Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has declined to bring sexual assault charges against three men at Morehouse and one at Georgia Tech. The two cases had lingered without charges for over two years because, according to Howard, they involved complexities surrounding whether one can consent under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
In 2013, an 18-year-old Spelman woman accused three Morehouse basketball players of drugging, kidnapping, and sexually assaulting her. The physical evidence, however, remained unclear, as witnesses confirmed that the young woman was conscious and responsive the night of her assault. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was also unable to find DNA evidence to support the young woman’s claim.
Howard, commenting on the Morehouse case, indicated that he waited so long to dismiss the case because the circumstances were uncertain. According to the AJC, Howard, still in communication with the survivor and her mother, filed the dismissal after concluding with them both that it was the best decision.
“I would not characterize [the accused] as innocent…I had a lot of reservations about dismissing the case. The young lady involved suffered greatly because of the incident. What we discovered is that we had a victim who voluntarily ingested drugs and alcohol,” he said. “Based upon the circumstances…they may not have been able to tell that she was not giving her consent.”
In the Georgia Tech case, the accused had been a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, famous for a leaked email detailing methods of taking advantage of young women, encouraging brothers to use alcohol.
The survivor, an Agnes Scott student, relayed to authorities how in January 2014 she had been drinking and passed out on the Georgia Tech man’s couch. She awoke the next morning, unable to recall what had happened, but had a feeling that “something bad had happened.” She learned from the Tech student that they had had sex the night before.
After bringing her case to the authorities, another Agnes Scott woman corroborated the survivor’s claim, stating that the same Georgia Tech man had assaulted her in 2012. Both women successfully sued the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and settled for an undisclosed amount of money, and, afterwards, the Agnes Scott woman who first notified the authorities decided not to move forward with the case.
Georgia law does not provide a definition of consent in its sexual assault laws, only clarifying that consent is not a defense in cases of rape or sexual assault. Even so, very few sexual assault cases that occur on college campuses are successfully prosecuted, and around 90% of cases that occur on campus go unreported.
It is past time that conversations around the meaning of consent and rape prevention are had on college campuses. The law is often unclear when survivors attempt to prove their accounts of rape or sexual assault, due to the private nature of sexual assault and lack of witnesses when these crimes occur.
What these cases demonstrate is the importance of teaching college students, and young people in general, the definition of consent. On campuses where heavy drinking and “hooking up” are a part of the social scene, students must know that one cannot ever provide consent when under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
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