In Rare Public College Rape Trial, Student Acquitted

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A Yale University student who had been suspended was found not guilty on Wednesday of sexually assaulting a fellow student, in a rare college rape accusation to be tried in the courts. The verdict laid bare gaping divides in the reckoning around sexual consent and assault, the New York Times reports. Over several grueling days on the witness stand in a New Haven, Ct., courtroom, the woman described what she said was her rape by the accused student, Saifullah Khan, 25, on Halloween night 2015. The testimony offered a glimpse into the kinds of encounters that are more often described behind closed doors, to university panels or among friends. Khan’s lawyers worked to discredit the account of the woman. They asked repeatedly how much she had to drink, and how she could claim not to remember certain details, such as how she arrived back at her dorm room, but remembered others, such as the alleged assault itself.

They parsed her text messages with Khan, asking if she had not been flirting with him in the days before the incident. They showed off her Halloween costume, a black cat outfit, and asked her why she had not chosen a more modest one. Laura Palumbo of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center called the defense’s questions “all victims’ worst fears in coming forward.” “It is very intentionally working to trigger victim-blaming and stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual assault,” she said. “You must be interested in sexual behavior just based on how you’re dressed and drinking.” That the trial was happening at all was noteworthy. Few college rape cases go to trial, and the Department of Justice estimates that between four percent and 20 percent of female college students who are raped report the attack to law enforcement.

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