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'It Shouldn't of Happened' 

North Idaho College never questioned the men implicated in an alleged gang rape; instead, school officials scrutinized their accuser

click to enlarge A freshman at North Idaho College and the three men she says raped her all lived in the school's residence hall. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • A freshman at North Idaho College and the three men she says raped her all lived in the school's residence hall.

On the morning of Nov. 17, 2013, a 17-year-old college freshman woke up confused on someone else's couch, smelling beer and sweat and wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers shirt that wasn't hers.

She felt physical pain like she'd never felt before. She tried to piece together what had happened as she stumbled downstairs to gather her clothes, though she had little memory of the previous night. She remembered falling to the floor in front of a blue-eyed guy who had no clothes on. She remembered realizing that a different guy was on top of her, and then asking if he was wearing a condom. She remembered a third guy against the wall, watching, asking for his turn.

R.R., identified here only by her initials, went back to her residence hall at North Idaho College that morning stunned. At the time, she didn't know what to call what had happened to her. She wasn't yet ready to admit she had been raped, but texted her dorm's resident assistant to report what she remembered — reluctantly, because she didn't want anyone to get in trouble. "I'm not sure if I have the right to be upset," she texted. "I don't know why it bothers me." The RA told her to go to urgent care and reported the conversation to her supervisor.

"It sounds stupid, but I kind of waited for somebody else to tell me that it was what it was. Like a friend or something, but nobody did," R.R. tells the Inlander, speaking out now that her 2016 lawsuit against NIC has been settled.

Under federal Title IX regulations, what she described to her RA that day would likely be considered sexual assault, since R.R. could not give consent due to incapacitation. And if a student describes anything that could fall under Title IX, then certain things are supposed to happen immediately:

• The school's Title IX coordinator should be informed;

• An investigation should be launched;

• Remedies should be provided to the involved students.

But none of that happened until long after the fact.

The reported rape took two months to reach NIC's Title IX coordinator, and by then the three accused students had left the school. Because of that, a full investigation was never conducted, and the school didn't take sufficient steps to prevent R.R. from seeing the three men in the weeks after the incident. And instead of any punishment for the men accused, the only student involved who felt any scrutiny from NIC was their accuser, R.R.

"[School employees] should have known that this should have went to the Title IX coordinator. Could they have handled it well, even without notifying him? Sure," says Daniel Swinton, a managing partner for The NCHERM Group, which consults with schools about Title IX. "But it doesn't sound like they did."

It left R.R. feeling alienated. Instead of the alleged rapists being punished, she was the one who was disciplined after she acted out, angry because she felt the school did nothing. She spiraled into depression, her grades suffered, and she dropped out of NIC in spring 2015.

"I wouldn't show up to class sometimes. I just didn't care at all," she says. "And I kind of felt resentful, in this mood where I was like, 'Why am I going to classes when this school didn't do anything for me?'"

R.R. had battled depression in high school, stemming in part, she says, from being molested once as a 10-year-old by a man she knew. By the time R.R. finished high school, her mom, Sonia, felt comfortable leaving her daughter at a smaller campus like NIC, thinking maybe it was small enough that people would pay attention to her if she ever had any trouble.

"I made [NIC] fully aware of how vulnerable she is, and what she had struggled with," Sonia tells the Inlander. "And I just thought she was going to be safe there, and that was not the case."

At NIC, R.R. immediately found a best friend in Lindsay Snuffer, but Lindsay didn't drink or go out to parties. R.R., however, went to a party her first weekend at school and blacked out from drinking alcohol. She followed that pattern week after week.

On Nov. 16, she went to a party alone, thinking she would meet the guy on the wrestling team she had been seeing. He never showed up.

"I was there without anybody to be like, 'OK, let's get you home,'" R.R. says. "So I was alone."

That night, a Saturday, she started drinking Rolling Rock. Then vodka. Later, she would black out, come out of it, black out again, then come out of it again. She was in that state, she says, when the three guys she would later accuse of rape showed up to the party. She made out with one of them during the party — she remembers his bright red shirt — and when she realized what she was doing, she says that she pushed him away.

That guy would later tell police that when he showed up to the party, someone told him that R.R. would be "willing to have sex with anyone."

The next thing she knew, she was stumbling down the stairs, then waking up in the bathroom in the basement of the house. She didn't know, initially, what happened after she fell to the floor in front of the guy with blue eyes. But she knew she was raped by the guy in the bright red shirt, the one who was told she'd have sex with anyone, and by the third guy who was watching and asking for his turn.

The next day, she was experiencing pain in her inner thighs and lower back. She asked the resident assistant who she first reported the incident to if she could have some ice. When the RA asked if the ice was for pain, the 17-year-old said it was for "drinks and stuff," not wanting to get anyone in trouble.

Lindsay drove R.R. to urgent care. They gave her a morning-after pill, ran some blood tests and asked about her injuries. R.R. told them that the night before, she had consensual sex.

"I didn't want the police to be called. I didn't want to make it a big scene or anything like that," she says.

She told Lindsay what she remembered from the night before.

"I was her shoulder to cry on, and her person to talk to," Lindsay says. "But I understood I could only help her so much."

Within days of the party, R.R. saw and made eye contact with the three guys. They lived in the same residence hall, and at night, she says she wondered where they were.

Her grades suffered. Lindsay says that R.R. wouldn't get out of bed until the afternoon. She drank a lot and talked about suicide.

Records that R.R. provided to the Inlander reveal duty logs kept by resident assistants. On Dec. 7, 2013, an RA noted that R.R. came home drunk and "crying about what happened on the 16th." A week later, a duty log showed that R.R. was "talking about suicide," and that "what happened in November on the 16th is really getting to her still."

On Jan. 17, 2014, two months after the alleged gang rape, NIC's Title IX coordinator Alex Harris was first told about the incident, school spokesman Tom Greene says. But the three guys left the school at the beginning of January, for reasons that had nothing to do with any Title IX investigation.

Ten days later, R.R.'s residence hall made her sign a behavior contract in order to stay there. Not drinking alcohol was a stipulation in the contract. But she was caught coming back to the hall drunk again, and her mom had to plead with the school to let R.R. stay in the dorm for the rest of the semester.

Paula Czirr, resident life director, Graydon Stanley, vice president of student services, and Harris discussed letting her stay. "I can go either way," Czirr wrote in an email to other school officials. "If she stays, we'll continue to be all over her, and very mindful of her behavior. If she doesn't stay, then it will be one less resident we have to pay close attention to."

They let her stay, but R.R. was still upset. She wrote graffiti on the dorm windows expressing her dissatisfaction with how she was treated, and she wrote an angry letter to the RA staff demanding an apology.

"There was no consequence for those students — just me," she wrote. "You and your faculty have chosen me to keep an eye on and report on instead of three young men that will probably do it again because you didn't do anything. I hope you think about that for the rest of your career and life."

NIC officials involved in R.R.'s case refused to comment. But Tori Schuler, the resident assistant who R.R. first reported to, resists the notion that nobody tried to help R.R. She says that R.R. rejected help when it was offered to her, and that R.R. misinterpreted as punishment things that were meant to help her.

Swinton, the national Title IX consultant, says that R.R.'s behavior, to him, would indicate that she needed "additional assistance." If Harris had been notified immediately, the school could have separated the three guys from R.R. so she didn't encounter them, or implement a no-contact order. Or the school could have provided accommodations to help with her grades, he says.

"If [schools] leave it alone, most of the time the [criminal] courts won't do much with it long term. And if they do, it's going to take six to 18 months," Swinton says. "So then, you end up with a victim who has dropped out of school, their grades are suffering, and they have a number of other issues."

After the 2013-14 school year, R.R. asked Harris if she qualified to file for a Title IX complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. Harris replied that it did fall under Title IX regulations, "thus its referral to my office and my subsequent investigation and remedies."

Harris forwarded a copy of his response to Stanley, the VP of student services.

Stanley replied: "Thanks...good response...Could put you in line for a little merit increase!"

Without the school investigating what actually happened on Nov. 16, R.R. took it upon herself.

"I wanted some validation," she says.

She went to Coeur d'Alene police in February 2014, three months after the alleged rape. She told them the details of what she remembered, and said she felt too drunk to say "no" to the men who she barely knew, if at all.

The detective on the case called the three men, and one of them said he didn't know anything about what she was talking about and did not know the victim's name. The detective left messages for the other two men, but couldn't reach them. The detective inactivated the case in May 2015.

But R.R. investigated further. She added the guys on Facebook, hoping she could get them to admit to a crime. She messaged one of them, the one who wore the bright red shirt. He said they didn't sleep together at first. Later, he said he was surprised that she messaged him because of what happened on their "last encounter." He said she had performed oral sex, but denied they had intercourse.

R.R. took that information to Coeur d'Alene police. This time, in March 2016, a new detective, Jared Reneau, took over. Soon after, Reneau interviewed that same guy. He again denied any sexual contact, before eventually telling the same story he told R.R. The guy said he didn't see the other two men around R.R. that night, and wasn't friends with them because he "didn't like" how they "treated women when he was around them," according to the police report.

That, Reneau tells the Inlander, raised a red flag.

R.R. texted one of the others, the blue-eyed guy she fell down in front of before blacking out. For two years, she thought nothing happened between them, but he told her that they did have sexual contact. He said that R.R. and the guy with the red shirt did, in fact, have sex, that she was awake for it, but in his text message, he added that "it shouldn't of happened :("

But Detective Reneau was unable to ask the guy about these texts. He lawyered up. So did the third guy, the one who R.R. says raped her after asking for a turn.

The fact that two of the men wouldn't give statements seemed suspicious, Reneau says.

"If you didn't do anything wrong, you don't have anything to hide," he says. "I don't automatically assume somebody's guilty [if they don't talk to police], but I talk to a lot of people, and oftentimes when they're telling the truth, they're fairly willing to talk."

Reneau described R.R. as "truthful and honest" and he found no inconsistencies in her story. He sent the case to the Kootenai County Prosecutor's Office, which declined to prosecute it. Prosecutor Barry McHugh says it would be wrong to characterize the decision not to file charges as a statement that prosecutors do not believe this was rape, or that it happened differently than reported.

"The decision to decline reflects our evaluation of the evidence in considering our obligation to prove crimes beyond a reasonable doubt," McHugh says.

Greene, the NIC spokesman, points to the college's new programs, procedures and policies in dealing with Title IX cases implemented since 2014, including more training for employees and new reporting mechanisms for victims.

That training includes guidelines for when school employees should notify Harris about possible sexual assault. Since 2013-14, there have been 13 Title IX investigations at NIC resulting in five suspensions, expulsions or terminations.

R.R. filed a lawsuit against NIC last fall. The school settled for $75,000, but NIC admitted no wrongdoing. R.R. says she just wanted it to be over and move on from her time in college.

Her time at NIC still looms over her, though she can still recall the hope she felt when she first came to campus.

In one of her first college courses, her teacher asked a question about what the class wanted to get out of their time in college. She raised her hand, and her enthusiasm about being in college, and the time she would spend there, was obvious:

"Everybody in the room was just kind of like, 'Why is she so excited about college?" ♦

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