I-Team: Is University of Cincinnati responding quickly enough to sex assault cases?

CINCINNATI -- Jennifer Schoewe said she has only a vague memory of what happened to her one night two summers ago.

"I could feel everything, but I didn't have the strength or energy to push him off of me or resist at all," she said. "I just remember wanting to go to sleep and hoping and praying I was asleep and this was just a nightmare."

Schoewe said it took her three weeks to remember just that.

Earlier in the evening, witnesses said she was stumbling, confused and slurring her speech. Schoewe woke up the next day in her own apartment. She said her underwear was missing, and that she had pain in her pelvic area. The student she accused of assaulting her insisted the sex was consensual.

What happened next may change the University of Cincinnati and the way it responds to students like Schoewe -- students who say they were raped.

'There was no reason for them to wait'

The WCPO I-Team obtained university records that state the students had sex on the night of Aug. 22, 2015 or early the next morning.

Two days later, Schoewe reported to the university's Title IX Office that she was a victim of sexual violence. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination -- including sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault -- on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity. Under the law, universities can be held responsible if they fail to protect students from sexual discrimination.

The University of Cincinnati has a Title IX Office to manage compliance with the federal law and handle questions about the school's policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex.

The next day, the University of Cincinnati Police Department launched a criminal investigation.

A notice of her report was sent to Schoewe and the accused on Sept. 18 -- 24 days after she reported the incident to the Title IX office.

RELATED: Are colleges biased in how they deal with sex crimes?

Despite Schoewe's pleas to a high-ranking administrator, UC refused to temporarily suspend the student accused of assaulting her until after he was indicted.

"We begged her," Schoewe said. "'Hey, is there anything you can do to get him out of here? I don't feel safe going to classes. I can barely sit in class without feeling like I'm going to explode in tears. Panic attacks. Is there a way that you can make it feel safe for me again, because I'm not getting the safety that I know you guys can provide for me.' She said, 'I'm sorry, but the only thing I can do is, we will suspend him, but we need that indictment first.'"

The man Schoewe accused of raping her was indicted on a charge of sexual battery on Oct. 2 -- 40 days after she reported the alleged assault.

It took the University of Cincinnati another four days to suspend him.

"There was no reason for them to wait for that for them to protect the victim and other potential victims," Title IX expert S. Daniel Carter said. The I-Team asked him to review records of Schoewe's case.

"I believe it's a potential violation of Title IX that the interim sanctions and the protections were not implemented sooner," he said.

In March 2016, UC's Administrative Review Committee heard the evidence and found the accused student had violated the University Policy Statement on Sex Offenses. The university dismissed him.

"Overall, I think the investigation was handled correctly by the university," Carter said. "There are some concerns about how long it took to resolve the matter -- over 200 days when the department of education recommends about 60."

The accused student insisted he wasn't given a fair opportunity to tell his story and confront his accuser, but his appeal was denied.

"The University of Cincinnati is hardly unique in that this is a challenge at colleges and universities all over the country," Carter said.

The I-Team investigation also discovered UCPD determined its own officer, William Richey, had violated undisclosed department policy during the investigation.

During the criminal investigation of Schoewe’s allegations, Richey admitted giving her four tickets to a UC football game. He allowed her to borrow his necklace to wear. He also traded text messages and phone calls with her on his personal cellphone when he was off duty during the criminal investigation.

Schoewe and Richey denied having a romantic relationship, but Richey refused to give his supervisors access to his messages to Schoewe, and she refused a court order to reveal them to the defense.

Schoewe said the scrutiny made her feel like she was being assaulted all over again.

"They had no right," she said.

The judge disagreed and dismissed the case. It was erased from the public record after an expungement hearing two weeks ago.

"This case never should have been brought, period," defense attorney Rich Goldberg said. He argued Schoewe and Richey have no one to blame but themselves.

"The prosecution and their witness were ordered to provide us with certain evidence related to certain cellphone calls. They refused to, and the court dismissed the case because of a violation of a court order," Goldberg said.

The former UC student walked away from court knowing the criminal case had disappeared from the public record, like it never existed.

"There aren't words to describe how I feel. Just sadness and a sense of defeat," Schoewe said.

How is UC changing?

The group Students for Survivors has demanded more responsive services and an increase in staff and funding for programs. UC administrators say the university has increased funding for victim support and investigations, including the recent hiring of four new staff members for the Title IX office and additional victims' advocates.

 

"I respect their right to demonstrate and want to support them," said Bleuzette Marshall, UC's Vice President of Equity and Inclusion in response to a student protest. "I think that we are a work in progress and that we can become better when we know what all of the needs are so that we can work to address those."

But explanations like that weren't enough for Schoewe, who complained to the U.S. Department of Education's Office For Civil Rights. The OCR is now investigating the UC Title IX program. Federal investigators will examine how the university has responded to reports of sexual violence, including the one Schoewe filed.

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