James Madison University Under Federal Investigation for Handling of Student's Sexual Assault ComplaintBy Russell Westerholm, UniversityHerald Reporter
Three James Madison University (JMU) fraternity members were found responsible for sexual assault and then punished by being banned from campus after they graduated.
According to the Huffington Post, the "expulsion after graduation" punishment allowed the three students to remain on campus while they completed their degrees this past May. However, one student is now a rising senior and he is reportedly expecting to return to campus in the fall.
The victim, Sarah Butters, filed a federal complaint and now JMU is the 63rd school in the country to face a Title IX/Clery Act investigation from the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). Butters complained the Harrisonburg, Va. school violated the federal gender equity Title IX law with their punishment of her assailants. The OCR began its investigation June 4.
Due to privacy laws, administrators at JMU declined to comment to the HP.
"James Madison University takes very seriously any allegation of sexual assault and is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the JMU community," Bill Wyatt, a school spokesman said in a statement.
Butters said the incident took place during spring break 2013 in Florida. She said she was at a party and was drinking alcohol with the three students, who she said she trusted. They also had a video recording of the incident, which they later shared on an online gossip forum.
"It was kind of hard for me to deal with," Butters told the HP. "I just tried to diminish the situation - I didn't want to bring it up, didn't want to talk about it."
In the video, Butters reportedly objects audibly to being stripped and groped, but she said Josh Bacon, JMU director of judicial affairs, told her he could not determine if the scene was consensual or not.
After Butters filed a formal complaint in Jan. 2014, Bacon expelled the three students for sexual harassment and sexual assault, effective after graduation, according to documents shared with the HP. Butters appealed and a panel ruled the three should be expelled immediately. Then the three men appealed and the panel returned to the original punishment.
Butters' grades slipped during the whole process of filing her report and following up on it, which caused her to lose financial aid. Later, she decided to drop out of school and file her federal complaint. She said she is now most afraid for potential future victims of sexual assault.
"What is a girl going to think that I had video proof and I still have to see these boys on campus?" Butters told the HP. "How would she ever feel comfortable coming forward?"