This week, Al Jazeera America is running Sex Crimes in Sports, a multi-part series that’s just as uplifting as you might expect. Last night, the series looked at a number of recent high-profile sexual assault allegations featuring student athletes. The punishments for big-deal student athletes found responsible for rape range from nothing to a friendly transfer to another school.
The past couple years have been replete with hideous examples of college sexual assault allegations involving student athletes, and the ways in which campus disciplinary processes seem to get stuck in a pound of quicksand when they’re the ones being accused: Jameis Winston, where FSU campus police actively hindered the investigation, University of Oregon, where a woman who says she was gang-raped by three basketball players claims in a lawsuit that the school took no action against them for more than two months, and Virginia Wesleyan, where a student found “responsible” for rape in a campus disciplinary process was not just allowed to transfer, but allowed to change his expulsion to a “voluntarily withdrawn” to help him along. (An October piece by the Huffington Post found numerous cases where students found responsible for rape were simply allowed to transfer without further consequences.)
The Al Jazeera segment focuses on a case at University of Alabama at Huntsville where in January of 2013 a female student, then a freshman, says she was spending the night in a friend’s dorm after drinking at a party. In the middle of the night, a man woke her, telling her it “wasn’t safe there” and hustling her outside. Dazed and groggy, she let the man lead her outside and to his own dorm, where he overpowered and raped her.
The woman was able to identify her attacker as Lasse Uusivirta, an ice hockey player. What’s more, a campus police sergeant told her that Uusivirta almost immediately admitted to the rape, leading her to believe he’d quickly be expelled.
According to campus crime logs, the woman didn’t elect to report the incident to non-campus police or pursue criminal charges until April of that year, four months later. She says the same sergeant told her that her case wouldn’t stand up in court, and that she should pursue on-campus discipline instead.
The school conduct board recommended that Uusivirta be expelled. He appealed. In the meantime, according to Al Jazeera and the woman, he suffered zero negative effects. Then it got worse:
During the appeal, Uusivirta was also allowed to play out the rest of the season for the hockey team. He never missed a game.
Then on March 21, 2013, she received an email informing her that the university’s associate provost, Brent Wren, had overturned the expulsion. Uusivirta would instead face suspension and potentially be allowed to return to campus in less than six months.
She immediately went to the dean of students’ office and then to Wren, seeking an explanation. “I walked in and I just started crying,” she said. “I said, ‘Tell me why this doesn’t matter.’”
She said she asked Wren what Uusivirta said in his appeal that contributed to the expulsion’s being overturned, but Wren wouldn’t tell her. “He said, ‘I’m just going to tell you that I’m following precedent and that the only thing that we’ve ever expelled someone from this university for is academic misconduct,’” she said. “I said to him, ‘Well, thank God you got the cheaters off the streets.’”
In April 2013, Uusivirta was finally arrested and charged with rape, after the woman decided she needed to pursue criminal charges to see any action. At that point, the hockey coach, Kurt Kleinendorst tweeted this seeming veiled reference to the allegations, which he still hasn’t deleted:
Uusivirta responded to the allegations by leaving the country a month later, returning to his native Finland. The Madison County District Attorney’s office said it wouldn’t pursue charge against him as long as he never returned to the United States.
The woman has since filed a federal Title IX lawsuit against University of Alabama, alleging that the school discouraged her from reporting the incident to police and interfered with her educational rights.
“I want to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anybody again and that they can’t do that to people ever again,” the woman told Al Jazeera. “Had I been just a regular college kid that didn’t know anybody … it would have all just been swept under the rug. No one would have ever known anything about it, and that’s not right.”
Here’s the full segment, which is very much worth a look:
Screencap via WHNT