YU student claims she was raped by fellow student, but school took no action

According to the claims made anonymously in an article in Yeshiva University’s student newspaper, the university conducted a 3-month investigation but said it could not take any action.

Department of Communications and Public Affairs, Yeshiva University (photo credit: SCALIGERA/ENGLISH WIKIPEDIA)
Department of Communications and Public Affairs, Yeshiva University

A Yeshiva University student has claimed she was raped by a fellow student at the university but that after the school’s administration conducted its own investigation, she was told there was nothing that could be done.

The student alleges she was required to sign a nondisclosure agreement for the university to pursue the investigation.

She made her allegations in an article for the university newspaper The Commentator on Wednesday.

In response to the complaint, Yeshiva University said: “We immediately retained independent investigators to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into the allegations, and a final determination was made based on a full evaluation of all available information.”

The student began her account of her alleged rape by stating that despite the national dialogue in the US regarding rape on college campuses, she did not believe such a thing could happen at Yeshiva University.

“Then it happened to me this past year… He was also a YU student, and he was on the men’s basketball team; we agreed to hang out for a little while, and then he raped me,” she wrote.

Yeshiva University Maccabees in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament (credit: YU ATHLETICS)
Yeshiva University Maccabees in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball tournament (credit: YU ATHLETICS)

“I do not wish to go into details, but when he proceeded to hold me down and respond to my ‘no’ with ‘but it’s fun,’ I knew that I could no longer trust anyone at YU.”

Following the attack, she said she went to a hospital to get a rape kit and have testing done.

After the incident, the student wrote, she felt “completely lost and confused for the months following the rape” and was extremely hesitant to tell the university administration.

Eventually, she said, she approached Vice Provost Chaim Nissel but did not tell him the name of the perpetrator.

“I felt so much shame and guilt for what had happened: I felt guilty for being so trusting of my fellow YU student, and I felt bad for possibly ruining his life just as he had done mine a few nights before,” she wrote.

YU officials “continuously asked me to give over the name, as they claimed they could only help me if I gave it over,” she wrote.

Yeshiva University administrators made her and the alleged rapist sign a nondisclosure agreement (NDA) before taking action, she wrote, adding that she was therefore limited in what she could say about the incident.

“In truth, the outcome had proven why I wanted to keep silent,” she wrote. “The duration and back-and-forth with the school felt like an eternity, and the time spent waiting for the school’s response afterward seemed like no less of an eternity. What I was made to believe would be a quick investigation extended over the course of three months, in which every day I would anxiously refresh my email for any updates on what was going to happen.”

“The process felt like a retraumatization of what I had been through – like I was still holding on to the incident that I would do anything to let go of – and each day of waiting was just adding to that trauma.”

Eventually, Nissel’s office told her that since only two people were involved in the incident, she and the rapist, dealing any further with the matter would be difficult.

“This left me in complete shock… The same people who had constantly encouraged me to go through this painful process – all the while promising that I would feel safe again – seemed to have pretty much known from the start that nothing would come from it,” she wrote.

Yeshiva University has “refused to do anything to make me feel safe on campus this upcoming year,” despite seeking assurances about her presence in the university library and other spaces on campus, she added.

“After this happened, I started to realize that there is indeed a rape culture at Yeshiva University, and it enables rapists to rape without fear of getting in trouble… Students are not safe on campus, and the school cares too much about its image to restore its values or do anything about it. Rape culture is real at YU, and it needs to be taken seriously,” she wrote.

Yeshiva University said it was “dedicated to engaging everyone with respect and dignity while providing a safe and secure environment for our students, faculty, and the entire YU Community” and that it has “extensive, and time-tested, policies and procedures in place to address allegations of sexual misconduct in which all complaints are investigated fully and comprehensively” and also conducts annual harassment and misconduct training for staff and students.

“While we are legally limited in what we are able to share, we treat this and all allegations in a caring, sensitive, and compassionate manner fully consistent with our compliance policies,” it said in a statement.

Shana Aaronson, director of Magen for Jewish Communities, a nonprofit organization that fights sexual abuse, said the allegations were “extremely disturbing and upsetting, but not surprising.” She said she was not personally familiar with the specifics of the case beyond the description in the Commentator article.

The details of the article demonstrated several instances of poor handling of the case by Yeshiva University, Aaronson said.

In particular, the administration’s demand that the victim tell them the name of her offender and the promise, implied or explicit, that they would be able to keep her safe was a mistake, when they themselves already knew that resolving cases in which the only witnesses are the alleged victim and assailant is extremely difficult, she said.

“They should have been very clear with her upfront about what they were able to do and what all her options were, including encouraging and supporting her to go straight to the police,” Aaronson said. “With any private institution, it is understandable that there is a limit to what can be done in a ‘he said, she said’ situation, and they should have been honest about that in the first place.”

“It is very common for victims not to go straight to the police, especially where they think there is another option, for example a university system,” she said.

The nondisclosure agreement was “outrageous” and “hard to understand,” Aaronson said.

Manny Waks, CEO of VoiCSA, an Israel-based, international organization dedicated to combating child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community, said he was not familiar with the specifics of this case. But he was critical of Yeshiva University’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations in the past and cited a 2013 sexual-abuse lawsuit filed by dozens of former students against teachers and administrators at the institution.

The administration’s demand that the alleged victim sign a nondisclosure agreement was “absolutely outrageous and unacceptable,” Waks said.

“Ultimately, it serves to take further power away from the victim and solely protects the institution,” he said. “The YU leadership should be ashamed of themselves. They should release the alleged victim from the NDA immediately and apologize to her for the additional pain and suffering they have caused her.”

Publishing the allegations anonymously was understandable and justified both due to the nondisclosure agreement and because “victims and survivors” of sexual assault “often do not feel safe exposing themselves because there are countless cases of victims being attacked by individuals, institutions other community members who take their cue from the institutions and community leaders,” Waks said.