After justice, cautionary story remains

By Mark Chiarelli

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Three years ago, four men arrived at the University of Massachusetts, encountered a female student that they knew and repeatedly raped her as she faded in and out of consciousness, incapacitated after a lengthy night of drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.

Emmanuel Bile, Justin King, Adam Liccardi and Caleb Womack are all guilty of raping the woman. According to her testimony in three separate trials, the men, who were not UMass students, arrived at her dorm without her permission, raped her, then left her in her room, alone and bleeding.

Liccardi then returned hours later and raped her again.

The first three men to stand trial – Bile, King and Liccardi – were all found guilty by respective juries. Bile is now serving an eight to 10 year prison sentence, while King and Liccardi are serving eight to 12 years. The fourth man, Womack, agreed to a plea deal Monday in Hampshire Superior Court, taking reduced charges in exchange for his admission of guilt. He will spend the next five years in the House of Corrections, and the following 10 years on probation.

Those are the facts of the case. The legal process, at least in criminal court, is now over, after three years. Some UMass students and recent arrivals to campus may have missed this story, while others may have forgotten it ever happened. Barring appeals from any of the four men, the case is now over.

But something horrible remains.

These men are now locked away, and while there is nothing that will ever make what they did better, “justice” has been delivered – at least legally. But what remains is the horrific idea that something like this could happen on a college campus – our campus – and three years later, there’s a pervading idea that the campus environment still isn’t as safe as it should be.

All four men arrived on campus in October 2012 in search of a party – any party. When they couldn’t find one, they found their way to the woman’s dorm, convincing a stranger to sign them into the Southwest Residential Area dormitory as guests. They walked up to the woman’s room, found it was unlocked and entered. They waited for her to arrive, which she did later with two friends. She was already intoxicated after drinking heavily at a dorm room party earlier that night.

The night progressed, and the woman began to remember less, according to her testimony in the first three trials. At some point, her friends left. Shortly after, the men turned the lights off. The woman said she couldn’t move and couldn’t tell them to stop. These men violated her trust.

It’s a devastating story, and a nightmare that happened here. It was real, and it shined a bright light on the paper-thin security that once existed at our residence halls. And while it’s important to note that each account of sexual assault should be addressed individually, the topic of sexual assault on college campuses has affected institutions nationwide as more victims come forward. It’s prompted an assessment of practices at schools such as Columbia University and prompted a bevy of Title IX lawsuits and investigations.

UMass – one of 55 institutions facing investigation over handling of sexual abuse complaints, according to the Associated Press – is no different, as the University says it has improved its student conduct code and improved its handling of sexual violence on campus. It also made sweeping changes to its residential security as well, overhauling the sign-in system, changing guest policies and spending nearly $2 million on security improvements.

These are necessary, yet reactionary changes. They were needed, but there is still much to be done.

Sexual assault on college campuses is a sensitive topic, but one that must be confronted.  More awareness must be brought to this troubling trend. Institutions must continue to implement policies that offer resources to victims of sexual violence, and communities must feel comfortable speaking out and addressing this issue.

Groups on campus at UMass, such as the Coalition to End Rape Culture, continue to raise awareness of this issue daily, but some students undoubtedly still feel fear on campus.

The woman in the 2012 gang rape recently filed civil lawsuits against the four men, as well as UMass and both the security monitor and resident assistant on duty the night of the rape. The story, and the painful memories, will be revisited again.

During witness testimony of Liccardi’s trial, the third of the four separate trials, UMass Police Department detective Derek Napoli took the stand. Napoli wrote the initial criminal complaint in this case, and testified to his involvement in the investigation. Napoli, who said he oversees the department’s investigation into sexual assault complaints, said that within three months of assuming that role, he investigated 10 sexual assault complaints.

This case was one of the few instances in which the woman was brave enough to come forward publicly.  Many more instances of sexual violence on college campuses will go unreported and undocumented.

It’s an epidemic that we, as a campus community, must not forget.

We must remember this story – and all its devastating aspects – as we continue to provide a safer environment for students and combat sexual violence on campus.

Mark Chiarelli is the Collegian editor-in-chief. He can be reached at [email protected].