The U.S. Justice Department has now said what hundreds of young Utahns have known for years: Utah State University let students get raped and didn’t do anything.
In the five years from 2013 to 2017, there were 240 sexual harassment cases — including rapes and forcible sexual assaults — that were reported to the university, but only a tenth of the time was the report even processed under the correct federal law, let alone thoroughly investigated.
“Severe sexual harassment, including rapes and other forcible sexual assaults, went unaddressed and students who were subjected to sexual harassment often suffered negative academic, mental health, and social consequences, including withdrawal from their classes or from the University altogether,” the Justice Department said in its letter to USU President Noelle Cockett that concludes a three-year investigation into USU’s amoral neglect.
A public version of the letter — heavily redacted to protect individual victims — makes it very clear that the school knew about assaults, failed to deal with them, and even allowed victims to be further mistreated.
Three areas — the music department, athletics and fraternities — were highlighted as pockets where perpetrators worked their destruction with little inhibition. The school’s failure to follow federal law went across the board — on reporting, on following up on those reports, on training employees, on giving victims access to counseling. At least three students have been convicted of sexual assaults that occurred between 2013 and 2015. The report also noted two previously unreported cases where football program employees — not students — were the alleged perpetrators.
The report focuses on the university, but history has shown that the stain bleeds off campus. As The Tribune has shown in its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, USU football player Torrey Green was helped in his rape spree by a friendly cop and an incompetent Cache County Attorney’s office.
It’s impossible to know how many students and former students have had their lives torn apart, once by an assailant and a second time by an unfeeling school, but we know they went home to their families around the state with their stories.
This episode is a shame on Cache Valley, a place where people like to think they’re better.
Cockett, admirably, is not ducking blame, as the previous administration had. And it took way too long, but the county attorney’s office did gain some redemption with its thorough prosecution of Green, who is now serving 26 to life in the Utah State Prison.
But don’t let anyone say the past is the past. It will take more than heartfelt apologies to restore trust. It will take more investigations and more convictions to change a history of neglect.