A freshman girl and a freshman boy were living in adjacent dorms in Catholic University’s Centennial Village, a gated collection of red-brick residence halls that circle around a central wooden cross. According to the girl’s lawsuit, the two met at an off-campus lacrosse party in February of 2008, then embarked on a traditional undergraduate relationship—they started hooking up. After the party, they returned to the lacrosse player’s dorm room, where the girl’s lawsuit finesses that “they engaged in romantic and intimate relations.” The pair exchanged numbers and sporadically “spent time with each other.”
On April 5, the girl again attended a lacrosse party with a few friends, knowing the boy would be there. The girl’s lawsuit details how she prepared for the encounter. She started off the night by consuming “between ten and fifteen shots of vodka in her friend’s dorm room.” When she arrived at the party, she continued to drink until “she started to feel overwhelmingly nauseous and sick.” She vomited on the lawn. Unable to form complete sentences or walk straight, she attempted to reenter the party to find her friends.
That’s when she saw the boy, who had come to the party with a few of his friends from home. The crew draped her arms over their shoulders and walked her back to campus. They brought her up the dormitory stairs and onto an all-male floor. The girl, the boy, and his friends entered his bed-room together. What happened next boils down to they-said, she-said.
A few days later, the girl contacted Catholic University’s Department of Public Safety (DPS). According to her lawsuit, she provided DPS a report of the incident and submitted to a medical examination at the University Health Center. The exam “revealed obvious sexual trauma.” On April 23, the D.C. Police Department issued an order of no-contact to the boy. On April 29, the girl attempted suicide. On April 30, the university relocated the boy to another dorm. Four months passed before the sexual misconduct case was presented to a university board for judicial review. The boy was expelled from school.
The girl claims that the sex was nonconsensual. The boy claims the sex was consensual—merely “inconsistent with the teaching and moral values of the Catholic Church.” As far as Catholic University is concerned, both students’ scenarios describe serious student violations of university policy. And so both students are suing the university on the grounds that it mishandled their sexual misconduct cases. “Catholic’s policies on paper and as stated on their Web site seem to really take this stuff seriously,” says Spencer Hecht, the girl’s lawyer. “One of the problems we’ve found is that they’re not practicing what their policies are stating.”
Hecht has a point. The university’s conduct rules border on the unenforceable. But here’s a case where a modicum of collective morality regarding sexual boundaries would have gone a long way—especially in light of the details. According to both student lawsuits, not only did several boys engage in group sex with an intoxicated girl, but they did it with the dorm room door open. Several other students walked through the alleged crime scene as it occurred. The boy’s lawsuit even claims that another student, “Joe,” later joined in the sexual misconduct by having solo sex with the girl following the group infraction. “Joe,” too, didn’t bother to close the door.
The campus reaction was befitting a freshman sex scandal. According to the boy’s lawsuit, the boys, the girl, Joe, and the witnesses weren’t the only students to hear about the incident. The girl, the suit alleges, boasted about the sexual exploits the next day. Within two days, the incident was public knowledge. According to the boy’s suit, the girl “received a computer message on her Facebook webpage from another male student of Catholic University.” The message was an insult in the form of a riddle. It read: “fill in this quote….I’m here for the…”. When the girl showed the message to her friends, they informed her “that the quote was a derogatory statement regarding [her] perceived promiscuity.”
According to the girl, even university officials caught wind of the incident. In a meeting with the university’s Department of Public Safety, Hecht says, a DPS official told the girl that they had received “an anonymous e-mail” written the day following the incident which “referenced our client and said something needed to be investigated,” says Hecht. “No timely investigation occurred.”
The case drives at the breach between what the CUA sex policy purports to do and what it actually does. The group sex, the open doors, the witnesses, the retellings, the Facebook messages, and even the anonymous university tipster—on a prudish campus such as Catholic’s, such an event should prompt a modern-day inquisition. “Clearly, in the context of this set of facts, there were lots of people who knew about it. But no timely action was taken,” Hecht says. According to a CUA spokesperson, the university denies the claims made against it but declines to comment on pending litigation.
The legal mess over the incident is starting to sort itself out: The girl reached an undisclosed settlement with CUA this week, though she hasn’t withdrawn her claims against the boy. The boy’s case, too, is pending. If the case progresses, it will put the Catholic University of America in an uncomfortable position: Whether or not the student claims carry weight, the university will finally be forced to talk about sex.