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Ohio State suspends athlete for sexual misconduct

 

 

One Ohio State freshman returned to her Steeb Hall dorm room after a March 2 sorority function hoping to get a good night’s sleep.

But the rest of her night, and the two months since, have been a nightmare.

While she slept in her lofted bed, a male stranger walked into her room, which was unlocked because her roommate was still out for the night, and climbed into her bed at about 12:30 a.m. March 3.

She says he raped her.

The freshman, whom The Lantern has chosen to grant anonymity because the case involves an alleged sexual assault and who will be referred to as “Jane” throughout this article, had gone to bed wearing her dress from her sorority event. She said the man put his hand up her dress. After she pushed him off her bed and called for help, he ran out of her room, leaving behind his shoes and baseball cap.

Now Jane says she wants OSU to change its policies regarding sexual misconduct after the Student Conduct department within the Office of Student Life issued a punishment she felt was too lenient in the case.

“Before this happened, I thought The Ohio State University was prestigious and it was an honor to be there,” Jane said. “I’m a fifth-generation here, and now it means nothing to me.”

She never saw her assailant’s face but was able to identify him through the clothes he was wearing and the items of clothing left in her room.

When Jane’s resident adviser responded to the situation, they found a male student walking around her floor without shoes, visibly intoxicated, Jane said.

According to Jane and her father, whom The Lantern has chosen to call “Joe” to protect Jane’s identity, witnesses said the male student had been written up earlier in the evening for being visibly intoxicated.

Joe said that according to reports he saw, before the incident, the man was so intoxicated he tried kissing one female RA when she wrote him up. The man later punched another male when the RA asked his friends to help put him to bed, according to the reports.

Though The Lantern reached out to the RAs associated with the incident, RAs are prohibited from speaking on the record due to residence hall policy.

Jane did not immediately press charges, but did file a police report later in the evening on March 3.

OSU’s Student Conduct department held an administrative hearing for Jane’s case on May 2 and found former Buckeye freshman wrestler Devin Visconti in violation of four university policies, including sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct involves “physical contact or other non-physical conduct of a sexual nature in the absence of clear, knowing and voluntary consent as defined in the Code of Student Conduct.”

Visconti, who has not been criminally charged, also violated the policies on endangering health or safety, disorderly or disruptive conduct and alcohol, which includes “Use, production, distribution, sale or possession of alcohol in a manner prohibited under law or applicable University policy,” according to the final report from the hearing obtained by The Lantern.

Visconti received a one-year suspension, through May 3, 2013, during which time he is not permitted to enter or be present on any OSU campus or property, according to the terms of his sanctions.

Additionally, Visconti must complete an alcohol assessment course with a licensed substance abuse professional prior to reenrollment and is not to have any contact with Jane, according to the documents.

Prior to his suspension, Visconti was moved to another residence hall. Jane is still living in Steeb Hall.

Visconti did not respond to multiple emails. His father Robert Visconti answered the phone Friday at his parents’ house in North Reading, Mass., but directed The Lantern to Devin Visconti’s lawyer. A Tuesday follow-up call to his parent’s house went unanswered.

Devin Visconti’s lawyer John Tyack, whose office is located at 536 S. High St., did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails sent Monday and Tuesday.

Jane and her family do not think the university handled the case appropriately. They said they are shocked that Visconti was not permanently dismissed from the university and they feel his punishment equates to a “slap on the wrist,” Jane said.

“He should have been dismissed, because that’s all the university can do,” Jane said.

Joe said he feels the university has failed his daughter by not issuing a harsher punishment and was shocked by the case’s outcome.

“We were just devastated. I just couldn’t believe it because every witness, one right after another, said the same thing, identical things,” Joe said. “The school, for rape, thinks a one-year suspension is sufficient enough, which we don’t.”

Joe also said he was appalled to find that rape does not constitute a hate crime under OSU policy.

“Rape is not considered a hate crime,” Joe said. “How much hate can it take to do that?”

State law in Ohio features two separate codes involving hate crimes. The first, ethnic intimidation, is defined in Ohio Revised Code 2927.12 as aggravated menacing, menacing, criminal damaging or endangering, criminal mischief or telecommunications harassment by reason of the race, color, religion or national origin of another person or group of persons.

The second, desecration, in ORC 2927.11, covers damage to “a place of worship, its furnishings, or religious artifacts or sacred texts within the place of worship or within the grounds upon which the place of worship is located.”

Such laws do not include provisions for reason of gender and do not explicitly include rape or sexual misconduct.

But ORC 2907.02 states, “No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another when the offender purposely compels the other person to submit by force or threat of force.”

ORC 2907.01 defines sexual conduct as “vaginal intercourse between a male and female; anal intercourse, fellatio, and cunnilingus between persons regardless of sex; and, without privilege to do so, the insertion, however slight, of any part of the body or any instrument, apparatus, or other object into the vaginal or anal opening of another. Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete vaginal or anal intercourse.”

Jennifer Geller, the hearing officer on this Student Conduct case, is out of the office until Thursday, according to an out-of-office email reply. Andrea Goldblum, director of Student Conduct, declined to comment and directed The Lantern to Dave Isaacs, communications and media relations manager for the Office of Student Life.

OSU is prohibited by the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) from discussing details of the case, but Isaacs issued the following email statement:

“We take the issue of sexual assault in our campus community very seriously. Allegations of sexual violence are addressed by campus resources including the office of Student Conduct, which take prompt and direct action to address misconduct. Such action may include interim suspension and other immediate steps when warranted.

“Disciplinary sanctions for sexual misconduct may include suspension or permanent dismissal and the majority of cases also include educational sanctions that can help the accused student make better future choices. The university’s action is separate from any criminal investigation of such matters through law enforcement authorities.”

No criminal charges have been filed, but the criminal investigation is ongoing, OSU Police Chief Paul Denton said.

Denton said it sometimes takes longer to investigate more serious offenses as additional details need to be gathered, but the case “is active and we are pursuing it as quickly as possible.”

He could not confirm whether Devin Visconti is a suspect in the criminal case.

The University Police report, which was opened later on May 3, lists 17 students as witnesses, as well as the Steeb Hall resident director.

One of Devin Visconti’s friends, who requested to remain anonymous but was listed as a witness in the formal police report, said he saw Devin Visconti walking around Steeb Hall shortly after the alleged incident and went to talk to Jane, whom neither Devin Visconti nor his friend had met prior to March 3, to find out what had happened. He said when he spoke to her, she said she did not plan to file criminal charges against Devin Visconti.

“I said OK and just said, ‘He’ll come back in the morning when he’s coherent and, like, apologize.’ So she said, ‘OK,’ and that was the end of it,” the friend said. “She told me she didn’t want anything to happen and her RA overheard her talking to someone about it.”

Jane said her RA got involved when she overheard it being discussed on the floor.

“My RA overheard people in the hall talking about it, so she ended up coming up and writing him up,” Jane said.

Her father said emotional reasons were to blame for Jane’s initial hesitation to call police.

“They asked my daughter, ‘Do you want to call the police?’ Well, my daughter was in shock,” Joe said.

Jane said that although she never saw Devin Visconti’s face, she is not worried that people will question her story.

“It’s not a matter of questioning whether it did or didn’t happen. The university accepted that it happened and they said that he was guilty of the charge,” Jane said.

Danielle Warner, assistant director at Ohio State Athletics Communications, said Devin Visconti is no longer a member of the wrestling team due to “a coach’s decision.” Warner would not confirm when Devin Visconti was taken off the team or whether the decision was connected to the misconduct hearing.

Devin Visconti’s twin brother Kyle Visconti is still a member of the OSU wrestling team.

Jane said she feels Devin Visconti’s status as an athlete played a large role in OSU’s decision to suspend him for one year as opposed to dismissing him.

“I cannot believe that any university would condone this type of behavior. In my opinion, the university is covering their asses for PR reasons for the athletic department,” Jane said. “We have great sports teams, but at what cost? Female safety?”

Joe agreed.

“I think it’s a huge reason, because the last thing they want is their athletic program getting another black eye because their football team has had nothing but black eyes in the past year or two, and they don’t want the publicity,” Joe said.

President E. Gordon Gee said in a May 4 email to Joe that OSU does not take sexual misconduct lightly and the ruling had nothing to do with Devin Visconti’s status as an athlete.

“The University takes sexual assault very seriously, and this is evidenced by Devin’s suspension,” Gee’s email to Joe read. “While I can appreciate that you are not fully satisfied by the results of the hearing, the reality is that Devin is facing very serious consequences.

“And to be perfectly clear,” the email continued. “His role as an athlete had absolutely no bearing whatsoever in the decision-making process.”

Jane, Joe, other family members and several of her friends and sorority sisters have sent emails to Gee, many of which have gone unreturned, though Gee has responded to at least two of Joe’s emails, Jane said.

Both Jane and Joe said they were shocked to learn OSU does not have a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual misconduct or rape.

“They do not have a no-tolerance policy against rape, which is ridiculous,” Jane said. “No teaching institution should accept heinous acts like that.”

Isaacs said OSU does not have a mandatory punishment policy for cases of sexual misconduct. Instead, incidents are handled on a case-by-case basis under OSU policy.

“Each case is considered in its own merits,” Isaacs said in the email. “Sanctions for sexual misconduct can range widely depending on the nature of the misconduct, from disciplinary probation to permanent dismissal.”

During the 2010-2011 academic year, OSU heard 19 sexual misconduct cases, and in the 2009-2010 year, 10 sexual misconduct cases were heard, Isaacs said in his email. One student was dismissed in cases that included sexual misconduct in each of those years.

Three rapes have been reported on campus since Jan. 1, according to the University Police log.

OSU offers a number of resources for rape victims and victims of sexual violence.

“We also provide numerous resources including the Sexual Violence Education and Support Program and support through the Student Wellness Center, Counseling and Consultation Service, Student Health Services, Student Advocacy and University Police, among other departments,” Isaacs said in the email. “We also have a Sexual Violence Assistance Fund, a Sexual Violence Committee that works to educate the campus community about related issues, and a Sexual Violence Consultation Team that meets regularly to ensure that services for students are coordinated and maximally effective.”

Jane and her family said they want to see a change in OSU’s sexual misconduct policy. They want OSU to implement a zero-tolerance policy, resulting in automatic dismissal for any student found in violation of sexual misconduct policies.

“That’s all we asked is for (Devin) to be dismissed and we would have been happy,” Joe said. “We’d have went away because my daughter wants to do her five years (at OSU), and if he’s only suspended for a year, he has an opportunity to come back. Who says he won’t seek her out and do it again?

“If you sexually assault another human being, there should be zero tolerance for that kind of violence,” Joe said. “If we get any good out of this, then a change in policy so someone else doesn’t get hurt. Until someone puts their foot down, (OSU is) not gonna change it.”

Jane originally planned to transfer from OSU at the end of the school year but has since decided she will stay at the university.

“All of my friends are here … I have my sorority and everything that I’m really into,” Jane said. “I believe that they just want this problem to disappear and by me transferring, there would be like, ‘Oh, she’s not a student here anymore. Why does she care?'”

Jane said since the alleged incident, her grades have suffered. She has had trouble focusing and sleeping, and has battled depression. Still, she said despite the emotional struggle, she is trying to stay positive.

“Obviously, it’s affecting me greatly … Some days are harder than others. But overall, I’m trying to keep a positive attitude and know that I’m alive and some people don’t survive,” Jane said. “Reading emails or hearing from people saying that I’ve helped them helps me get through this.”

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