Former Northeastern student files Clery complaint after mishandled rape case

Former Northeastern student files Clery complaint after mishandled rape case

Update: In the original publication of this article on May 8th, it was printed that Northeastern’s administration released a statement on May 7th. The following has been corrected to show that the statement was issued only to The Huntington News. 

By Rebecca Sirull, Inside Editor

On Wednesday former Northeastern student Katie Rizzo filed an official complaint against the University for the mishandling of her sexual assault case in 2012. The case followed an incident in the fall of 2011 in which Rizzo alleged that a fellow Northeastern student had sex with her without her consent while she was intoxicated.

Katie Rizzo filed an official complaint against Northeastern after her rapist transferred to a different school and was never punished for his actions. Photo courtesy Margaret Rizzo.

The day after the incident, Rizzo said she went to the University Health and Counseling Services office to seek assistance and was given a Plan B pill and tested for STDs. The following day she reported her experience to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), resulting in a hearing scheduled for April 4. Rizzo also consulted the Northeastern Public Safety Division (NUPD), who referred her to the Boston Police Department (BPD) in order to file a report, but Rizzo chose not to pursue this option after being informed that it was unlikely to reach a court room.

The day before her hearing Rizzo received a packet containing evidence, including testimonies from her sorority sisters, that would be used in defense of her alleged assailant. However, Rizzo was told she could not bring in outside evidence, such as text messages or Facebook messages, to refute the claims made by these witnesses.

The hearing was conducted by a group of five undergraduate Northeastern students who were members of the Student Conduct Board (SCB) and overseen by an OSCCR staff advisor. Present at the hearing were witnesses like Rizzo’s sorority sisters and a member of the accused student’s fraternity, who Rizzo had previously been involved with. Rizzo said that her alleged attacker questioned her about previous relationships, including accusing her of lying and “patronizing” her.

“It was awful”, said Rizzo. “I didn’t want to be at a school where I was known as the girl who got raped and I definitely didn’t want to be at a school where they treat people that way.”

The hearing found the accused student responsible for the assault and ordered him to be expelled at the end of the semester. Following this decision, the student decided to file an appeal on the grounds that there had been a “procedural error,” which resulted in a second hearing to be set for May 29. However, the student transferred schools and the second hearing was never held. Shortly after, Rizzo withdrew from Northeastern.

“Northeastern University’s first priority is the safety and well-being of our students,” Northeastern said in a statement to The Huntington News on May 7. “We take reports of sexual assault very seriously and we investigate every allegation swiftly, thoroughly and with respect to the rights of all parties involved. The university’s comprehensive program to educate and prevent sexual assault also provides a broad range of services and assistance to each student who needs support. Our heart goes out to every person who has been impacted by sexual assault and we applaud the important work of those who raise awareness and provide assistance every day.

A recent news article erroneously reported that Northeastern University “allowed” the transfer of a student involved in a sexual assault case. Higher education institutions cannot prohibit students from withdrawing and transferring to another school whether or not they are involved in a pending disciplinary action. We regret that we cannot comment further on the case referenced in the same story as federal law prohibits us from doing so.”

Throughout the months of January and February 2014, Rizzo began reaching out to students who had gone through similar experiences at other schools and started to search for more information about her own case. She discovered that, as per university policy, all records of her case besides official documents had been destroyed. She also discovered that the “procedural error” used in the appeal was that the conduct board had used a measure of consent that was too high for the case at hand.

“…the Board used a higher standard for consent than what is required by the CSC [Code of Student Conduct],” said the accused student in his appeal. “The Conduct Board placed a higher burden of proof on the issue of consent than is necessary under the CSC definition.  Such an error impaired [the charged student’s] right to a fair opportunity to be heard during the hearing process and clearly affected the Conduct Board’s decision.”

While Rizzo was no longer within the 180 day statute of limitations for filing a Title IX complaint, she decided to move forward with a Clery Act complaint. By doing so, Rizzo said that she hopes to change the definition of “consent” used by Northeastern and other universities, ensure that students found guilty of rape are met with appropriate consequences, and highlight the limitations on Title IX complaints.

“I don’t think that people often come to realize that they can stand up for themselves,” Rizzo said. “I feel like most people get to the point where they just want to forget and they’ve accepted it and they move on, but I didn’t think I could move on unless I stood up for myself and held Northeastern accountable.”

Rizzo’s decision to file a complaint against Northeastern follows the Department of Education’s release of a list of 55 other colleges and universities facing investigation for violation of Title IX.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. 

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