The U of I’s handling of an alleged sexual assault deserves the tough questions being asked. There are valid reasons the Board of Regents re-opened its investigation.
Shawn Terrell and Sonya Heitshusen investigated this story for months, beginning in late October. They were told several things off the record that we couldn’t confirm on the record. We thought those details wouldn’t see the light of day unless the case reached trial. The mother’s letter changed much of that.
(addendum: Sonya continued working sources diligently, just as the Iowa City Press Citizen did. Often times sources tell you something off the record because they’re trying to steer you in a direction, but without being accountable for that information. When no one will go on the record, as was the case despite Sonya’s repeated requests, you are stuck. Props to the Press Citizen for breaking through, and to Sonya and Shawn for continuing to ask tough questions that were not popular at the U of I.)
There were many things about the way Iowa handled this that troubled me long before reading the letter. However, after seeing the mother’s pain and frustration leap off the page, it’s no wonder so many people feel concern, if not outrage.
For the most part, we have only heard from one side. We must remember that, especially now as emotions run high. However, there are some details that cannot be explained away, unless the mother and father of the alleged victim are making things up, and I know of no one who believes that.
I won’t go over the entire list here. I think Andy Fales did a good job of asking the relevant questions in this week’s “What’s Bugging Andy?”.
Among the apparent inexplicable details: How could the alleged victim be forced to live a few doors down from her attacker (and his girlfriend)?
Why wasn’t the alleged victim immediately assigned an advocate? President Mason’s explanation that the alleged victim’s father was her advocate defies belief. Is she serious? Does anyone think this sounds like a good idea? President Mason is not off to a good start at Iowa when it comes to leadership.
Why did the University hold back the mother’s letters from the Regents? It hurts credibility.
Why did Iowa athletic officials reportedly suggest the student let the University keep it in house and do its own investigation? If you don’t understand the influence the people in that room would have over a young student-athlete, you likely haven’t played sports.
Why didn’t the alleged victim’s coach give her and her family more help and guidance? Why did the mother feel no one was in charge?
Did anyone at Iowa actually think removing the suspects from the active football roster was enough to satisfy the alleged victim?
Why was an assigned football dorm room empty? And why did Kirk Ferentz send two players in there to live after he knew a serious crime allegedly took place there? I suspect it was just questionable judgment, and there’s a lot of that going around.
Sadly, I could go on. And on.
Most unfathomable of all is how something could be mismanaged this poorly just a few years after the Pierre Pierce debacle. What kind of policies were put in place that allowed a department to conduct its own internal investigation despite the obvious conflict of interest? Can a University administrator actually hear a rape allegation and not be required to tell the police?
I don’t think any of the people being called into question obstructed justice or committed a crime, but they appear guilty of bad judgment. I don’t doubt University officials “followed protocol” as Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta told Sonya three times. But even if they technically followed the rules, shouldn’t we expect more from our leaders? If you just heard from a devastated Iowa student who said she walked into a room a virgin and walked out covered in blood after being raped, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to get the police involved immediately?
It’s also fair to ask that after all those embarrassing arrests, disappointing losses, and widely circulated Facebook pictures, if the climate was right for otherwise smart and reputable people to act too much in their own interests instead of those of a student-athlete they had reason to suspect suffered a terrible rape. Perhaps they couldn’t even think straight. The pressure of big time, big money college athletics has a way of doing that.
When we finally are able to hear the University of Iowa’s side, I believe the administration will have well thought out explanations for much of what happened. It certainly won’t appear so one-sided. It’s hard to imagine it will be enough.
I know Ferentz, to his credit, removed the players from the team in timely fashion. I realize the alleged victim could have gone to the police, even if urged otherwise. I know the accused are innocent until proven guilty. But none of that gets to the root of what keeps swirling around in my mind.
If I had a daughter, or sister, at the University of Iowa, would I be satisfied that the leaders in this case did everything they could to make a terrible situation as tolerable as possible? For now, the answer is a resounding no.