Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Colleges and Universities: A Place to Get Away with Rape

Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Colleges and Universities: A Place to Get Away with Rape

Article excerpt


Tyler Thomas ("Tyler") was a nineteen-year-old first-year college student who lived on campus at Peru State College (1) ("PSC"). (2) Tyler was last seen on December 3, 2010, and although her body has never been recovered, she was declared dead by a Nebraska court. (3) Tyler's mother filed a complaint against the school where she alleged Tyler was abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered by Joshua Keadle (4) ("Joshua"). (5) Joshua's statements to the police varied, (6) and although he denied hurting Tyler, his statements indicate he was alone with Tyler near the Missouri River, on the morning of December 3, 2010. (7) It seems Joshua was the only person who had knowledge about Tyler's whereabouts, but Joshua pled the Fifth Amendment (8) and also refused to be deposed by Tyler's mother. (9)

Joshua, who was 29 years old at the time of Tyler's disappearance, was living on campus in the same dormitory as eighteen- to nineteen-year-old students, such as Tyler, who was his next-door neighbor. (10) In August 2010, Joshua applied to volunteer and assist with the PSC women's basketball team, which triggered a background check that revealed only minor traffic offenses in Nebraska. (11) At the same time, campus security suspected Joshua had stolen a laptop, which led to the Sheriff's department investigation. (12) In September 2010, Joshua was charged with two separate violations of PSC's Code of Conduct based upon alleged inappropriate sexual behavior toward two female students at PSC. (13) He admitted to the first charge of sexual harassment and was ordered to complete an online educational program and ten hours of community service; he failed to complete either sanction. (14)

On September 23, 2010, while sexual harassment charges were being investigated, William Stonebarger ("Mr. Stonebarger"), the Director of Housing and Security, recommended to Michaela Willis ("Ms. Willis"), Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, that Joshua be removed from the dormitories if he admitted responsibility, (15) but Ms. Willis disagreed. (16) Local police and PSC's Title IX Coordinator were not informed of the sexual harassment allegations, and we will never know whether Tyler's life could have been saved if local authorities were involved when the harassment accusations against Joshua were made. (17)

Tyler's case is not an isolated occurrence. (18) Studies show that about twenty percent of young undergraduate women (19) and six percent of young undergraduate men (20) who go to college and reside on campus, will suffer from attempted or actual sexual abuse. (21) Yet, sexual abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in the United States. (22) The consequences faced by victims of sexual abuse are overwhelming, which include increased rates of depression, (21) stress disorder, (24) alcohol or drug consumption, (25) and suicide attempts. (26) We all need to do something. (27)

Just as physicians, health professionals, and school officials are required to report suspicions of child abuse in Florida, (28) colleges and universities (collectively referred to as "schools"), should bear the same duty of mandatory reporting for cases of sexual abuse. (29) If a university has determined, by the preponderance of the evidence, (30) that sexual abuse has occurred, then the university should be compelled to report the incident to local police. (31) Although Florida is known for having passed the toughest mandatory reporting laws for sexual abuse of children after the Sandusky Penn State scandal, (32) there is no mandatory reporting requirement for young adults who suffer sexual abuse in schools." Additionally, schools do not currently offer programs of rehabilitation for the alleged assailant, and for the most part, the alleged attacker is allowed to continue pursuing his or her studies in the same university, running the risk of having repeat offenders on campus. (34)

Part II of this comment will provide a background of the different laws and amendments previously enacted in an effort to eradicate sexual abuse from colleges and universities, such as (1) Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; (35) (2) Dear Colleague Letter; (36) (3) The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act ("Clery Act"); (37) (4) Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act of 2013; (38) and (5) the proposed bill "Safe Campus Act of 2015," (39) which was introduced to the House of Representatives on July 29, 2015, but has not been enacted. …

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