JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Attorneys say a University of North Florida fraternity and some of its members who were thrown off campus after a sexual assault investigation could be held civilly and criminally liable.
According to documents obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM, in February 2019, a 19-year-old student reported she was sexually assaulted while she was passed out at a Kappa Sigma fraternity party at the organization’s off-campus house.
The woman reported the incident to the university but did not file criminal charges at the time, saying she was scared of reliving the pain. But attorneys with knowledge of similar cases tell News4Jax that she can still file a case against her accused attacker and others involved.
The I-TEAM learned that UNF finished an internal investigation in late July, finding the fraternity and two students responsible for sexual misconduct, harassment, endangerment, among other allegations. As a result, a UNF student conduct board expelled the fraternity from campus, a decision the fraternity is appealing.
The woman, who spoke to News4Jax on the condition of anonymity, said the forcible rape was horrible, as was the response from she received from her peers. “Everyone is more like, ‘Oh my gosh that happened? How can we cover it up?’” she said.
She claims she was drinking at a party when she went into the garage for another drink with a student she knew but wasn’t dating. She said she passed out and the next thing she recalled was waking up in his dorm room the next day with visible injuries. She went to the hospital where her case was documented and evidence was collected.
She told the I-TEAM that after the assault, her attacker’s fraternity brothers and some former sorority sisters told her to keep quiet about what happened.
“After I was raped, I had a lot of girls come up to me and say, ‘This happened to me last year but I was too scared to do anything about it,’” she said. “This is exactly why. It’s because you have to deal with the fraternity’s backlash, retaliation, conspiracies they have in the chapter.”
After reporting the case to UNF, she claims her attacker’s friends sent her a care package with an apology, but someone left an explicit message on her mailbox and vandalized her car. She believes it was part of an effort to intimidate her and squash the case. She said she did not file criminal charges at the time because she did not want to relive the ordeal.
“It’s not surprising honestly,” said attorney Belkis Plata, who has represented clients in similar sexual assault cases. “A lot of the sex cases that I’ve had, a lot of times the victims may initially report and then not want to move forward.”
Plata said allegations like these are not uncommon in a college atmosphere. Nor is the peer pressure that has a chilling effect on people coming forward.
“Unfortunately, a lot of times people will find a way to get out of it, whether it is telling someone to change the story or making them feel bad or feel guilty for what happened to them. Making them feel as though, ’If you had not been drinking, this would not have happened.’ Or: ’We are really sorry, please let’s just make this go away, so that none of us have to deal with it.’”
A UNF internal investigation found two students involved responsible for the allegations: one for the attack and another for the coverup. The first was suspended for three years and left the school. The second was suspended for one year but is appealing that suspension.
Plata said the attacker and anyone who was involved in witness tampering could be charged with a first-degree felony. A conviction on that charge could result in a 30-year prison sentence. There’s also the possibility of a civil case, but both scenarios depend on the young woman’s pursuit of a legal case.
“It take some time for things to happen but it could also move rather quickly,” said Plata, who pointed out that the statute of limitations for a case like this is four years in Florida, though it could be longer.
Other attorneys contacted by News4Jax agreed that the young woman has both criminal and civil cases against her attacker, if she decides to go that route. They said it’s not uncommon for sexual assault victims to be intimidated into silence, as their attackers and sometimes friends make them feel guilty for what happened to them.
News4Jax formally asked for the complete case files from UNF’s investigation on August 13. A university spokesperson said they were moving forward with the request, which has not yet been fulfilled. News4Jax also requested interviews with the university’s president and any administrators involved, but so far no one has agreed to an interview.
A UNF spokesperson issued the following statement Thursday about the investigation:
“Kappa Sigma was removed from campus as a result of discipline received through the student conduct process. The University cannot comment further as the fraternity is exercising their right to appeal and the conduct process is ongoing.”