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Roundtable: SDSU investigates sexual assault report involving Aztec football players

 August 5, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: It's been more than nine months since a teenage girl says she endured the most traumatic night of her life in a home near San Diego State. So why is the university just now launching an investigation ? And what does it say about the larger issue of alleged sexual violence in the college setting and how survivors are ultimately treated ? Those are some of the questions will addressed this week. I'm Matt Hoffman and you're listening to KPBS Roundtable. Hello and welcome to KPBS Roundtable. I'm your host , Matt Hoffman. This week , we're focusing on the alleged rape of a 17 year old girl by members of the San Diego State football team. San Diego police wrapped up its investigation on Thursday , handing the case now to the district attorney. They will decide whether or not to bring charges. But there's so much more at stake , including Sdsu's formal investigation that was just launched this week , nearly a year after the alleged attack. Joining us to talk about this and the broader issue of sexual violence in the university setting is Colleen Shelby. She broke this story back in June for the Los Angeles Times. Alexander , when he's covering the story for KPBS. And Amanda , Christa Vic is here from front office sports. She's reported on how the NCAA handles these types of cases. As we begin here , we should note first , KPBS is affiliated with San Diego State University. Colleen , going to you first here. What can you tell us about how you were made aware of this story and how you ultimately pursued it ? Sure.

S2: My colleague Robert Lopez and I had been investigating how California State University handles Title nine and sexual harassment cases for a few months. At this point , when we received a tip about a situation that had occurred at San Diego State. And we pursued it just as we would with any other type of story. We tried to understand what facts there were , what information existed. We filed public records requests with San Diego State University and San Diego Police to understand how they were communicating about the allegations at the time that they had allegedly occurred in October. And we also started to try to find people who had other information about what had transpired , what allegations they had heard about at the time and in the aftermath.

S1: And , Coleen , we know that you , the L.A. Times and some other outlets , they've spoken with the woman here.

S2: She said that she went to a Halloween party at a house off campus from San Diego State when she was 17 that she , she and some friends had been drinking at the time. She met a student there who gave her a drink and eventually led her to a bedroom where she said that some of his teammates were waiting. She believes that the assault took place over the course of an hour. She said that she was thrown down onto a bed and they took turns sexually assaulting her. She said that once the situation had ended and she , as she she said in her words , stumbled out of the bedroom and found her friends. She told them that she had been raped. She went back to one of their apartments. She wanted to just sleep it off. And the next day she went to the police and filed the reports and then underwent a rape exam at the children's hospital at the time. Her father spoke to me as well and she said that a few days after the party had occurred , she went and shared the allegations that his daughter had shared with him with San Diego State University police.

S1: And let's hear some of the woman's description of what happened and a warning for our listeners. It's graphic and disturbing. We are not naming her. Here's some of what she told our Alexander Wynn earlier this week.

S3: My friends ended up getting separated from me and some guy came up to me , handed me a drink. We were talking. They threw me down onto the bed , face down , and they took turns assaulting me from behind. Other things in the mix. And I was bleeding everywhere. It was really aggressive. It wasn't. It was aggressive. It was really scary.

S1: Again , that's the alleged victim in this case , which is being investigated by San Diego Police and San Diego State. Alexander , that was part of your interview earlier this week.

S4: But I get the feeling that she's doing now because she's frustrated that it took so long for San Diego police to do something and it took so long for the university to acknowledge it happened and to finally start its own investigation. I think it's after the L.A. Times published its story that the university actually even mentioned anything happened.

S1: And historically , we've seen how survivors , they could be hesitant to come forward because they don't know if they're going to be believed. That might not be as much as an issue in this case due to the photographs and other evidence. But generally , I want to ask you guys , what is it like for survivors who come forward ? You know , that fear of being believed and either of you guys can answer this if you have any thoughts here. Sure.

S2: Sure. I think it takes a great deal of courage. For a survivor to come forward. And more often than not , the allegations that they are raising are typically true. And that is there are steps to back that up. So when I do hear from people who have shared some allegations , you know , I do typically believe what they are saying. I think in this instance , she felt that for nine months she was dealing with the consequences of these actions on her own , that she the trauma of those of the alleged rape was something that she was still processing and I think felt that something needed to be done. And she had recently become an adult. She was recently 18. Her father said that he really wanted the decision for her to come forward , to be hers. And it seemed like it was that time that she decided she wanted to take some control of what had occurred. I have also spoken with other survivors of sexual harassment and misconduct at other California State University campuses. And I think that the common theme among so many is that there's a real fear that in coming forward , they may face retaliation , they may face character assassination if their name gets out there. I think that largely coming forward is more often than not tied with an overwhelming fear that their life could be upended in some different other way than it had been previously.

S1: And when you spoke to this alleged victim , was that something that she said to you was a was a concern she had her. Yes.

S2: Yes. I think that she. She was scared that if her name was out there and other people had learned of what she had gone through , that she may face more gossip , that people may say that she , you know , in her words , that she had it coming , which was really a horrible thing to hear , to hear that somebody may consider that that's how. That's the perspective of others. I think that there was some real fear on her end of her story , getting out in a way that could affect her in a negative way , more so than the alleged rape had already affected her.

S1: And , Colleen , you and your colleagues , you guys broke this story back in June over at the Los Angeles Times. This young woman , she was 17 years old at the time of the alleged rape. She's endured problems far beyond the physical injuries from that night.

S2: As she put it , kids talked and word started to spread about what had occurred. I think that that gossip was something that she had to handle in addition with processing the trauma of the alleged rape. And this is something that she is still processing. She mentioned to me that she has siblings. She was scared even to talk to them about what had occurred because she didn't want their view of her to change. I think that she has continued to process in the aftermath of of what occurred to her in October. She said that she started seeing a therapist , that she started journaling in the immediate aftermath of the alleged rape. This , nine months later , is something that still seems very constant and present in her life.


S4: And when she sat down with me , she said , you know , before this happened , she had planned on going to UC Santa Cruz , majoring in psychology. She was taking classes at Grossmont College at the time in addition to go into high school. And all of that had to change. You know , she , as you mentioned , had to stop going to school and graduate from high school via online. And now she's more or less getting her life back together. She's now going to , you know , a community college here in San Diego with the hopes of eventually going to a four year school. But she still like classes processing that trauma.

S1: And we know that you also talked with the woman's lawyer earlier this week. He says the civil case is in the works. What could we learn from that if it gets filed ? But could we maybe learn who these alleged perpetrators are ? Yes.

S4: In the civil case , the attorney plans to name the three , three or four perpetrators that the woman knows of. And again , when she was assaulted , she says she was in and out of consciousness and she doesn't know how many guys were in the room at the time , how many assaulted her. She just knows that , you know , it happened.

S1: We're going to pause the conversation about San Diego State for just a few minutes and dive into the larger issue of sexual violence on college campuses. Specifically , the bureaucracy that can limit how it's dealt with. The number of universities that have experienced this is too long to list here. Amanda Krista Vik from Front Office Sports. She zeroed in on the situation at Baylor University in Texas. Amanda , welcome back to Roundtable.

S2: So Title nine does govern sort of the sexual assaults rules on campuses. One interesting thing about the Title nine office , which is part of the Department of Education , is that the rules can change depending on the administration. They ebb and flow , which is important to note , particularly because the Trump administration rolled back a lot of the stricter interpretations of Title nine , and the Biden administration is attempting to build some of those back. So on college campuses , there's a Title nine office that governs not just discrimination in sports teams , for example , but also sexual assault , because that is considered gender based discrimination. The way that it is adjudicated sort of depends based on the school. But essentially , the people who could adjudicate would be the school itself , the Title nine office , obviously local law enforcement , and then potentially the Department of Education itself.

S1: And like in this SDSU allegation and the case at Baylor Sports and athletic departments , they're often connected directly or indirectly in these incidents.

S2: But the reality is , is that currently it has none. And the NCAA Infractions Committee actually realized this when it did an investigation into what happened at Baylor. There were outside investigations , but the NCAA went in and said , we want to see if rules were violated that we have written. And what they found was there was wrongdoing , there was mishandling and sort of covering up those allegations. But then the NCAA officials realized that they don't actually have a rule against sexual assault , committing it or mishandling allegations. And so they realized that they couldn't really punish Baylor for what they had found. And in order for that to change , there needs to be some sort of new rule in the NCAA is very long rule book about this particular issue and that forces schools to abide by Title nine or else.

S1: Well , and we know that the NCAA , they held a convention last fall to revisit some of their bylaws. Do we know if anything came out of that ? Like , was this issue of sexual violence and maybe changing some of these rules brought up there.

S2: At the Constitution convention ? The and the Constitution that was later that later came out of it. The NCAA acknowledged the importance of gender equity in Title nine , but the Constitution didn't explicitly put in a rule that schools have to abide by Title nine , or else that it didn't get that far. It's possible. And so now the current process is that all of the divisions are creating their own rulebooks. So it's possible that , for example , Division One could decide we're going to put in our division specific rulebook that you have to abide by Title nine. Otherwise we're going to vacate wins , find your coaches , etc. , etc.. But as far as I know , I have not heard that has not been publicly in any of the sort of preliminary lists of changes.

S1: Whether it's Baylor , San Diego State or even elsewhere.

S2: I think that the major thread that I would say takes place on college campuses , but also just in our legal system. Obviously , this comes as no surprise to anyone that there are major flaws when adjudicating sexual assaults. It's often he said she said it's very hard. To prove based on at least , you know , in a court of law. There are also issues when it comes to the way that any sort of punishment doled out to a perpetrator might actually be enforced on campus. So I think that there are clear flaws in the system that go well beyond college sports , but those flaws are definitely reflected in the college sports landscape.

S1: This SDSU case allegedly involves an incident that happened off campus inside of a private home. I'm curious , Amanda , do we know if that changes anything here , like as far as how the university may be able to investigate that ? It didn't happen on campus. That happened off campus.

S2: To answer that specific question , I don't have reporting on that. But what I can say , which is sort of similar , is that if you read coaches contracts , you know , because coaches are often in their contracts , they're considered to be mandatory reporters of of Title nine violations of sexual assault. So they they're required by their contracts to report an allegation if they hear of one. And there's a lot of sort of controversy over the jurisdiction of these allegations. I think the greatest example of that would be what happened at Ohio State several years ago , the question of if abuse is happening off the campus , but related to students , related to employees , is that something the university can and should be adjudicating ? It's sort of decided on a case by case basis , but I definitely do think that there is an argument that even if the incident took place technically outside of campus borders , you could say if it involves campus students , employees , there's always there's always at least a chance.

S1: And a lot of the cases that we hear about involve heterosexual activity , often a woman accusing a man of misconduct. But sexual violence among those who identify as LGBTQ is also out there. And even fewer of those victims come forward. And there's often a culture gap between victims and authorities here.

S2: It's a similar situation to , I would say , the fact that Roe v Wade was overturned. And a lot of folks talk about female athletes. But there are people who could become pregnant , who would be affected by this decision , who do not identify as women. That topic is , I would say , getting a little bit more , I guess , room in the headlines these days. But I think the question of sexual violence in the LGBTQ community , and particularly when that relates to college athletics , is really not in the conversation right now , unfortunately.

S1: That's Amanda , Krista Vik , who covers this and so much more for front office sports. They look at the intersection of sports and business. Amanda , thanks so much for your time today.

S2: Thanks again for having me.

S1: Let's pick back up our conversation on the situation here in San Diego. We're here with Los Angeles Times reporter Colleen Shelby and KPBS reporter Alexander , when , you know , as we move ahead to what happened this week , it started on Monday with an email from San Diego State President Adela de la Torre.

S4: And reading between the lines. Basically what that tells me is that the Seneca Police Department has compiled enough evidence that they feel like the university could start its own investigation without jeopardizing the criminal investigation. So that's the thing that jumped out at me.

S1: Four of the five accused here , as far as we know , are still on the Aztec football team. They have not been identified and they're presumably getting ready for the upcoming season. Football head coach Brady Hoke , he read a prepared statement at the start of a news conference at training camp on Tuesday. Here's some of what he had to say.

S5: In our hearts , go out truly to the victim. Being a father myself and joined by others on the staff. We will not tolerate this type of alleged behavior within our football program. SDP has not yet confirmed names of suspects or any charges to SDSU in the case in which student athletes are alleged to have been involved. We are committed to hold accountable students found to have violated the very university policies.

S1: Again , that was Aztecs head football coach Brady Hoke and Alex. Is there anything else that stands out to you ? You know , maybe from what the coach said or didn't say.

S4: Well , what really stood out for me is that , you know , he prepared this statement. He says , we are going to cooperate and we are going to punish those who are responsible. But what he didn't say was what steps that he took since finding out about this incident to ensure that it won't happen again or that his players know that , you know , this is not okay. And I tried asking him that question and basically was shut down by the PIO , the public , the sports information person conducting the interview at that time. Yeah.

S1: Yeah.

S2: And I do think that that's something worth noting and being aware of as the timeline investigation from San Diego State starts or excuse me , is as it launches.

S1: And Colleen , we know you kind of reference this a little bit earlier. It seemed like there were other student athletes who had heard of or at least learned of these allegations and maybe even tried to speak up and report this violence.

S2: At the time , San Diego State said that San Diego police had told them that they had to hold off on pursuing its own timeline investigation. So the student athletes who had complained , I think , presented the allegations that they had heard of , but nothing occurred in the aftermath. And seven months later , when Robert Lopez and I wrote about the story , the university had not launched a timeline investigation and it had not notified students of the allegations or of any sort of possible danger.

S1: San Diego State , they've launched the website and it details what's going on in this case with the latest up to date information. But Alex , in your talks with the young woman's lawyer , he says that SDSU is skirting its responsibility. Full stop.

S4: And here are ways you can protect yourself. And here are , you know , ways that the university can support sexual assault survivors. Yet the university stayed silent. And of course , the explanation is that they were asked by Seneca PD not to pursue the case. But he says even so , a general notice sent out to the campus saying , you know , there was allegations of sexual assault , but if you are assaulted , here's what you can do and here's how the university can help.

S1: Yeah , it's got to make you wonder if she was a San Diego State student , if they would have changed any way that they've been responding. Bringing back in Colleen Shelby from the Los Angeles Times. We know that you broke this story. The final question to you before we wrap up here with Alex.

S2: I think that I had heard similarly from Title nine experts that I spoke with that it's not uncommon for a campus to delay in launching an investigation at the request of police , but to go for the duration of an entire academic year without doing an investigation or without notifying students in some capacity to a lingering danger or a possible risk is something that they found quite troubling. So because when our story broke , it had been after the school year was over , it wasn't apparent to us at that time that there were moves to take action. Perhaps things would have played out in a similar way had the police ended up giving the green light for the university to go ahead with the timeline investigation when it did. But it's really unclear what would have taken place had this not come out within the media.

S4: And and I want to add that the woman , she says , you know , it's hard not. To think of conspiracy theories , if you will , because the football program last year did phenomenal. They were 12 and two and ended up going to the Frisco Bowl. And so she says maybe the university was protecting its star players who , you know , are in the football program , which , of course , generated a lot of money for the university. So it's kind of hard not to think of it in those terms.


S4: Again , one of the suspects has since graduated , so it ties the university hands a little bit in that term. So it could take a little bit longer than the typical 60 to 90 days for the Title nine investigation.

S1: There is help for survivors of sexual assault. The rain hotline is one 800 656 4673. Also , the National Sexual Violence Resource Center can be found at and as VRC Dawg. That ends our discussion this week. We want to thank our guests , Colleen Shelby from the Los Angeles Times , Alexander Wen from KPBS News , and Amanda , Krista Vich from Front Office Sports. You can listen to KPBS roundtable as a podcast any time. Thanks so much for being here with us. I'm Matt Hoffman , will be back with you all next week.

San Diego State football coach Brady Hoke at a news conference on Aug. 3, 2022.
SDSU Athletics
San Diego State football coach Brady Hoke at a news conference on Aug. 3, 2022.
A discussion on San Diego State University's move to open an investigation into a reported sexual assault by members of the Aztec football team and the larger issue of how schools handle sexual violence in the college setting.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion about the sexual assault case investigated by SDSU and San Diego Police relating to an October 2021 incident at a home near the university campus. Guests include Colleen Shalby from the LA Times, Alexander Nguyen from KPBS News and Amanda Christovich from Front Office Sports.