The fact that the case was reported and that it went to trial at all is rare, noted John Foubert, the president of One in Four, a nonprofit dedicated to ending rape. Most sexual-assault cases are handled by schools themselves. A 2007 study suggested that only about 12 percent of student victims reported the incidents to law enforcement. Only a fraction of those reports resulted in charges, and even fewer went to trial. The rate of reporting was even lower back in 2000, around the time the alleged victim accused Parker of assault, Foubert said. “I don’t think the courts have gotten any less horrific,” he said, when asked whether the case might have been handled differently had it come to light today.
Even if the courts had handled the case differently—placing less emphasis on what the woman was wearing, for instance, or that she was intoxicated, or acknowledging that even though she’d had consensual sex with Parker previously, rape was possible—victim advocates think the school also could and should have done more to address the situation. “They were under an obligation to respond,” Tracy said.
The young woman ultimately filed a suit against the school alleging that it failed to do enough to protect her after the allegations were brought against Parker and Celestin. The young men allegedly harassed the young woman after she reported the purported assault, and she withdrew from the school for a time. The young woman’s suit against Penn State contended that the school had responded with “deliberate indifference to known, severe, and pervasive sexual harassment that effectively denied” her equal access to education, a violation of Title IX, the federal law that prohibits sex-based discrimination in education. The young woman eventually reached a settlement of $17,500 with Penn State. She reportedly committed suicide in the spring of 2012 at age 30, after several previous suicide attempts in the months following the alleged assault.
“She was not interested in money,” Tracy said, emphasizing the not. “Her goal was to make sure that what happened to her didn’t happen to other women.” (Tracy declined to speak specifically about the young woman, who, she said, “wanted to be anonymous,” but said it was “a tragedy of immense proportions for her family.”)
In the nearly two decades following the alleged assault, and particularly in the past several years, Tracy said, there “has been an enormous shift in culture and a shift in practice.” Young women on campuses across the country have staged protests demanding that schools do more to prevent campus sexual assault, to respond when it happens, and to help those involved feel safe.
In response to a phone call requesting comment, Penn State emailed a one-sentence statement saying it was “committed to the safety and security” of students, and did not respond to a follow-up email request for more information. In its email, the school also included a link to a news release noting the university’s president in 2015 accepted a series of recommendations by a task force put together to examine the school’s response to sexual assault. The recommendations included implementing mandatory training—including on bystander intervention—for faculty and staff, the administration of an annual climate survey, and a required course for students, among other things.