No arrests, charges in five FSW sex assault investigations

Published: November 2, 2016 6:11 PM EDT
Updated: November 2, 2016 6:24 PM EDT

FORT MYERS, Fla. – She said she’d like to be called Sophie because she liked that name.

The soft-spoken 21-year-old had only six classes left before finishing her associate’s degree at Florida Southwestern State College.

She hopes to ultimately pursue a doctorate in psychology.

FSW was her first choice when picking colleges. She enjoyed the coursework and spending time with her friends on the Fort Myers campus.

But her college experience changed when she says one of her friends began pursuing a romantic relationship with her.

She said he began pressuring her a lot. According to a report she filed with FSW’s public safety office, that pressure turned into what she characterized as a forced sexual encounter.

Conflicting accounts

According to reports obtained by WINK News, Sophie reported to officers in Feb. 2015 that her former friend had touched her inappropriately after coming into a campus restroom with her.

Florida Southwestern’s Title IX office investigation records show that Sophie told a school counselor that the friend kissed her against her will and touched her breasts and put his hands down her pants, touching and penetrating her vagina.

“I was so afraid of him,” Sophie told WINK News.

The same investigation records show he told the Title IX office a different story. He claimed that she wanted the encounter to happen and had pursued him.

The school ultimately reported finding inaccuracies in his version of events, including the timing of the incident and was able verify portions of Sophie’s story with other witnesses.

Records show the Title IX office decided to sanction him, by suspending him from campus through the Spring 2016 semester. He was ordered to complete counseling, and as long as he did not violate the school’s code of conduct, is eligible to be back on campus.

“They could have given him a stricter punishment,” said Sophie, who added she does not think he returned to campus but is in fear of that possibility every day. “They could have expelled him from school,”

Sophie said she initially did not want the school to pursue criminal charges, but after receiving counseling, changed her mind. In June 2015, she asked for the case to be turned over to State Attorney Stephen Russell’s office, which handles cases for five Southwest Florida counties.

She said within three weeks, someone from the state attorney’s office contacted her and told her there was not enough evidence to file charges.

Additional investigations, no charges

WINK News reviewed reports of five alleged sexual offenses on FSW’s campus from 2014 onward, and in each of the five cases there were no charges filed and no arrests made.

The most recent allegation happened in October and was investigated by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

The initial report was that a female student who was drinking found out there was a video of a sexual encounter involving her and two male students circulating on the internet.
A week later, the sheriff’s office told WINK News the victim withdrew her complaint and closed the investigation.

According to the state attorney’s office, Sophie’s case and one other case were the only ones sent to them from Florida Southwestern.

The school declined to answer any questions about the five allegations.

“The college has furnished you with public records concerning several investigations which have occurred over the past three years,” wrote FSW communications director Teresa Araque in an email. “However, the college must also protect the privacy rights of the students involved in these incidences. For this reason the college will not be providing further comment or interviews regarding these matters.”

Sophie said she was told the matter was “he-said she-said” by someone with the state attorney’s office.

According to a state attorney’s office spokesperson, Assistant State Attorney Tyler Lovejoy of the Special Victims Unit reviewed the case.

The spokesperson denied WINK News’ request for an interview with Lovejoy, and in an email stated ‘he would not be commenting.’

In an email, state attorney’s office spokesperson Samantha Syoen wrote:

“Although the incident was reported to the school close in time to its occurrence, the victim in the case elected not to pursue the matter criminally until six months later. This election by the victim, as it would in any investigation, affected its scope and direction, as law enforcement was tasked with putting a case together several months after the event. A delay in disclosure erodes the effectiveness of any law enforcement investigation and affects the presence of corroborating evidence to the crime.”

The other case that was presented to the state attorney’s office by Florida Southwestern involved a student who claimed she was raped by a friend in his dorm room after a night of drinking. The friend allegedly took pictures during the encounter and sent them as Snapchat messages.

The female student told the campus public safety office that she was uncontrollably vomiting and had passed out in the male friend’s bed.

The male student told officers he actually held her hair back when she was sick and had consensual sex after the two of them sobered up. The sex, according to the female student, was not consensual.

A sworn statement from a friend of the student said two Snapchat messages were sent: one showing the female fully clothed in the male student’s bed, and the other of a used condom.

Records show Florida Southwestern sent a warrant for charges for both sexual battery and voyeurism to the state attorney’s office. The victim ultimately decided not to prosecute, according a signed declaration.

Victims not pressing charges

“A lot of times victims don’t press charges because they know it happened but they know what the likely outcome will be and say I can’t go through a whole trial and know he’s going to walk away,” said Dr. Laura Streyffeler, who has counseled sexual assault and domestic violence victims and recently wrote a manual for law enforcement on how to approach sexual assault victim interviews.

Streyffeler reviewed the reports provided to WINK News by FSW but had no involvement in any of these cases or with their alleged victims.

Sophie’s case is different from the rest of the allegations because it happened in the middle of the day, and no one was drinking.

The rest of the reports involve alcohol and happened late at night in campus dormitories.

“It’s very frustrating to me, because I see it so often, especially when there is alcohol involved the victims either believe themselves that they aren’t going to be believed or law enforcement isn’t going to believe them,” Streyfeller said.

The remaining reports provided to WINK News include an alleged fondling from October 2015 and an alleged sexual assault from 2014 that was not reported until 2015.

In the October 2015 alleged fondling report, a female student alleged that a male student forcibly kissed her, grabbed her butt and exposed himself in a dorm.

The other report came from a female student who said was in a dorm room party and blacked out. She claimed her alleged attacker put her in bed, and another female student later returned to see the suspect n top of the victim.