San Diego State University

San Diego State Defends Handling of Rape Allegations Against Football Players

SDSU is responding to allegations in an LA Times article that five football players raped an unconscious girl in October 2021

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San Diego State University is responding to complaints from students about its handling of an alleged off-campus rape involving several players on the football team.

Rumors that "Five SDSU football players had raped an unconscious girl and left her bloodied and bruised at a house party off campus," began circulating on campus last fall, according to a Los Angeles Times article.

Students and student-athletes say they were aware of the allegations.

"Every single day we were just waiting for something to come up or for the school to say something, or for us to hear anything about it besides just within each other and the fact that just nothing happened and nothing came up and we never heard from the school," said Delaney Fields who is a senior on the track team.

One student told NBC 7 that she reported the incident through an anonymous website called Real Recruit, which is meant for student-athletes to report concerns or feedback relating to any aspect of the athletics program. The student said she did not witness the incident or know the victim, but wanted the allegations to be investigated.

SDSU says they learned about the allegations in October after the San Diego Police Department notified them that they were investigating a sexual assault report that happened off-campus.

Campus officials told NBC 7 that SDPD asked them not to conduct their own independent investigation because it could jeopardize their criminal investigation.

"[It was] really just like disappointing because that’s not what I signed up for coming to San Diego State, that’s not what an Aztec is supposed to be, the moralities and character of the athletes here," said Simone Johnson, a junior on the track team. She did not report the incident through Real Recruit.

School officials say they did not notify students on campus through their notification system called Clery Timely Warning because they are legally not allowed to report incidents outside of their jurisdiction (off-campus). They say to this day the incident has not been reported to them by a witness or the victim, and SDPD has not shared with them the name of the victim or any suspects.

"I mean, students are going to hear through the grapevine one way or the other, it is just a better option to come forward immediately and notify students so that we know and we can keep our students safe," said Emma Sidell, a senior.

SDPD told NBC 7 in a statement:

"We understand that the nature of the alleged crime has raised concerns, especially in a tight-knit college community. Since taking the initial report in October, San Diego Police Department Sex Crimes investigators have made this case a priority and have been diligent in pursuing leads and conducting interviews. We continue to use all tools at our disposal to ensure this investigation is comprehensive. The investigation itself is complicated and ongoing. We appreciate the community’s understanding that these investigations take time. Revealing any information prematurely would not only compromise the integrity of the case but could be damaging to anyone directly involved with the investigation. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call SDPD. They can also contact Crime Stoppers and remain anonymous."

According to the LA Times article, the university's police chief at the time asked the campus official who oversees Title IX investigations to begin an investigation regarding this alleged incident, but no investigation ever occurred.

Students on campus told NBC 7 they feel that the incident would have been handled differently if the alleged suspects were not SDSU football players.

"Football brings in the most money and they're in a position to where they can sweep that stuff under the rug," Johnson said.

"SDSU football is a really important part of the SDSU community and I think an allegation like this coming out and being really public, especially during a season that is going really well would have been really damaging to San Diego State," Fields said.

You can read SDSU's full statement to NBC 7 below:

SDSU expects all members of its community to support and sustain an environment free from harm, including assault, and the university communicates that message consistently and often. No individual should ever experience sexual assault, and SDSU has a range of policies, procedures, educational activities and training sessions specifically designed for prevention, and to actively address reports of sexual violence and misconduct. We are committed to preserving the integrity of SDPD’s criminal investigation to avoid jeopardizing anything less than achieving truth and justice, which every victim deserves. 

San Diego Police Department (SDPD) is the lead investigative agency on the alleged off-campus sexual assault case. 

In October 2021, the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) first alerted SDSU to a sexual assault reported to have occurred off-campus. The university, including the University Police Department (UPD) and its Title IX office, learned of the reported off-campus assault at the same time as learning that SDPD had already opened an active police investigation. 

SDPD formally requested that the university not initiate a separate investigation or take other actions – including conducting interviews – which could compromise its criminal investigation, including SDPD’s concerns that any SDSU investigation in advance of SDPD’s criminal investigation could result in the destruction of evidence or the collusion of alleged suspects. SDSU’s police department has remained in communication with SDPD since the original reporting and has been repeatedly updated that SDPD’s investigation is active and ongoing. The university will continue to comply and not compromise the police investigation. 

To address the university’s concerns without directly impacting or revealing SDPD’s investigation, the university increased training sessions – including education about informed consent – and expanded other resources and support services. The university also encouraged individuals to report information appropriately following the reported incident. The university did not and could not issue a campuswide Clery Timely Warning as per Clery, as we are legally restricted from issuing a Clery Timely Warning about incidents outside of our jurisdiction (off-campus incidents such as this are outside of UPD’s jurisdiction and beyond the Clery boundaries). 

Importantly, SDSU has never received the confirmed names of the victim nor anyone considered a suspect from the SDPD and, to date, no victim or witness have reported the off-campus incident to SDSU. 

SDSU’s cooperation with SDPD and the university’s temporary pause in starting a separate investigation during the initial stage of the criminal investigation is a best practice and one that is done to protect the integrity of the criminal process, which takes precedence. 

Although the university would not and does not indefinitely delay its Title IX processes pending a related criminal investigation, any action by the university in alerting potential suspects to a criminal investigation can result in adverse impacts adverse to the criminal investigation, including destruction of evidence and coercion of witnesses. Unlike criminal investigations, the university does not have subpoena authority, nor the authority to secure and pursue warrants off campus, nor can the campus compel the participation and interview of non-students as can be done in a criminal investigation by SDPD.  

The university found the allegations abhorrent and did consider a number of potential actions. Ultimately, SDSU, including its Title IX office and police department, agreed to comply with SDPD, which had already initiated an investigation into the off-campus report. SDPD made a formal request that the university not undermine that criminal investigation through a parallel process or take any action which might compromise its integrity. 

As SDPD has continued to indicate they are in the active stages of their investigation, SDSU continues to comply and has confidence in the investigative authority of the police department and their effort to hold any perpetrator accountable to the highest possible levels.

SDSU has agreed not to take any action that would compromise SDPD’s criminal investigation. 

It is of extreme importance given the serious nature of these allegations that a complete police investigation can occur with integrity — this is true for any police investigation. Any potential or actual impairment of the criminal process can have unintended consequences on our own Title IX process, adversely impacting the university’s ability to make sustainable findings and to hold students accountable for violations of university policy. 

SDSU directed SDPD, in writing, to provide the reported victim with SDSU’s Title IX officers’ information directly

After learning of the alleged off-campus assault, SDSU requested in writing that SDPD provide any victim with direct information about SDSU’s complaint process and the contact information for the university’s Title IX Coordinator. Per these letters, we communicated to SDPD that as we did not know their identity, we were unable to provide this information to them directly. SDPD confirmed that they did share the information and, to date, the University Police Department and Title IX office have not received any reports from any victim or any witnesses. 

SDSU offers an extensive, multi-level range of services, programs and policies designed to prevent sexual assault and misconduct and to address cases when they occur. 

SDSU regularly offered training sessions and education about prevention and also sexual violence and misconduct during the fall and spring to all members of our community, including our student body. 

During the academic year that just ended, and as we have in past years, SDSU offered robust training to students, including those in the residence halls, about sexual violence, sexual misconduct and also alcohol and other drugs. This is ongoing, as regularly held training sessions are designed to inform students about how to make choices that support the interest of individual and peer safety and well-being. SDSU’s sexual violence training in particular helps students to understand healthy and unhealthy relationships, how to interrupt sexual violence and how to support victims and report situations.

Examples include but are in no way limited to: 

  • Educational training sessions offered to students, including those in the residence halls, fraternities and sororities and in athletics about sexual violence, sexual misconduct and also alcohol and other drugs.
  • Mandatory sexual violence training for incoming freshmen as well as specialized training for freshman and sophomore student-athletes are enrolled in our Aztecs Going Pro seminar course. 
  • Educational Take Back the Week programs held in April as part of annual programming, which included student activities and workshops this year. 
  • Enhanced educational programs, policies and intervention efforts around student safety and well being at the direction of SDSU President Adela de la Torre through the work of the Presidential Task Force on Student Activities and Safety report and the Presidential Task Force on Alcohol and Substance Misuse report, to include the creation of a Hazing Prevention Task Force, a Good Samaritan Policy and an the Amnesty Policy, as well as the expansion of the Organizational Policy and Misconduct Website
  • Reminder messages to faculty and staff about their reporting obligation to share any and all reports of sexual violence and misconduct with the university’s Title IX office. 

SDSU also has designated Title IX administrators to provide students with assistance and full support, and to monitor and oversee overall compliance with laws and policies related to sexual violence. After receiving a report, the Title IX Coordinator will assess the report and provide outreach to the possible Complainant named in the report. The Title IX Coordinator will conduct an intake meeting with any complainant who responds to outreach communication, to discuss the complainant's options and rights, including information on how to file a formal Complaint under Title IX, and provide information about supportive measures. The Title IX Coordinator will determine whether to open an investigation. If the complaint is accepted for investigation, the Title IX Coordinator will simultaneously provide both parties a notice of investigation and assign an investigator to the case. It is important to note that the Title IX process is separate from a police investigation. In addition to the complaint process, administrators ensure that the individual is connected immediately with university support services. 

SDSU also provides access to counseling services and to a Sexual Assault Victim Advocate, a confidential resource. Any details relating to a report of sexual violence will not be reported to the university without the individual’s consent. In addition to the above support services, Title IX coordinators also work with each individual on their specific needs during the process, which include academic accommodations, accommodations to move one’s residential location, or safety and security accommodations, such as no contact orders.

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