Sex assault survivor files complaint against Hampden-Sydney College

FARMVILLE, VA (WWBT) - A woman, who says she was sexually assaulted on the Hampden-Sydney College campus, claims the school not only mishandled the original investigation, but failed to help her years later.

For the first time, the survivor is sharing her story only with On Your Side Investigator Rachel DePompa about her 18-year battle for justice.

More than 130 colleges are under federal investigation right now accused of mishandling sexual assaults on college campuses. The sexual assault survivor from 1997 says what's happening now is all too familiar to the college culture. She's asked that her name be hidden and is going by "Beth" for the purpose of this report.

"It changed my life. It's just something that never has left me," said Beth about the February 1997 assault. She went with a group of girlfriends to Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male school in rural Farmville, to celebrate her 19th birthday.

"A friend and I had made a pact that we wouldn't separate," said Beth, but as friends sometime do, her friend broke that agreement leaving Beth with few options. A person at Hampden-Sydney offered up his dorm room here at Venable Hall. He wouldn't be staying there. The room was open and empty.

"While I was in that dorm room, that's where the assault happened," explained Beth. She says she was attacked and sexually assaulted by a stranger.
Beth eventually got away. A police officer saw her walking the campus and noticed she was in distress.

"I asked her if everything was okay, she said, 'No, someone had done her wrong,'" an officer wrote in the campus police incident report.

Beth says she was not taken to a hospital or given a rape kit test.  She also wasn't formally interviewed by police. She was taken to a school nurse, who listened to what happened and wrote down notes but did not offer medical care.

"I couldn't really think outside of that moment, in terms of what else logically should have been done. I wasn't capable of it at that time," said Beth. She says she was traumatized.

She says an eye-witness helped identify her attacker. It's noted on the police incident report, but she says everything was handled internally at the school by the Hampden-Sydney honor board.

"I never felt that my best interest was their concern. It was always about protecting themselves first," said Beth. In 2006, she tried to get copies of her records, the nurses notes and the police report. "I wanted a copy of it because I felt entitled to have a copy of it. It was something that happened to me."

Hampden-Sydney eventually gave her the police incident report, but nothing else. In 2013, she and her husband tried again.

The college president responded, "We are committed to getting to the bottom of this matter," but a few hours later the school's attorney wrote an email to the college and accidentally copied Beth writing "This could be phishing. Let's proceed very cautiously." A month later the school told her she'd need to prove her identity by providing a copy of her marriage certificate as well as her driver's license.

Two months after that the president tells her again, "I intend to assist you as much as possible," but informs her the police department can't find the report. The same report she received in 2006.

The college finally offered records from the student court case against her attacker, but tells her, as a "third party" -- even though the alleged crime happened to her -- she couldn't have all the records.

"Under two laws you have a right to this information they never told her they never mentioned that," said Laura Dunn, the Executive Director of SurvJustice, a national nonprofit that helps survivors of sexual violence. "I think the federal government will be really interested in seeing the ongoing communications and the lack of awareness. I was able to get within a week what they spent two years seeking."

It was 760 days after Beth's initial request.

NBC12 asked to speak to the college president or a dean about Beth's case and allegations. We were given this lengthy statement:

Hampden-Sydney College is limited in its ability to discuss the specifics of particular sexual assault cases or the 1997 incident you describe; however, the College treats all reports of sexual assault with the utmost care and attention. 
All such reports trigger an investigation and appropriate responsive action.
The College has worked with [NAME WITHHELD] and her attorney to provide them with the records they have recently requested, while respecting the laws governing the disclosure of those records.  The College's policy was to preserve documents
for at least three years longer than the seven years required by law. However, because sixteen years had passed between the incident and [NAME WITHHELD] request, many of these types of records, if they had existed, would no longer be in the College's files. 
Nevertheless, the College conducted a thorough and diligent search for records and has provided [NAME WITHHELD] with all of the requested information and records in its possession.  [NAME WITHHELD]or her attorney are encouraged to contact the College if they have
any remaining questions or concerns regarding her record requests.
Ensuring the safety of students and visitors is a top priority of the College. Hampden-Sydney College has implemented and continues to improve a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to addressing sexual assault.  Its policies are
being developed in consultation with outside consultants, Title IX due process experts, and advisors with years of experience in victim's rights advocacy.  The College's dedicated staff and faculty have worked with these experts to develop what it believes
are the most thorough, proactive and fair sexual assault policies and procedures in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Protection of Complainants, including providing survivors with full notice of their rights and available resources, is a critical component of these policies.  The College's Title IX coordinator ensures that every Complainant is promptly
provided with specific information that includes his or her rights and resources, including information on medical treatment and evidence preservation.
The College and its law enforcement specialists have entered into formal mutual-aid agreements with state and local police forces, the sheriff's office, and Longwood University to coordinate sexual assault prevention and response. 
Hampden-Sydney College is also a member of the Prince Edward County Sexual Assault Response Team through which it partners with the Southside Center for Violence Prevention, Madeline's House, and the Piedmont Crisis Center.  The College requires extensive
Title IX and sexual assault training for all students, and also relevant members of the faculty and staff.  It has developed and is refining a multi-stage investigatory and adjudicatory process that respects the rights and privacy of victims while upholding
due process for respondents.
The College recognizes and is committed to proactively address the serious national issue of sexual assault on campus, and is vigilantly working towards its goal of eliminating sexual assault from the College entirely.
Thomas H. Shomo
Director of Marketing & Communications

This month Beth and her attorney filed a Clery Act complaint with the US Department of Education over the college's handling of her case then and now.

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