UM Student's Petition Seeks to Get Her Alleged Rapist Kicked Off Campus
A UM student says she shouldn't have to attend class with a fellow student who sexually assaulted her.
Photo by Ines Hegedus-Garcia, Creative Commons
Updated May 19, 2015: New developments have called Cameron's allegations into question, including an additional claim against her alleged attacker that was investigated by Coral Gables police and ruled "unfounded." Cameron has not responded to calls from New Times.
For days, Angela Cameron was in shock, unable to recall what had happened after a college party last April. But when the University of Miami junior finally realized that she'd been seriously injured and raped by a fellow student she'd had a previous sexual relationship with, she told her friends, who told her to report it right away.
Instead of justice, though, Cameron says she was dismissed by campus police and then outraged when UM suspended her rapist for one semester instead of expelling him — meaning that now, one year later, he’s back on campus.
Cameron’s tale has been picking up steam online this week thanks to a petition seeking to get her attacker banned from campus; the petition puts UM into the spotlight as colleges nationwide deal with controversy over how campus sexual assaults are handled.
“I don’t feel safe on campus,” Cameron says. “I told administrators ‘I want him expelled, but if you can't do that can you at least keep him off campus until I graduate?’”
Cameron’s attack happened on April 11, 2014, after a party. The junior wasn’t used to drinking — in fact, she’d never been drunk before — but she’d agreed to go with a classmate from her acting class, with whom she’d already developed a sexual relationship. In class, they had been partners in a scene from the racy play The Blue Room, which Cameron said created “sexual tension” between them.
That Friday night was Cameron’s first time getting drunk. Toward the end of the night, her scene partner offered to let her spend the night at his apartment, and she agreed. Then, she says, she was raped. She woke up around 7 a.m. feeling terrible and attempted to go back to sleep. At 10:30 a.m., she finally got up and, around noon, he drove her home.
The following days were hazy for Cameron. A week following the incident, though, after talking to friends, she decided to report the incident as a rape. First, she went to the Dean of Students' Office at the University of Miami to begin the process of reporting the incident, and then, two weeks later, to the University of Miami Police Department, which referred her to the South Miami Police Department. The SMPD sent an officer to her dorm, who told Cameron she didn’t have a case because she knew the alleged rapist.
“When the officer told me that, I thought, Oh you are so full of shit,” Cameron says. “It made me think that this whole process was completely pointless.”
But she kept on pressing for charges through the university. On June 24, a one-day disciplinary hearing was held to determine if her classmate had violated the Student Code of Conduct. At the hearing, the Dean found him “responsible” of rape/sexual assault and intimate partner violence. A subsequent mitigation hearing — which lasted 15 minutes and took place over the phone — allowed Cameron to request punishment for her assailant. She requested expulsion.
Her classmate, who continues to insist the sex was consensual, received a one semester suspension. “Just one semester and he gets to graduate,” Cameron says, frustrated. “There just hasn’t been an appropriate response.”
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A UM spokesperson told New Times she is unable to confirm the details of Cameron's case, due to restrictions under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The South Miami Police Department, meanwhile, confirms there is a case on file stemming from Cameron's initial complaint. Her alleged rapist's name has not been publicly released.
The story may have ended there, except that Cameron spoke at a campus event on sexual assault earlier this week. After hearing Cameron's story, UM Professor Katharine Westaway and her Women’s and Gender Studies class decided to start a petition to get her rapist kicked off campus altogether. The petition, released Tuesday on the advocacy site Avaaz, already has over 4,000 signatures. Westaway plans to deliver the petition to university administrators.
A spokesman for the University declined to comment on the petition. Instead, she pointed the New Times to an update from the school's Coalition on Sexual Violence Prevention and Education, released online Thursday, outlining the University’s commitment to the issue. The Coalition, formed last summer, was established by UM President Donna E. Shalala.
The update outlines the Coalition’s efforts to respond to campus sexual assault, which it says have extended to “staff training, Department of Orientation, Greek Life, Department of Athletics, the Counseling Center, UM Police, the Student Health Center, and more than a dozen other student-led outreach events.”
Cameron says she wishes the university would have mentioned to her that there was a deadline to submit evidence to the dean's office. Without that information, she missed the deadline. She also says it was unjust that she was made to go to each of her teachers requesting time off from class after the incident. She feels the university should have taken responsibility for that.
Cameron's case echoes other recent controversies nationwide about how campuses deal with allegations of rape. Last year, Columbia University senior visual arts student Emma Sulkowicz garnered national headlines with a similar petition seeking to get her alleged rapist kicked off campus. Sulkowicz’s petition came in the form of an “endurance art piece,” in which she carried her mattress — the mattress where she says her rape took place — around campus as a message of the emotional weight she is forced to carry from the attack. The complexity of the issue was underscored earlier this year, when Sulkowicz’s alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, told his side of the story to the Daily Beast. Nungesser has been cleared of responsibility by a school disciplinary board. Now, he is suing the school, its board of trustees, president and one of its professors, for failing "to protect him from a 'harassment campaign' by Sulkowicz," even after the school cleared him, according to the Washington Post.
For Cameron, interest in the petition is encouraging after a hellish year. (The petition outlines a host of mental and physical issues she’s faced: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe depression, anxiety, chronic pain, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, insomnia and more.) She heard from President Shalala this week, and they will have a meeting next week. After feeling ignored for so long, she says the response shows people care.
But she hopes the signatures of support — which continue to tick higher each minute — signal deeper attention to the issue. “I’m still worried,” she says. “Are these people really there supporting me, or is it just because of a petition?”
Update: On May 16, the Miami Herald published the name of the alleged assailant, David Jia. Last month, a judge granted Cameron a restraining order against Jia after a complaint that he had beaten her. But then on May 8, UM President Donna Shalala released a public statement about the accusation, saying it was “unfounded.” Last week, the Coral Gables police released its findings, which "found that Jia wasn’t even in town during the early morning hours of April 6 of this year, when Cameron claimed he grabbed her wrist and neck and threw her into a wall," the Herald reports.