Rape allegations fester; accuser goes public

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Students, (From left to right) Ally Vahalik, Courtney Hood, Isao Yoshino, Haruka Kawabata and Mana Hasegawa held handmade signs during their protest of alleged sexual assault that occured on campus. Erin Granger / Sun Star

 

A student says she is withdrawing from UAF to protest a lack of decisive action by university officials and Fairbanks prosecutors after reporting being drugged and raped to campus police earlier this semester.

According to a personal statement posted to Facebook on Oct. 19, Jessie Wattum, a sophomore political science student, was allegedly drugged and raped in the dorm at approximately 3 a.m. on Sept. 3. Campus police responded, interviewing Wattum as well as the suspect, according to the department case reports. Wattum was then transported to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, where a rape kit and drug test were administered.

University spokeswoman Marmian Grimes and the Fairbanks district attorney’s office both confirmed that the investigation by the UAF Police Department had concluded. The case was sent to the district attorney’s office with a recommended charge of sexual assault in the second degree, according to an email sent to Wattum by Officer Clay Faris.

The district attorney’s office declined to file criminal charges or continue any form of prosecution, according to Grimes. Fairbanks District Attorney Greggory Olson declined to provide comment on his decision not to prosecute.

Although the police investigation has been concluded, Chief Steve Goetz has refused to provide investigation files or reports to the Sun Star.

According to Wattum’s statement, she accepted a drink on the night of the incident from a male acquaintance.

“I have no memory of what happened fifteen minutes after that exchange,” Wattum wrote. “I found out the next morning that I had been taken to his room and raped, and that my sister, returning to the dorms after I had missed several of her calls, had found me there, naked and unconscious.”

The alleged assailant, who was identified by the office of the DA, was contacted for comment. No response was received as of press time.

Two days after Wattum’s post was made public, Interim Chancellor Thomas issued a statement via a campus-wide email.

“I want to assure you that UAF is following our Title IX and student discipline process,” Thomas wrote. “That process includes support services for the parties involved, as well as an investigation and, if appropriate, student discipline. Fairness requires that we thoroughly investigate and evaluate all sexual misconduct cases and that work is currently underway in this case.”

Although the criminal investigation has concluded, the university’s Title IX investigation into the incident is still active and ongoing, according to campus Title IX Coordinator Kevin Calderara.

In adhering to federal guidelines, Title IX investigations must be concluded within 60 days of any reported incident, UA System President Jim Johnsen said in an interview. According to this rule, investigation of the Wattum case must be finished by Nov. 2.

“60 days is a long time from the complainant’s standpoint,” Johnsen said. “This is a very painful experience and I understand that, but we have to do a thorough job with the investigation.”

“My family and I have had to fight tooth and nail to get the support UAF promised to give their victims,” Wattum wrote in her Facebook post. “The Title IX office has done its best to ignore, delay, and silence all of our efforts, and every meeting and email to the Dean of Students, Laura McCollough, left us hanging for days or weeks with no answers.”

Before announcing her departure from the university in her post, Wattum expressed outrage at the handling of the case by university administration.

“The continual silence from Title IX and the police department put a huge strain on my mental and physical health,” Wattum wrote. “I have made the ultimate decision to withdraw from UAF. Due to UAF’s general lack of respect and hospitality to one of their own students, I feel I have been forced to leave.”

Since Wattum’s posting, students have staged protests against the university’s lack of action on the case and UAF’s official Facebook page has been flooded with negative reviews and comments.

“I love parts of this campus and am heartbroken by other aspects of it. I love my instructors and most of the faculty and classmates I interact with,” Colin McKenzie, a fellow student, wrote. “I am however, also sickened by how this institution handles sexual assault cases and how often justice is swept under the rug.”

“The inaction and lack of transparency from the Dean of Students and the Title IX office is absolutely disgraceful,” Joe Randsall-Green, a current UAF student, commented. “UAF has shown us all they do not stand with the victims of sexual assault and rape. This is not right.”

Dean of Students, Laura McCollough, has not responded to requests for official comment as of press time.

Chancellor Thomas will be hosting a student forum in the Hess Rec Center on Sunday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m to discuss the issue further.

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5 Responses

  1. Kimberly Maxwell says:

    Well done article, Erin!

  2. Rebecca Hammer says:

    Thanks for your hard work reporting on this important issue, Erin!

  3. Amelia Topkok says:

    This is crazy. Some sort of prosecution should have happened by now- even within a week or two after the timeframe. Was it an athlete or someone that UAF has an interest in keeping rather than pressing charges against him? This sounds like the other high profile University that was protecting one of their own a couple of months ago in lower 48.

  4. db cooper says:

    This Chancellor forum was announced weeks ago and now is being presented as a response to the many poorly handled title IX violations occurring on campus. Why hasn’t Chancellor been willing to address these safety issues in the past weeks, instead of pretending a pre-planned discussion is now a new planned discussion on title IX?
    shame on us

  5. Jeremy says:

    Is there a particular reason why the victim’s name is being used in the article but the accused is not?

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