Flickr/Jon Dawson

Alleged college sex offender punished with educational video

Student says California University of Pennsylvania caused her more damage than the man who assaulted her

Editor’s note: This article contains graphic language

When Kelsey Hope reported a sexual assault at California University of Pennsylvania in 2012, and the man was found responsible, she thought he would be expelled. Instead, her alleged assailant was put on probation and instructed to take an online sexual assault training already required for incoming freshmen, where students watch videos and answer questions.

According to internal school documents, it’s the “normal” punishment for sexual misconduct at Cal U, which is part of the Pennsylvania state college system and ranks among the best regional colleges in the Northeast.

Kelsey Hope
Courtesy of Kelsey Hope

“His punishment for violating my body is to watch a video that I’ve watched,” Hope said.

“Where appropriate, the training also may be assigned as one aspect of a sanction for code violations,” said Christine Kindl, Cal U’s spokeswoman. “This training program is updated regularly, so it remains relevant and complies with current legislative requirements.”

Student Success, which makes Cal U’s sexual assault training video, “is aware that some campuses choose to use our programming as part of disciplinary action,” according to Steven Pearlman, the company’s content director. 

Based on its surveys of thousands of students, Student Success found that after watching the program, significantly more people report that they'll communicate clearly regarding sex and won't have sex with somebody who's drunk. But there's no evidence that the program rehabilitates sex offenders. 

Many campuses take an educational approach to discipline. A 2010 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that only 10 to 25 percent of students found responsible for sexual assault were permanently kicked off campus, while other sanctions included counseling, suspensions, community service, alcohol treatment and apology letters. Last year, Occidental College let a known serial offender back on campus after writing a book report.

Hope’s alleged perpetrator was also found responsible for misuse of drugs and irresponsible alcohol use, and instructed to undergo educational programs for each of those violations, documents show.

It got to the point where the university violated my basic human rights so much that their assault on me feels worse than the initial attack from my perpetrator did.

Kelsey Hope

Advocates have been fighting to get colleges to understand that sexual assault is a different kind of offense. “Our bodies are not for learning,” Laura Dunn, a leading activist on the issue, told America Tonight in April. “You don’t get to harm us and write an essay about us, or watch an educational film, or go to counseling. You don’t deserve to be on the same campus with me.” 

And while the issue of college sexual assault has captured national attention, the subject of punishments – either of students who commit sexual assault or colleges who fail to deal with it – is often sidelined. The landmark White House report on campus sexual violence, published in April, didn’t mention it at all.

"If there’s no cost there’s never going to be any change,” Dunn said.

Now, after two years, Hope wants at least her university to face a cost. Last week, a Baltimore-based lawyer, Steven Kelly, took on her case, which he called "one of the most egregious I've seen." He plans to sue the school, possibly under Title IX, which requires schools receiving federal funds to address sexual violence, or for simple negligence.

And the sanction of her alleged perpetrator is just one of the many ways Hope says she was failed by Cal U. 

“It got to the point where the university violated my basic human rights so much,” she said, “that their assault on me feels worse than the initial attack from my perpetrator did."

The incident

Kelsey Hope her first week as a freshman at Cal U, the night orientation ended. She said she loved the school when she started, and got very involved in student government.
Courtesy of Kelsey Hope

It was February 2012, and the guy had been making Hope feel uncomfortable all night. He kept encouraging her to drink, but Hope, who doesn’t like alcohol much, said she just took a sip of punch. On the drive home, Hope remembers him watching her kiss the boy she was dating in the rearview mirror. She remembers him remarking, “I need some pussy, you should share the wealth.” He’d also been fooling around with a knife, she said, which he kept in his pocket.

The guy was a new friend of the boy she was seeing, and a fellow student at Cal U. Back on campus, Hope took her date, who had drunk too much, back to his room. When she was heading to bed for the night, the friend was sitting in the dorm lobby. He asked if she wanted to go smoke a joint. Hope, then an 18-year-old freshman, agreed. She said she didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

After getting high in his dorm room, Hope said she felt so dizzy that she thought the joint might have been laced. She was sitting cross-legged on the end of the bed by the window, she remembers, and he reached for her knee. When she protested, she said he snapped.

“I’ve never heard sounds like that come out of any man before,” she said. “He was like an animal, he made these growling noises. It was horrifying.”

I couldn’t break down until I felt I was safe. I was in total survival mode. I was not even human anymore.

Kelsey Hope

The guy yanked her hair around his hand, put her in a headlock, slammed her belly-down onto the bed, pulled down her shirt, bra, and then her pants, and rammed his fingers inside her, she said. “I remember begging him, ‘No, no, no, no.’”

Then, he was interrupted – either his roommate called or showed up in the room. Hope’s memory is muddled, but she does remember bolting for the door and racing down the stairs to her room in a panic, as the guy followed her. When she got to her room, she said he put his hand in the door to keep her from shutting it. When a noise down the hall signaled someone was coming, she said she finally closed the door, went into her bathroom, locked it, and stood frozen for around 10 minutes, before heading back into the hall. He was gone.

“I just started crying hysterically,” she said. “I couldn’t break down until I felt I was safe. I was in total survival mode. I was not even human anymore.”

That’s when Dylan Weyant, then a friend of Hope’s and fellow Cal U freshman, spotted her. “She was crying profusely,” Weyant said. “She was just a mess.”

Hope then received a text from her alleged assailant, she says, asking if the situation would be, “just between us?”

In his interview with a university administrator, reported in official university documents, the alleged perpetrator said that Hope “initiated contact by ‘grinding’ against him and kissing was mutual,” but that she “pulled back from physical contact (‘grinding’) twice,” saying “she wanted to have sex with him but knew she shouldn’t because she was in a relationship with someone else.” He said that the third time she initiated contact, he put “his hand down her pants” and that she withdrew it. He also stated that he escorted – not followed – Hope to her room at the end of the night.

A week later, Hope was diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a doctor’s note. 

“It doesn’t matter what you wear at all," she said. "But for the record, I was in a turtleneck.”

‘On a silver platter'

At a school conduct hearing in April 2012, Hope said the accuser repeatedly called her “a stupid bitch,” and no one objected. He was also wearing, Hope remembers distinctly, a bracelet that read: “I heart vagina.” 

Hope said she showed this photo of a bruise on her shoulder to school administrators, but official documents show the university was unable to conclude whether force was used. Hope said the police told her that she could have done it to herself.

In its final report, the university didn’t make any judgment on the disputed facts – it didn’t have to. Based on the man’s own words, he was found responsible for sexual misconduct, because “putting his hand down the complainant’s pants went beyond what was being consented to.” Under the school’s own definition, that was “non-consensual sexual contact” – or sexual assault.

Kindl said it “is neither appropriate nor legally permissible” for her to comment on any of the specifics of Hope’s case.

In a lot of sexual assault cases, administrators give students a slap on the wrist because they’re unable or untrained to ferret out what truly happened, according to Colby Bruno, the senior legal counsel at the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston. And with little physical evidence of what took place, there’s often the concern that the accused could sue.

But that wasn’t an issue in Hope’s case.

“Even weighing the evidence in his favor, he admitted to a sexual assault,” said Bruno. “That’s the case where the school says, ‘Hallelujah’… What they had was his expulsion on a silver platter.”

The fact that his sanction was an educational video sends a clear message, Bruno said.

“You’re basically telling students it’s OK to sexually assault someone and then admit it,” she said. “That is 100-percent condoning sexual assault on their campus.” 

A lot of grief

With dozens of colleges under federal investigation for how they handle sexual assault, many have wondered why victims don’t just go to the police. Only a tiny fraction of college women who say they’ve experienced sexual assaults report it to law enforcement, many because they fear hostile treatment. But Hope was one of the few.

The night of her alleged assault, after getting a medical check and giving statements to the university police, it was around 4 a.m., and Hope said she just wanted to go home. But halfway through the drive back from the hospital, and despite the protests of Hope and her then-best friend Chelsea Eckles, the officer insisted that they go the police station, they say.

The sun was already up when they left the station that morning, after several hours so disorienting and hostile that Eckles said that to this day she avoids the building, and Hope said just the sight of the police gave her panic attacks for months. 

I think you’re a fucking cunt and you’re getting fucked, you’re getting fucked.

Male university police officer

The two girls say it was clear that the officer leading the questioning didn’t believe Hope, hammering on questions about alcohol and drugs, warning her that she was causing a lot of people a lot of grief and urging her to rethink what she was doing. And even though she begged, Hope said she was never given the option to leave.

Hope said she was later encouraged by the police not to press charges. Eckles said she was called into the police station separately, where an officer tried to push her to say that Hope was looking for attention.

“All University police officers are trained to assist sexual assault victims and to maintain the crime scene/evidence,” according to the school’s annual security report. Requests for comment were directed to Kindl, Cal U’s spokeswoman, who refused to respond to the allegations or provide details on what that training is, but said all university officers are fully licensed by the state.

A few days after the incident, one of Hope’s friends was in a bar, and heard a few off-duty officers discussing Hope’s case, using her full name. Shocked, the friend, who asked to remain anonymous, hit record on her phone. In the audio, a female voice says, “It’s my understanding that you were hostile to a sex assault victim... Kelsey Hope.”

A male voice, who the friend identified as a university police officer, replied: “I’m going to fucking tell her the way I fucking see it… I think you’re a fucking cunt and you’re getting fucked, you’re getting fucked.” 

‘Toothpaste out of the tube’

Kelsey Hope with two of the kids she tutored and mentored in the nearby projects her freshman year. It was one of the multiple extra-curriculars she dropped in the aftermath of her alleged sexual assault. "I hated the university after this," she said. "I didn’t want to give any of myself for this."
Courtesy of Kelsey Hope

Hope also filed a no-contact order through Cal U, which banned communication between the parties. Kindl said it “may take a day or two” after a no-contact directive is made to move a student into another dorm. But a timeline made by the administration shows that it took the school 12 days to get the man to move out of the dorm building that they shared. And it took 17 days for them to confiscate his knife.

Too scared to be on campus, Hope says she lived at home during this time, and ended up dropping four of her classes. She’s now graduating a semester late, which she says means thousands of additional dollars in student debt.

“I just wanted to continue my education,” she said, “and I was denied that right.”

Hope says her alleged perpetrator violated the no-contact order multiple times, including the night before the conduct board hearing when a witness and security footage, she said, caught him in her dorm building. Violating the order should have put his status as a student "in jeopardy" and resulted in "possible criminal action," according to the letter he received, but Hope said the police didn’t do anything. And emails and school documents show that university officials refused to tell her if he had been punished. 

I was afraid of everyone. Everyone was like him to me.

Kelsey Hope

When Hope reported the first couple violations of the no-contact order, a senior university official compared it to "when you squeeze the toothpaste out of the tube" and "you can't put it back in," both Hope and her mother Connie Hope recall.

By this point, Hope said she rarely left her dorm. She stopped going to the gym or the cafeteria, she said, and dropped out of her extra-curricular activities. Her roommate brought her food in Styrofoam containers.

“I was afraid of everyone. Everyone was like him to me,” she said. “I totally felt like a little mouse in a field of a million hawks.”

In another blow, Hope’s case never made it into a courtroom – a Washington County assistant attorney general told her the case wasn’t winnable. In sexual assault cases – where the crime occurred behind closed doors with no witnesses – convictions are notoriously difficult to come by.

Against her mother’s wishes, Hope stayed at Cal U. Now a rising senior, she’s made the dean’s list every semester since. Last year, she was a Board of Governors recipient – giving her a free ride for the rest of college.

And for most of her time at Cal U, her alleged perpetrator hasn’t been on campus. Because of privacy laws governing student records, it wasn’t possible to verify why he left. But Hope says she’s heard rumors.

“He was kicked out the following semester, the following year – for underage drinking at a bar,” she said. “But they didn’t kick him out for invading my body. What kind of message does that send?” 

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Where to turn for help

If you have been the victim of a sexual assault or are a friend of a victim, live support is available at 800-565-HOPE (4673) or online here.

For more on campus safety and sexual assault prevention and help, visit our resources page.


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