University News

Debate intensifies over Brown’s handling of GHB, sexual assault cases

Corporation conflict of interest, conflation of cases fall under scrutiny as activism erupts

By
University News Editor
Monday, March 9, 2015

In light of recent activism surrounding his father’s service on the Corporation’s Board of Trustees, the student accused of administering GHB to two female students has been harassed and left campus for the weekend.

Many students have reacted with frustration and anger toward the University following new revelations in the date-rape drug and sexual assault cases.

Several people expressed concern that the Phi Kappa Psi member accused of administering GHB to two female students Oct. 17 may have benefitted from his father’s status as a Corporation trustee. Others criticized what they called disturbing reasoning behind the Student Conduct Board’s finding that a different student was not responsible for sexually assaulting one of the two women later that evening.

The hashtags #MoneyTalksAtBrown and #GHBGetOutOfRapeFree have  appeared on social media in recent days, catalyzed by a protest Thursday and the creation of the Facebook page “Act4RJ – #moneytalksatbrown,” which has garnered over 900 likes in three days.

But others have expressed frustration with this campaign and what they described as conflation of the two cases — some students believe the student who was accused of spiking a drink with GHB is the same individual who was accused of sexually assaulting one of the women.

#MoneyTalksAtBrown “just makes no sense and is counterproductive to the actual issues going on,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of backlash from peers, who added that community members are “incorrectly connecting dots, forming connections between things that aren’t really there.”

Several students with knowledge of the situation, who also asked for anonymity, said the Phi Psi member who faced charges for spiking a drink with GHB has recently been harassed on campus.

The accused student spent the weekend away from Brown because he felt campus was no longer a safe environment for him, they said.

Some students, including Undergraduate Council of Students President Maahika Srinivasan ’15, have spoken out against the University for its handling of the cases.

Srinivasan, who is one of several students whose profile picture now bears the “MoneyTalksAtBrown” slogan, questioned the relationship between the accused student, his father and University governance. Given the information currently available, she said it is “too murky” to say whether the University resolved the conflict of interest. 

“I don’t necessarily think there was any intervention on the side of the family to be able to say that he should be exonerated,” Srinivasan said.

“I do think that as an individual he had far, far more resources, and there, money had a huge role,” she said. “He had two lawyers. (One of the women) doesn’t even have a lawyer.”

But other students criticized this line of thinking. “There’s no evidence at all that his dad having money is even connected to the charges being dropped,” one of the anonymous students said. “So it’s really people taking two things, sticking them together and creating a sexy hashtag out of that. And there you have a movement.”

The role of evidence in the case has also emerged as a point of contention.

Srinivasan said requiring physical evidence for a hearing “doesn’t make sense.” The student’s hearing was canceled due to the lack of physical evidence in the case, The Herald reported Wednesday

The standard of evidence to hold a hearing should be student testimony, said Sadhana Bala ’17. “The fact that there was no drug potentially present in the urine sample … is too high a standard that needs to be met, so the trial should not have been dismissed.”

Sexual assault is “absolutely not okay,” but neither is convicting someone with no evidence, one of the anonymous students said.

In regard to the sexual assault hearing, several students criticized the SCB’s decision and voiced concerns about the definition of consent and the value of victims’ testimony in University hearings when drugs or alcohol are involved. The SCB found that the complainant’s limited memory of what transpired prevented her from rebutting the accused student’s testimony that she gave consent, The Herald reported Friday.

The University showed “flagrant disregard” for what consent was, Srinivasan said.

“She was drugged. How can you expect a testimony from her?” said Malwina Skowron ’18. “That to me is what stands out the most. … There’s a real disconnect between the policies (administrators) set out and how they enforce them.”

Title IX legislation precludes administrators from speaking about the specifics of individual cases.

Several students conflated the Phi Psi member accused of spiking the drink and the one accused of sexual assault in conversations with The Herald. The student whose father serves on the Corporation was not accused of sexual assault.

“There’s a lot of confusion about who is being accused of what,” said one of the anonymous students.

Another of the anonymous students said the conflation of the sexual assault and drugging cases has led to misleading social media posts, citing a Facebook post that read, “Because having a rich and influential daddy means you are free to rape at this school.”

Other students interviewed said they were not familiar enough with the cases to form an opinion, and still others questioned the absence of focus on the two complainants themselves.

“The losers in this case are not really the frat, or whoever else is being put under the spotlight right now, but the victims more so,” said Brittani Taylor ’18. “Out of everybody, they received the least amount of justice.”

– With additional reporting by Susannah Howe and Joseph Zappa

 

A previous version of this article included a quote from President of the Undergraduate Council of Students Maahika Srinivasan ’15 expressing her view that it is impossible to confirm or reject the possibility that the case involving the student accused of putting GHB in a drink was swayed by his father’s membership on the Corporation. Srinivasan meant that, given the information currently available, it is unclear whether the University resolved the conflict of interest.

20 Comments

  1. Greek alum says:

    Isn’t it interesting that the university narrative of phi psi kid randomly slips girl GHB and other student rapes* her makes so little sense (compared to one student drugs and rapes her) that people can’t even keep it straight?

  2. Double Standard says:

    #moneytalksatBrown, but that’s only protest-worthy if the money belongs to the parents of a white male. Otherwise nobody gives a frack.

    http://brown-spectator.com/2012/05/a-universitys-shame-how-brown-betrayed-one-of-its-students/

  3. ‘Srinivasan said requiring physical evidence for a hearing “doesn’t make sense.” ‘

    Ahh yes, a true speaker for justice! Why even have a hearing at all? Just toss em in the dungeon!

    • She didn’t say physical evidence was needed for a verdict. She said it wasn’t needed for a HEARING. denying a hearing denies the voices of the victims, and Brown can at least give them that much.

      • Concerned alum says:

        Please also consider the consequences of having a “hearing” on someone who appears to have been falsely accused.

  4. Greek Alum says:

    It’s interesting that the university’s narrative of a Phi Psi brother randomly drugging a girl and then an unrelated student rapes* her is so far fetched that even many on campus can’t keep it straight.

    Is the reason the university has never acknowledged the possibility that the rapist* drugged this woman because it simply refuses to acknowledge that Phi Psi might not have been responsible for this at all? Would they think differently if they hadn’t so swiftly and publicly punished Phi Psi for facilitating rape* and altered the campus alcohol policy to forbid greeks from holding registered events in their buildings (while of course still allowing individual students to hold unregistered parties in their buildings)?

    Has anyone on campus asked the university why no punishments were levied against the QA after they admitted earlier this year that SPG facilitated multiple campus rapes over multiple years? (I’m not saying the QA should have been punished but it’s unfair to punish certain student groups and not others for the same charges).

    *not according to Brown

  5. Concerned Alum says:

    Any apologies to the students and organizations who were falsely accuseD?

  6. TheRationale says:

    Title IX will eventually be amended or repealed, but this cannot continue.

    – University tribunals are completely unqualified to hold legal investigations – they’re just as qualified to perform a medical operation as they are to “investigate”.

    – Universities have a huge conflict of interest *when they’re investigating their own people*.

    – The rights of the accused do not exist. You’re guilty until proven innocent.

    – The rights of the victims do not exist. The perpetrator, if he’s determined to be guilty, is merely suspended for a semester or two, if that.

    There is no parallel in the adult world to this sort of absurdity. You go to the police because rape and sexual assault are violent crimes, the perpetrators of which are a threat to society. Walmart and Google do not hold quasi-legal criminal investigations when this happens. Due process non-negotiable. You’re not allowed to make up your own legal system when you feel like you don’t like the existing one.

  7. “There’s no evidence at all that his dad having money is even connected to the charges being dropped,” one of the anonymous students said.

    Right, aside from the fact that he was able to hire two lawyers to get a court injunction to delay his hearing and then hire a medical professional from Tufts medical school to cross-examine lab tests that previously had been considered positive… Please explain how he would have been able to do this without “his dad having money”. Without his dad’s money there would have been no independent review, no delayed hearing. He probably would have been kicked out already, which is disturbing for two reasons.

    The first reason is that this case ostensibly shows that having large amounts of money can get you off the hook at Brown, since there wasn’t even a hearing despite the alleged victim supposedly being told that there was enough evidence from witnesses and video alone to have a hearing without the results from the drug test being necessary. The second, equally disturbing reason is that if the Phi Psi member truly is innocent and did not have access to the resources that he does then a faulty lab test would have been used to convict him of a crime that it seems he did not actually commit. Of course I use the words “convict” and “crime” loosely because once again Brown refuses to go to the police despite the fact that crimes were allegedly committed on campus… Instead of having deans play detective how about the university relies upon trained professionals whose sole job is to investigate crimes?

    • Greek Alum says:

      There’s a mountain of difference between having the money to hire experts to contest something and the university simply dropping something to appease a donor. He could have theoretically found people to work pro bono. Had the hired experts not found anything to support his innocence then things would have moved forward.

      People are not upset that he had the money to hire lawyers. People believe Brown straight up said “oh no, look who his dad is. We better drop this” or that his dad contacted someone and leveraged his position to get them to drop it. Again, this is worlds apart from simply having the money to hire outside help.

      • Greek Alum says:

        The more I see from the protestors, the less I think what I wrote is right. I think people ARE actually upset that the kid was rich enough to hire his own experts. Honestly, that’s messed up. I hope someone corrects me and in fact it is just that people think Brown dropped it because it was a corporation member’s son. While I don’t think that’s true – at least I would completely agree with the outrage if it were.

    • The statement “having large amounts of money can get you off the hook at Brown” is ludicrous. Yes, there should have been a hearing, but to insinuate that there was no hearing because of “daddy’s money” is a gross contortion (fabrication, even) of the facts. It is a shame that it required an independent review and several other tests to come to a conclusion that should have been initially reached by the University, but to imply that having the funds to pay for more accurate tests somehow implies guilt is absurd.

      It is also a shame that shortfalls on the part of the University are being ignored because it is simply easier to blame a wealthy, white, male, frat boy.

    • Serious question- why can’t the women go to the police? Is it not because the evidence wouldn’t hold up to the bar that our legal system requires to convict? Isn’t the standard of proof lower at brown?

      • [note: more info HERE: knowyourix.org/why-schools-handle-sexual-violence-reports/ ]

        The victims/survivors of the case could go to the police, but so so many people who survive assault find the experience of dealing with under-trained detectives just adds trauma to their experience. Remember, if you’ve been sexually assaulted you’re under a lot of psychological and perhaps physical stress already. Often, those who bring charges of rape/sexual assault are further harassed, disbelieved, and “victim blamed” within the legal system — and by the press, if the case is brought to light. Think about the ways rape cases are usually reported, and really ask yourself if you’d want to put yourself through that on the very small chance you’ll actually get a conviction against your assailant? Look up the stats on reported rapes vs. rape convictions, you’ll be appalled.

        It’s not as easy as just going to the police and bada-bing, bada-boom, justice is served and the two women in this case begin the healing process. Remember, especially on campuses, rapes happen more often within social circles than between strangers — it can be hard to press charges against people you know (I’m not at all sure if that’s the case in this scenario, but in general, it’s true). Plus, that inevitably means people begin to take sides and the person pressing charges has to deal with the bullshit of people asking, “How could you ruin his life like this? He was such a good boy. [subtext: you evil b**ch, it’s your fault]”

        What’s more, not everyone believes that incarceration is the universal answer to every crime.

        So, serious answer to your serious question: it’s never a question of whether a person CAN or CANNOT go to the police; it’s a question of whether they want to; of whether or not that would be a productive step towards healing, or just open them up to further invasive scrutiny from people who are, on the whole, primed to disbelieve and antagonize them.

        Responding to alum2013, on whether Brown is equipped to handle these cases — well, that’s the point: they are not, but they really really really have to be. People will be raped EVERY SINGLE YEAR on campus, yet the administration continues to act as if they can just sweep this *one last case* under the rug and keep static until commencement — then it won’t happen again and the student body will forget about the enormous inadequacies and everything will be just swell. It’s not the publicity that’s the problem, it’s the policies and structures in place.

        • To me, this points to broader cultural issues and a real solution would not be isolated to the Universities. This still doesn’t solve the issue of Universities having their own parallel legal system. There is also the fact that these are violent crimes and kicking a kid off campus doesn’t address the fact that they may commit another violent act. It doesn’t put the assailant on a sex offender registry (there are issues with those policies as well but that’s not the point here) and even if incarceration is not the solution it doesn’t leave any room for rehabilitation.

          I still don’t think universities should be dealing with this. I don’t know if this is a false analogy or not, but no one would advocate the University handling a murder investigation…and then just kicking them off campus.

          • I think that is a false analogy. i’m not going to go into why, there’s a lot written out there on why rape =/= murder and why we shouldn’t think of them the same way.

            but I agree with your broader point that the University discipline system can’t be the only solution or that it should necessarily work in isolation.

            Whether or not a person goes to the police can be an intensely personal decision; sometimes the fact that a person doesn’t go to the police becomes a way for others to start casting doubt on the story. My point was primarily that there are a whole host of reasons why you wouldn’t go to the police and nobody should put pressure on these two women to do so. (And yes, I see people constantly asking, “But why won’t you go to the police?” as pressure).

  8. Yeah seriously. Brown University administration clearly does not have the ability to handle cases like these. (Not to mention the objectivity.)

  9. Concerned Parent says:

    If there is anything that the alleged date rape drugging incident at Phi Kappa Psi makes clear is that the University needs to involve trained investigators, lawyers and forensic experts when students accuse other students of committing serious crimes. GHB is a Schedule I controlled substance and drugging a person without their knowledge is a serious criminal offense. It is unclear why the University did not involve the police from the outset. University administrators are clearly not equipped to handle these kinds of cases.

    The University’s first mistake was misinterpreting the initial urine test. If they did their homework they would have known that urine testing for date rape drugs is problematic because of the speed with which the body metabolizes many such substances. They should have also known that certain levels of GHB are normal for everyone. It is highly unfortunate that the University acted so quickly based on the initial test results. Under the Clery Act they had a legal obligation to go public with what they believed to be a criminal act that endangered other students. However, if they had qualified their statements about the test results from the outset and refrained from taking final action against Phi Kappa Psi until they had the results of the hair testing, they could have avoided a lot of this mess.

    Unlike the urine testing, the hair test should be conclusive if done properly. Hair testing is highly accurate even if done months after the fact. According to the University, the results showed no exogenous levels of GHB. The cloud of doubt on these results, which the University has done as much to create as anyone, is that the lab may not have done the test properly by segmenting the hair sample. The man who conducted the test has claimed he did segment the hair, but for some reason the University has doubts. However, the hair testing can be done months after the fact. The test does not become less reliable over time. What puzzles me is why the complainants have not insisted that the University re-test their hair. I would think the University would require it as well.

    It is clear that students believe that the University needs to do a better job handling sexual assault/rape cases on campus. Unfortunately, the facts of this case seem to have fallen victim to the ensuing campus debate. The University has made limited information available but has otherwise hidden behind the privacy rights of the parties under Title IX. Other parties have selectively leaked information that supports their particular agenda. The result of this piece meal presentation of information is that many students have confused the alleged drugging incident with the subsequent but separate alleged sexual assault/rape incident. In addition, many students have fixated on the fact that the accused was wealthy and had a father on the Corporation. They have assumed that this is why there was no hearing. The irony is that the University did the accused a huge disservice by not holding the hearing while at the same time casting doubt on the conclusiveness of the hair test. If he is in fact innocent, they have denied him the opportunity to prove it. Now half the campus thinks he drugged and date raped someone and used his money and family connections to get out of it.

    The current situation reflects poorly on the University as a whole. The Daily Herald needs to step up their journalistic game. Get above the politics and get to the truth!

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