A sophomore studying social work at James Madison University has called out her school for blatantly mishandling its investigation of a fellow JMU student accused of raping her during a school trip to Ghana last year.
The accuser, Caroline Whitlow, said the assault occurred June 21, 2017, during a study abroad trip while intoxicated at a party. After returning to Harrisonburg and running into her alleged attacker several times throughout the fall semester, Whitlow reported it to the Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices (OSARP) in December 2017. On March 28, the OSARP hearing board found the accused “not responsible.”
“James Madison University is aware of social media reports concerning allegations of sexual misconduct against a student employee,” the university said in an official statement. “These serious issues are of course among the most difficult facing universities, and all institutions in our society today. The emotions engendered by these types of allegations are understandable, given their gravity and the impact on all individuals concerned.”
Whitlow and other JMU students took their frustration with the case to social media. “According to Whitlow, her alleged attacker ignored her when she repeatedly said she didn’t want to have sex,” reported The Breeze, JMU’s student paper. “Whitlow complained to the university about her attacker under federal Title IX anti-sex discrimination law in December.”
Whitlow said it took a long time for Title IX to send their statements to OSARP and for OSARP to contact her. She also submitted statements from other student witnesses on the trip, who confirmed she was clearly drunk and later appeared upset and in shock.
“Someone who had been through the process suggested I submit notes from my therapist, like an expert witness,” Whitlow tweeted. “When I ask my counselor at the JMU Counseling Center, she tells me the only information she can give OSARP is my dates of attendance.”
Reflecting on the entire situation, she believes OSARP didn’t want to help her, especially after asking her what she describes as incriminating questions.
“I get asked the question, ‘Do you think your memory loss is from alcohol or trauma?’” she wrote. “Obviously, I don’t have brain scans. Months later, this question still puzzles me. What should I have said?”
She said James Madison’s Student Discipline Office granted her alleged attacker more character witnesses and more time to file his account of the party they attended in West Africa to OSARP.
“My attacker has extra time after his opening statement, and he uses it to say that I was incorrect about the dates on which things happened,” she wrote in a Tweet. “I have my personal diary sitting in front of me. I’m not allowed to respond and correct him.”
Whitlow said not all her witnesses were contacted.
“Out of the two names I gave, two individuals who were sober on the night of the incident and remembered important details — Title IX only spoke with one of them,” Whitlow tweeted. “My attacker’s witnesses were all able to make statements. Even one that was submitted after the deadline.”
She recalled the accused rapist testifying that she said, “No” during her assault and that his witness said, “He had no reason to believe the assault didn’t occur.” Whitlow’s witness allegedly overheard the suspect say, “I guess I raped her.”
She criticized the school for pressuring her not to speak with journalists about the complaint. JMU’s student paper and Inside Higher Ed both wrote about her ordeal in April.
Since filing the complaint, Whitlow said she has quit her job at the university and dropped a course that she potentially would have shared with her attacker.
“I just want to be physically away from my rapist,” she wrote.
RVA Magazine made several attempts to contact JMU’s Office of Student Accountability last Wednesday, who did not respond to inquiries by press time.