C of C president defends school’s response to allegations of sexual assault
The College of Charleston treated an athlete’s allegation of sexual assault last spring “extremely seriously,” and authorities properly disciplined those involved, the school president told students and employees Sunday.
George Benson’s email came after The Post and Courier published a report in which the victim’s father criticized the criminal investigation as inadequate and protective of the accused athletes. The father said Benson’s comments Sunday were “laughable” because several of the suspects were not punished for conduct violations.
A member of the school’s varsity softball team alleged that four baseball players assaulted her April 23 during a drunken party in a dormitory suite, according to the father. She reported the incident the next day.
An ensuing six-month investigation by the school’s Department of Public Safety ended earlier this month with no arrests because of what Benson called “insufficient evidence” that resulted from a “professional and methodical” effort by trained police officers. Benson added that the case could be reopened if new information comes to light.
“Please know that the college has treated this case extremely seriously from the moment it was first reported,” Benson wrote, “and has done everything in its power to thoroughly investigate this incident while treating all of the students and families involved with respect, sensitivity, and fairness.”
Benson acknowledged Sunday that four students were found in violation of the college’s code of conduct and received sanctions in connection with the allegation. School officials had previously declined to discuss an honor board’s actions, except to say that a suspect had been expelled for having inappropriate sexual contact with another student.
Benson did not detail the disciplinary actions.
The victim’s father said Benson’s statement was partially untrue.
Beyond the suspect who was expelled, the father said one other received no discipline. The honor board recommended a one-year suspension for two other suspects, he added, but those punishments were overturned by student affairs Vice President Victor Wilson. A witness was ordered to write a research paper, the father said.
Wilson, members of the honor board and officials in the school’s athletic department have declined to comment.
“Some students did receive sanctions, but they were overturned,” the father said. “He’s leaving that out.”
The father has argued that the case should have been investigated by an independent agency because it involved athletes. A state law passed in 2007 requires the school police to handle reports of sex assault on campus.
Benson wrote that the State Law Enforcement Division was notified about the case, but he did not say whether its agents had any further involvement.
He also did not confirm that those accused were athletes. The school has repeatedly denied queries for further information, including the suspects’ names, citing a federal law governing students’ privacy rights.
Four more requests under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act have been filed by The Post and Courier. They remain pending.
The victim dropped out of school after the allegation.
Her father said he hopes authorities will revive the investigation. He added that his daughter was traumatized by the incident and partially faulted for her role.
Benson, who said he was constantly informed of the investigation’s progress, wrote that school authorities offered to support the young woman on several occasions.
The school has “taken significant measures to educate our students about sexual assault and alcohol use,” he wrote.
“The college expects its students to comply with all laws and has high expectations for their behavior and conduct,” he said in the email. “We have policies prohibiting illegal behavior, and we expect our students to act responsibly, to exercise good judgment, and to respect the privacy and rights of others.”