Woman, having opted against court trial, faces new UM sexual assault hearings RAPE ON COLLEGE CAMPUSES

February 16, 1992|By Patricia Meisol | Patricia Meisol,Staff Writer

One morning last July, Sharon Williams, her boyfriend and her mother drove onto the campus of the University of Maryland at College Park, wound their way to an administration building and went inside.

There, in a closed room as her mother waited on a hallway bench outside, Ms. Williams told a panel of five student judges the story of how on her first visit to campus, late one night the previous fall, she had gotten drunk and been raped in a dormitory room.

The three fraternity men she had come to accuse denied it. But neither she nor they had hired lawyers to advise them from the sidelines, as permitted by the rules. And so it was just the four of them in the room that day, plus the judges, a graduate student presenting the case, another one presiding, and Ms. Williams' boyfriend.

(Ms. Williams has chosen to talk publicly about the case, but the men, who deny the accusation, will not discuss it. Because they have not been charged with a crime in a court of law and there is still evidence to be considered in the campus judicial process, The Sun has decided not to publish their names.)

Ms. Williams had driven from Mary Washington College in Virginia to College Park that Thursday night, she says, because her roommate, Amy Brusini, wanted to see the man she dated. Skipping dinner and arriving after midnight Oct. 25, they went to the boyfriend's room in Wicomico Hall, where he and his fraternity brothers were living while their house was being renovated.

Some beer was brought in, Ms. Williams says, and she drank four. She isn't a drinker, she says. In high school, she drank "maybe three times."

Ms. Brusini and her boyfriend disappeared, and Ms. Williams and two other people drifted down the hall to the room of some other fraternity brothers, where they sat on the floor and listened to music.

At some point, Ms. Williams' companions left her, and she says she "passed out drunk." She remembers being dragged by her hands and feet to another room and being hit with pillows. "If we wake her up, it won't be rape," she says one of the men said.

After she was raped, she says, the men dumped her outside the room. She pounded on a door down the hall, and when Ms. Brusini's boyfriend opened it, she began to babble incoherently to him and to Amy. "I was hysterical. I was aware, but still not putting things together."

Ms. Brusini's boyfriend, Ms. Williams says, gave her the fraternity's handbook and told her to pick out pictures of those who had raped her.

It was between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. She slept for a few hours. About 11:30 a.m., she went to the university health center, underwent an examination and told her story to police.

The results were inconclusive. Ms. Williams says the men wore condoms, reducing the effectiveness of testing for semen, and health officials found only one other kind of pubic hair on her body.

At the hearing, according to some who were present and who have seen the finding of the student panel, two of the men claimed to have been elsewhere at the time Ms. Williams said the assaults occurred. The third said he and Ms. Williams did have sex, but at her suggestion.

And Ms. Brusini, in a statement to police read at the hearing, challenged Ms. Williams' credibility, claiming she had laughed about the incident on the drive back to Mary Washington.

But the police had interviewed the men's alibi witnesses, some of whom denied what the men had said. Those conflicting statements were in the police statements read at the hearing, too. And the student board, after listening to Ms. Williams, the statements and the men, decided that it was Sharon Williams who was telling the truth.

In a written finding, the judges concluded that the men had violated the student code of conduct, which prohibits sexual assault. They discounted Ms. Brusini's statements, saying she was trying to help out her boyfriend's fraternity brothers, and recommended that the men be expelled.

The men were "all quite upset," said Phil Roher, an anthropology major at Longwood College in Farmington, Va., who was dating Ms. Williams at the time and went with her to the hearing.

"They seemed very angry. They said right away they were going to appeal," he said.

Ms. Williams had declined to testify before a jury in a public trial. "I have seen how society treats this issue," she said.

But the disciplinary process in which she had agreed to take part -- at the university's request -- is a much different system. It is non-adversarial and counts on students to represent themselves.

But the administration can overturn the student judges. When the men hired a lawyer, Richard Karceski of Towson, who challenged the fairness of the process, the administration did just that. The men had no access to the campus police reports, Mr. Karceski argued. There were witnesses they could have called.

"My clients were fish in a barrel," he says.

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