Seeking Justice for Campus Rapes

This series combined far-reaching investigative reporting with powerful personal stories to expose a pattern in which college students found responsible for sexual assaults face little punishment, while their victims receive little help. Originally aired on NPR in February and March, 2010.

A college campus isn't the first place that comes to mind in a discussion about violent crime.

But research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1 out of 5 college women will be sexually assaulted. NPR's investigative unit teamed up with journalists at the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) to look at the failure of schools — and the government agency that oversees them — to prevent these assaults and then to resolve these cases.

A Hidden Attack

When a woman is sexually assaulted on a college campus, her most common reaction is to keep it quiet. Laura Dunn says she stayed quiet about what happened in April 2004 at the end of her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin.

"I always thought that rape was when someone got attacked by a stranger and you had to fight back," she says.

That night, Dunn was drinking so many raspberry vodkas that they cut her off at a frat house party. Still, she knew and trusted the two men who took her back to a house for what she thought was a quick stop before the next party. Instead, she says they raped her as she passed in and out of consciousness.

For a long time, she had a hard time even letting herself call it a rape. It just didn't make sense with the way she saw her life. For one thing, she had a boyfriend she had been dating for four years.

"We were getting close to marriage. We'd been waiting together, so I was still a virgin, and it just didn't fit what I'd wanted my life to be and what I'd planned out my life to be," says Dunn. "So I just kind of pushed it to the side, said, you know, it's this bad incident that happened, and it was just a mistake, we were all drunk. And I just chose to, like, put it there."

Instead, Dunn focused on her schoolwork and kept her grades up. But she couldn't sleep. She lost weight. She broke up with her boyfriend, without ever telling him about the attack.

And she didn't report it.

Fifteen months later, she was sitting in class. The professor was talking about how, in wartime, rape is used as a weapon of terror. "And this professor, who I'll forever respect, stopped the lecture and said, 'You know, I want to talk about rape on this campus.' "

The professor said that more than 80 percent of victims stay silent.

"And she said, 'I want you to know this has happened in my class to my students, and there is something you can do about it, and there is someone you can talk about it with.' And she told me about the dean of students." And with that, Dunn made a decision. "I know it was rape, and now I know that there's something I can do about it. And so the moment that lecture let up, I walked across to the dean of students' office and I reported that day."

Going Public

Colleges and universities got their current-day responsibility to investigate and prevent sexual assaults as a result of an April 1986 crime, after a hard-fought advocacy campaign by the family of Jeanne Clery.

"What happened to Jeanne was so amazingly unreal," her mother, Connie Clery, says. "She was in the right place where she should have been — in her own bed in the dorm at 6 o'clock in the morning, fast asleep. There were three automatically locking doors that should have been locked, which she thought were locked, and she didn't have an enemy in the world. And Lehigh was such a safe-looking place, you know?"

Jeanne Clery was 19 and a freshman at Lehigh University. A stranger — he was a student — raped, tortured and strangled her.

In their grief, Connie Clery and her husband devoted the rest of their lives to making college campuses safer. "So if it happened to Jeanne, it could certainly happen to somebody else," Connie Clery says from the dining room of her home overlooking the St. Lucie River in Florida. "That's why I decided I had to do something to save others from such a horror."

Connie's husband, Howard, sold his successful business to underwrite their work. Connie, who had been terrified of speaking in public, went on TV morning shows and testified before lawmakers.

Their idea was simple: Force schools to disclose all crime that happens on campus. Then students — and their parents — would be informed. That would make the campus safer because faced with public scrutiny, college presidents would have no choice but to get serious about preventing crime.

Twenty years ago, Congress passed that disclosure law, now known as the Jeanne Clery Act.

There's been success. Over a recent 10-year period, the U.S. Department of Justice says campuses have reported a 9 percent drop in violent crime and a 30 percent drop in property crime, according to S. Daniel Carter, the public policy director of Security on Campus Inc., the nonprofit group started by the Clerys.

Carter points to another indicator of change: a 5 percent increase in campus police pay, adjusted for inflation. He says that shows that "the Clery Act really has led to colleges and universities to take campus security and protecting their students more seriously than they did 20 years ago."

But Carter says there have been shortcomings, too. And Connie Clery agrees. "The Department of Education has been a disappointment to me," she says.

A Question Of Enforcement

The federal Department of Education regulates schools under the Clery Act. But it has fined offending schools just six times. Most fines have been small. The biggest — for $350,000 — came against Eastern Michigan University. Administrators there covered up the 2006 rape and murder of a student, 22-year-old Laura Dickinson, letting her parents think she'd died suddenly of natural causes.

The Department of Education can also hold schools accountable under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX is best known as the federal civil rights law that requires equality in men's and women's sports teams. But the law is broader than that. It says that any educational institution that takes federal funding cannot discriminate against women. Sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are also considered discrimination on the basis of sex.

"All too often, victims are revictimized by being forced to encounter their assailants on campus day in and day out," says Carter, "especially if they are suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress, which can trigger panic attacks and have a significant adverse impact on their ability to continue their educational program."

Title IX is among the strongest tools for enforcement at the Education Department, says Carter. But few women know to use it. And when they do, the department rarely acts. Between 1998 and 2008, the department ruled against just five universities out of 24 complaints. That's according to records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Center for Public Integrity. No punishment was given in those cases — simply guidance on how to improve campus procedures.

Presented with those findings, Russlynn Ali, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights, says her office is stepping up outreach to students and assistance to schools. "We want them to get training, we want to provide some help," she says, "so that the adults and the students alike can ensure that this plague — it's really has become a plague in this country — begins to diminish."

Ali says she's willing to take steps not used by her predecessors: to withdraw federal funding from offending schools and refer cases to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.

In Laura Dunn's case, by the time she reported to campus officials, one of the men she accused had graduated. The other said the sex was consensual. The University of Wisconsin took nine months to investigate, then decided against punishment.

As a last resort, Dunn asked the Department of Education to find that the university had failed in its responsibility to act promptly and to end the sexual harassment she faced being on campus with her alleged attacker.

Two years after Dunn graduated from the university, and nearly four years after the incident, a thick document came in the mail to her apartment. It was the finding by the Department of Education, dated August 6, 2008. She flipped to the last page. "I went straight to the conclusion," she explains.

It said the University of Wisconsin — despite taking nine months on her case — had acted properly. Defeated, Dunn didn't read on. She threw the papers on the top of a pile of other documents in the corner of her bedroom.

"You know, I could have fought it again, and I could have appealed. But that would have meant I would have had to read it, and at that point in my life, just reading it, I just didn't even want to. I did not want to read the ugly things that people said."

But Laura Dunn is no longer silent. She's a leader in a national grass-roots campaign, called PAVE, to get rape survivors to speak out in public.

Kevin Helmkamp, the associate dean of students at the University of Wisconsin, said privacy rules prohibited him from speaking specifically about Dunn's case. But he said the university investigates each allegation carefully, and provides support and resources to students.

Last September, the university updated its rules on student conduct. In the past, the school required "clear and convincing evidence" to find an accused student responsible of a sexual assault. But now, in line with most other schools as well as with federal guidelines, the standard is the lower "preponderance of evidence."

"Mathematically, that would be 51 percent of evidence," Helmkamp says, although in fact, the judgment is more subjective.

Sexual assault cases are among the most difficult matters to determine, he says. "They clearly are very, very difficult cases to investigate. Usually, there is not a lot of corroborating evidence for one side or the other," he says. "It does tend to come down to one person saying this happened and the other person saying, no it didn't happen that way."

The result, "I can assure you, is that someone is going to be unhappy" with the outcome of a decision.

Prevention, Not Punishment

Campus disciplinary programs are not set up like a court of law. Officials lack subpoena power and often end up with the accused and the accuser telling their stories, with a panel of a few campus officials trying to figure out the truth. Schools see the role of these courts to teach students more than to mete out justice. That's also why punishments tend to be light: Counseling and alcohol treatment are more likely than expulsion. The result is that large numbers of women who say they've been assaulted feel dissatisfied with the results, and large numbers of women end up leaving school.

Sometimes there are false accusations — although studies on college campuses in the U.S. and Great Britain show those are rare: about 3 to 6 percent of cases.

Because it's hard to sort out truth in such cases, more school administrators are realizing the importance of putting more emphasis on prevention.

Earlier this month, Security on Campus, the group started by Connie and Howard Clery, presented its annual security award to Nancy Greenstein. She's with the campus police department at UCLA.

That university, in its annual Clery report, shows more sexual assaults than many other schools the same size. At first, that makes it seem like UCLA is unsafe. But Carter says Greenstein was honored for creating a place where women feel comfortable going to police, and so more of them come forward to report a sexual assault.

Greenstein says the campus police, administration and student groups have increased efforts at prevention. And one of the most effective programs gets students talking to other students about the risks of drinking and rape, and the meaning of consent.

"You don't want any students to be harmed," she says of sexual assault. "It changes people's lives. So many students who have been victimized, in a sense they're never the same. And if we can prevent that from happening ... if I can prevent one person from being victimized, then that's successful."

Failed Justice Leaves Rape Victim Nowhere To Turn

In a house outside Chicago, a mother shows her daughter something she keeps in the closet in her office. It's the small, pleated dress her daughter loved to wear as a kid. It's red and white with a megaphone, and the word "Indiana."

"You loved this," Eva says.

"Yeah, I used to wear that all the time," says Margaux, the daughter. "It's a cheerleading outfit, a little cheerleading dress from Indiana University, IU."

So when Margaux grew up and it came time to choose a college, there was pressure to choose Indiana University.

By then, Margaux was an accomplished cellist. And her mother, Eva — who'd been a student at Indiana, herself — wanted her only child to take classes at Indiana's famous music school.

Now, that makes Eva feel guilty.

To protect the family's privacy, NPR agreed to use only their first names.

On a morning in April 2006, Eva was in her kitchen baking cookies. She was going to send them to Margaux, who was finishing her freshman year. Then the phone rang.

Eva remembers the call: "I had never heard such a desperate, just a truly desperate sound in her voice. She was just sobbing hysterically. And she kept saying 'Mom, Mom, Mom. Mom, Mom,' over and over. And finally I said, 'Margaux, please, tell me what's wrong. What's wrong?' And she said, she said: 'I've been raped.' "

Margaux says, "I just remember, I was laying in my bed in my dorm. I had been out of control all week and crying and just laying in bed crying. But it was like a wailing, loud cry. The girl next door would come by my room and be like, 'Are you OK?' I'm not a big crier, so when I do cry, my parents know something's really wrong."

A Far Too Common Story

Margaux's story is fairly typical for the many women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses. And what's also common is the failure of even the best-intentioned colleges and universities to investigate a criminal matter like rape — and then punish it.

NPR's investigative team collaborated with journalists at the Center for Public Integrity to examine why colleges and universities fail to protect women from assault. The investigation found that even when a man has been found responsible for a sexual assault, he's rarely expelled. And women haven't been able to count on help from the government oversight agency, either.

In Margaux's case, she says she was assaulted after she'd gone out drinking with friends. Her friends dropped her off at her dormitory. She'd had so much to drink that she'd had to vomit. "I think it was maybe 4 o'clock in the morning," she recalls. "And I can't find my keys in my own purse."

A man who lived down the hall — someone she knew, but not well — approached her. "He comes over and finds the keys for me. And I'm hysterically crying. And I look horrible. My nose is running and everything. He finds the keys for me in my purse and opens my door for me with them and lets me in, and I remember feeling, like, 'Oh, that's really nice of him; he's being a good person letting me into my room.' "

Margaux says that the man then raped her in her bed, as she passed in and out of consciousness. The man would say they had sex, but that it was consensual.

NPR tried to contact him, but he did not return our requests for an interview. Officials at Indiana University also declined to be interviewed, citing student privacy laws.

A Justice System 'Designed To Make The Victim Go Away'

It's estimated that alcohol is a factor in 50 to 90 percent of campus rapes. "Being drunk did make a difference," says Margaux. Because "when you're a girl and you're obviously drunk, you're putting a target on your back for a predator. So, yeah, it makes a huge difference. But what happened to me is still assault. I mean you can't. There's a reason why it's in the law: A drunk person can't consent."

Every state in the country has sexual assault laws that say when a woman is drunk to the point of passing out, she can't give consent. But local prosecutors are reluctant to take campus sexual assault cases. Especially when — as is common — there was drinking. Or there are few or no witnesses. And it comes down to the woman's word against the man's.

Margaux's parents asked local police to prosecute. They said no.

So Margaux, like most other women, was forced to rely on the campus justice system, which is not a court of law. The campus discipline system doesn't enforce criminal laws. It considers offenses of college conduct codes.

Unlike criminal courts, college discipline systems often lack the ability to collect evidence, interview suspects and call witnesses.

This stunned Margaux's father, Michael, an entrepreneur and lawyer. When he met with campus police, he found their approach too formal and too casual. "The police officer that had handled the case discouraged me from getting an order of protection," he says. "He said that he had interviewed the assailant and put the fear in the assailant so that he would stay away from Margaux. Which was not good enough."

Michael was surprised that campus police hadn't collected evidence or formally questioned the man accused of rape.

"The entire system seems to be designed to make the victim go away," he concluded. "To pretend that the crime or incident never occurred."

Breaking The Silence

Only 5 percent of women report sexual assaults on campus, according to research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Margaux was embarrassed and uncertain whether she wanted to press charges.

Then, she got an important e-mail. It read:

"Hey girl. This isn't the easiest thing for me to do, but it's something I've been meaning to talk to you about."

The message came from a woman who lived just a few rooms down the hall. It was about the man Margaux accused.

"He has come into my room on two occasions and has forced himself upon me both times," the woman wrote. "Both times were unwillingly on my part. He was drunk both times he came in. My door was unlocked, and he took the liberty of just walking in."

The woman said she'd been able to fight off the man both times. That's one reason she didn't report those incidents.

It turned out campus police were already aware of the man, who was also a freshman. He'd been arrested and charged with a felony just a few weeks after he arrived on campus. He'd jumped into a fight and hit a male student so hard that the young man had crashed to the sidewalk and was taken to the hospital, unconscious.

Margaux was scared of the man she accused of raping her. But she decided to ask the school to start a campus judicial hearing.

She expected that hearing would determine the truth of what happened that night in her dorm room. And that the man she accused would get expelled. "It was a pretty, I thought pretty black-and-white case," she says. "And yeah, it should have been like, alright game over. Can't do that. Throw the book at you."

But that hearing would not go as Margaux had expected. And Margaux would feel she didn't get protection — or justice.

Friday, the story continues: Margaux goes before a campus judicial hearing and is forced to make an unexpected decision about her future.

College Justice Falls Short For Rape Victim

Margaux walked the campus at Indiana University scared. She was startled if she saw someone who resembled the classmate she said raped her.

One month before, she'd come back to her dorm drunk. She said a man who lived down the hall came into her room and raped her as she passed in and out of consciousness. The man said the sex was consensual.

Now Margaux and that man were called together to attend a campus judicial hearing. She'd asked local police to prosecute, but when they refused Margaux was left to rely on the the college justice system.

On a college campus, this isn't a formal legal process like a court of law. Instead it fell to two campus administrators to sort out the truth, simply by asking the accused and the accuser for their sides of the story.

The hearing quickly turned chaotic. Margaux was in one room, talking via a speaker phone. The man and his father were in a room on another floor; they started calling Margaux names.

"It was just a shouting match," she remembers. "He called me a slut. And his dad, who's not supposed to speak, starts talking and saying, 'These college girls have one-night stands all the time.' "

Documents from Indiana University and a later federal investigation of Margaux's case show that the accused man had left a trail of trouble. Another woman said he'd tried to rape her in her bed, but s

he fought him off. She did not report those incidents to campus police. But she did send an e-mail to Margaux, who passed along the information to campus officials. When they asked the woman to come to the hearing, she declined. Still, the man, a freshman, like Margaux, was known to campus police. He'd been arrested and charged with a felony for beating up a male student.

The man Margaux accuses did not answer NPR's requests for an interview. Officials at Indiana University cited student privacy laws and also declined to be interviewed.

After the hearing ended, Margaux waited in the room with the speaker phone. An hour later, the hearing officer came to explain.

"So the door opens, he comes in, he sits on one side of me," says Margaux. "I remember him saying — and he used the word 'rape' — and he said, 'I know that he raped you,' and then he went back on what he said. He said, 'I believe you, I know that that happened.' "

The campus official told Margaux that the man had been found responsible for an offense called "inappropriate sexual conduct" while the two of them were drunk.

Campus disciplinary procedures are run by educators, not by lawyers. And educators tend to think less in terms of justice — and look for what they call teachable moments.

Documents from Indiana University show that the man Margaux accused continued to insist the sex was consensual. But he did admit to having a drinking problem.

And that was a teachable moment for the hearing officer. Margaux remembers: "He tells me that, that my rapist was crying and admitting that he's an alcoholic. And I remember him saying 'I think we really made a breakthrough.' "

As a result, the punishment was light. It was already finals week of spring term. The man was suspended through the summer semester. He was told he could return in the fall if he stayed away from Margaux and got counseling and alcohol treatment.

A History Of Slaps On The Wrist

NPR's investigation found that most men found responsible for campus sexual assault get only mild punishment. Reporters at the Center for Public Integrity obtained a database of about 130 colleges and universities that got federal grants because they wanted to do a better job dealing with sexual assault. Even when men at those schools were found responsible for sexual assault, only 10 to 25 percent were expelled.

Margaux expected the man she accused to be expelled.

"Of course the sentence was weak and horrible," she says. "But the fact that I had to sit there and listen to this guy tell me that he was feeling bad for the guy who just raped me, not only raped me but was completely unapologetic. And he what, he breaks down, and cries and this guy is telling me how bad, he's telling me how bad he feels for the guy who just raped me. I mean it's just, that's really just broke me down the most. It just made me feel really defeated, which I was already feeling defeated."

A few days later, a dean overrode the hearing officers and extended the suspension to last one full year.

Still, Margaux couldn't stand the thought that she'd be on the same campus again with the man. So, like large numbers of women who take sexual assault charges to campus judicial hearings, she dropped out of school.

"This was a purely predatory crime," says Margaux's mother, Eva. (NPR has agreed to use first names to protect the family's privacy.) "A man waiting in the wee hours of the night for a woman to come in who he could overpower. And that's exactly what he did. You believe the victim and you're going to suspend him and force this victim to look for another school? It's unfathomable."

A Last Resort

Margaux's family took another route that's available to women, but rarely used. They filed a request for the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Indiana University for violating Title IX, based on the way it handled the sexual assault.

Title IX is commonly known as the federal law that requires equality in men's and women's sports teams. But the law is broader than that: It says that any school that takes federal funding cannot discriminate against women. And that means putting an end to sexual harassment.

The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation. Margaux argued that it created a "hostile environment" for her to be on the same campus as the man who'd been found responsible for assaulting her. But in April 2009, the department concluded that Indiana University did not need to expel the man.

Between 1998 and 2008, the Office for Civil Rights ruled against just five universities — out of 24 resolved complaints. There were no punishments — just orders to universities to improve their disciplinary procedures. That's according to documents obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

New Leadership, Stronger Sanctions?

Russlynn Ali was appointed by President Obama as assistant secretary of education for the Office for Civil Rights. Presented with those numbers, she says her office will be more aggressive, and she's prepared to use strong sanctions that have not been used by her predecessors. "We will use all of the tools at our disposal including referring to (the Department of) Justice or withholding federal funds to ensure that women are free from sexual violence."

Ali says she can't speak specifically about Margaux's case."What I can say is, if a similar fact pattern presented itself now, we would work closely with university officials to make sure that that woman was protected from a hostile environment at any point during her tenure at the university. And that the behavior changed; that other women were not subject to similar acts of violence."

Still, that will come too late for Margaux and her family. Margaux's mother, Eva, has become a national anti-rape activist. She's gone back to Bloomington, Ind., to work with a new county prosecutor who has improved the treatment of rape victims.

Margaux has dealt with more difficulty in her life. Last September, the man she was dating died, from a chronic kidney disease he'd faced since childhood. She'd known him from high school and he'd helped her deal with her panic attacks and fears since the rape.

Still, Margaux is trying to get her life back on track. She's enrolled in a college in Chicago.

As for the man found responsible for attacking her, he dropped out of Indiana University, too. Now he's going to school in Chicago as well. He lives not far away.

Margaux is still startled when she sees someone on the street who resembles him.

Myths That Make It Hard To Stop Campus Rape

There's a common assumption about men who commit sexual assault on a college campus: That they made a one-time, bad decision. But psychologist David Lisak says this assumption is wrong —-and dangerously so.

Lisak started with a simple observation. Most of what we know about men who commit rape comes from studying the ones who are in prison. But most rapes are never reported or prosecuted. So Lisak, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, set out to find and interview men he calls "undetected rapists." Those are men who've committed sexual assault, but have never been charged or convicted.

He found them by, over a 20-year period, asking some 2,000 men in college questions like this: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated [on alcohol or drugs] to resist your sexual advances?"

Or: "Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used physical force [twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.] if they didn't cooperate?"

About 1 in 16 men answered "yes" to these or similar questions.

Profile Of A Rapist

It might seem like it would be hard for a researcher to get these men to admit to something that fits the definition of rape. But Lisak says it's not. "They are very forthcoming," he says. "In fact, they are eager to talk about their experiences. They're quite narcissistic as a group — the offenders — and they view this as an opportunity, essentially, to brag."

What Lisak found was that students who commit rape on a college campus are pretty much like those rapists in prison. In both groups, many are serial rapists. On college campuses, repeat predators account for 9 out of every 10 rapes.

And these offenders on campuses — just like men in prison for rape — look for the most vulnerable women. Lisak says that on a college campus, the women most likely to be sexually assaulted are freshmen.

"It's quite well-known amongst college administrators that first-year students, freshman women, are particularly at risk for sexual assault," Lisak says. "The predators on campus know that women who are new to campus, they are younger, they're less experienced. They probably have less experience with alcohol, they want to be accepted. They will probably take more risks because they want to be accepted. So for all these reasons, the predators will look particularly for those women."

Still, Lisak says these men don't think of themselves as rapists. Usually they know the other student. And they don't use guns or knives.

"The basic weapon is alcohol," the psychologist says. "If you can get a victim intoxicated to the point where she's coming in and out of consciousness, or she's unconscious — and that is a very, very common scenario — then why would you need a weapon? Why would you need a knife or a gun?"

Complicated By Alcohol

Stetson University law professor Peter Lake agrees there are plenty of predators on campus, and that it's important to spot them and get them out of school.

But Lake says there's a problem the predator theory underestimates: the amount of drinking and sex that's become common with many — although certainly not all — college students.

"It's very common for them to go out Wednesday through Saturday at a minimum, drink fairly heavily and hook up sexually with people that they may not know particularly well, may have met for the first time that night, or had been introduced through friends, or MySpace or Facebook," he says. "So you have a lot of sexual activity, you have alcohol, you have a population that's sort of an at-risk age, and it's in some ways, it's a perfect storm for sex assault issues."

Lake, author of the 2009 book Beyond Discipline: Managing the Modern Higher Education Environment, says schools address sexual assault mainly as a violation of conduct codes. And he says these codes have evolved to better handle sexual assault cases.

Can They Learn From Mistakes?

Part of Lake's belief in second chances for students comes from personal experience as a law professor. He's a consultant to universities about discipline procedures, and he was the honor-code investigator for his own law school's discipline committee for a decade.

But he's also worked as an attorney in criminal courts where he'd see criminals who were "incorrigible" and who made him "kind of grateful that we have jails and we're still building them."

Those men were different than the ones he'd routinely see being disciplined on college campuses. "What surprised me was how many people have made terrible mistakes and can actually learn to be better people from that," Lake says, "that there still is a chance for teachable moments."

But Lisak, the psychologist, says schools put too much faith in teachable moments, when they ought to treat sexual assault as a criminal matter. "These are clearly not individuals who are simply in need of a little extra education about proper communication with the opposite sex," he says. "These are predators."

A Jury Decides

At Texas A&M, Elton Yarbrough was a promising student. Then he was linked to five rapes.

The first woman went to the student health center. She says that as staffers did a rape examination, one asked, "Well, were you drunk?" The woman felt she was being blamed. Because of that — and because she'd considered herself a friend of Yarbrough's — she didn't report the assault to campus police. A year later, when the fourth woman called, the student health center was closed for a holiday. The answering machine said to call 911 in an emergency. She did, and got city police.

"And College Station police were there within a few minutes," says Jennifer Peebles, a journalist who reported the case for the Center for Public Integrity. "They seemed to have absolutely taken the case very seriously and investigated it."

On a recent morning, Peebles — who works for Texas Watchdog, an online investigative newspaper in Houston — went to visit Yarbrough at a Texas prison. He spoke freely about the women. He recounted the sex and how, he claims, they'd come on to him.

"He feels strongly that he didn't do anything against the law," Peebles says. "He says he feels like he made a bad decision and that the young woman made, or the young women, made a bad decision with him to have sex with him."

In the one rape case that went to trial, a Texas jury ruled this was the bad decision of a predator. Yarbrough was sentenced to 18 years in prison.