By Jeremy Hester
On a Friday night she would later describe as deeply traumatic, a female freshman Rider student was invited to an off-campus party by a friend where she first met a male sophomore. Hours later, less than six weeks into her first semester of college, she said the other student attacked her.
“I was raped by him. He choked me so bad that there was a mark on my neck,” the 19-year-old said in an April interview with The Rider News. “I didn’t leave the room for weeks. I still don’t like leaving my room. For me, it’s like, I went through all this, and I’m still going through all this, and he is literally able to just transfer schools.”
The male student, who is enrolled in spring classes at Rider but has publicly announced plans to attend a different school in the fall, did not respond to several requests for comment. (The Rider News is not identifying the woman or the man she accused of assault. The woman did not report the incident to police, and the man has not been charged with any crime.)
The woman said Rider issued a no-contact order in December, but she still sees him around campus.
Months later, she said, “I have a lot of anxiety. I don’t walk anywhere by myself; I don’t really do anything by myself. The one time I went to go get food by myself, he walked across from me. Right now, I think the biggest emotion that I have is anger, because they’ve done nothing.”
Robert Stoto, Rider’s current Title IX coordinator, explained the process of communicating with students. Stoto declined to be interviewed but said in an email to The Rider News, “Students who are directly involved in Title IX matters, either as complainants or respondents, are kept informed of the key developments of their case, such as the completion of the investigation process, the referral of charges to a Student Conduct board and the outcome of a hearing, as they occur.”
But in this case, the woman told The Rider News that in the months since the December no-contact order, the university has failed to update her on the status of the investigation or explain why the student she says raped her still attends Rider and remains living on campus.
The night of the alleged assault
“From the get go, he was very flirtatious,” the freshman said, describing her first impression of the older student on the night of Oct. 15, 2021. “I was like, ‘I’m not doing anything tonight, I’m not doing anything sexual, I don’t even want to, like, cuddle. I don’t want to do any of that.’ And I thought that he respected those boundaries.”
When they first arrived at the party, the student noted that there were only six other people there.
“He started to come up behind me and hug me from the back, and I would move. He would touch my butt, and I would move,” she said. “I was very uncomfortable with it, obviously. I kept trying to move and get out of the situation, but I didn’t know how. So we went home.”
The student recalled taking an Uber back to campus with him and a few other friends, during which she said the behavior continued.
“He put his hand around me. I had ripped jeans on, so he was putting his hands all up in there,” she said.
She said that he insisted on walking her back to Switlik Hall, where she lived at the time. Once they arrived at the residence hall, she said, he insisted on walking her to her room as well.
“I said ‘OK, bye,’ and he was like ‘let me see inside,’ opened the door, and just walked into my room, which is not OK,” she said.
She explained that while he was in her room, she felt the need to appease him.
“He was like ‘do you want to watch a movie?” and I said ‘yeah we can watch a movie,’ just because I thought maybe he’ll leave,” she said. “And then he asked if I wanted to cuddle, and I said ‘I guess we can cuddle for a little bit, but I am sleeping by myself tonight.’ Then things escalated.”
It was after this, the student said, that she was raped.
“When everything was done, I put on his sweatshirt that was there really fast. I didn’t have anything underneath … I just ran out of my room. I vomited. There was blood,” she said in a shaky voice.
“I came back, and my neighbor was like, ‘Do you know about what’s been going on with him?’” Her neighbor proceeded to inform her that the male student had a history of harassing women on campus.
“I just cried, I told him ‘you need to leave right now’ and made him leave. The next day I gave him his sweatshirt, and I haven’t spoken to him since,” she said.
The student said that she was in shock for several weeks after that night.
“I didn’t eat, I wasn’t leaving my room, I wasn’t sleeping,” she said. “I waited about a month, maybe a month and a half [to report it], but that was because mentally, I wasn’t going to be able to do it right away, because I didn’t even really fully process everything for, like, a week.”
She explained that one of her professors initially reached out to her about missing classes, and they set up a Zoom call to talk about her situation. When she explained what had happened, her professor reported the incident on her behalf. She was contacted by Thomas Johnson, the then-director of Rider’s Title IX and Equal Opportunity Compliance Office, “one to two weeks later” in November, and said she was told that the student’s behavior was grounds for expulsion.
She said she was disturbed by the amount of time it took for someone to reach out to her after the incident was reported, stating, “It gives him enough time to do it again, and that’s all I was thinking about. That’s all I’m thinking about now.”
She described the investigation as “very tedious and very traumatic.”
“I wrote out what happened, and then at the meeting we went to, [Johnson] had to go through every single sentence and ask me about it to add in any other details I may have forgotten,” she explained.
In December, she was told that the school would be launching a formal investigation. She said she has not been updated since. Johnson left Rider to work as a Title IX coordinator at DeSales University in the beginning of April, but the student said she was not made aware he left Rider.
Stoto said that any cases being handled by Johnson at the time of his departure were handed off to interim director Christopher Botti.
A growing reputation among students
Other students, however, were aware of the male student’s growing reputation for improper conduct on campus.
One woman who lived in the same dorm as him said that he regularly made other women in that residence hall uncomfortable.
“He’d definitely made comments about my body. He also made a lot of comments about a lot of my friend’s bodies,” she said. “If a shirt was fitting us nicely, he would feel the need to say that. Or he would make comments about our weight, specifically he made a lot of comments about my one friend. She was on the heavier side, and he would always kind of point that out to her.”
Other students who worked with him, including senior psychology major Erin Francis, said they spotted similarly problematic behavior, and reported it to university supervisors. Francis added that residents who lived in the same dormitory reported to their community assistants that he would enter women’s restrooms without knocking.
Francis expressed frustration with how the situation was handled.
“For something as serious as sexual assault, why is he still at Rider? Why is he still walking around on campus as if everything is peaches and rainbows and all is right in the world? I do not understand,” she said. “As a woman, I’m disgusted. When me and my other female co-workers see him in public — revulsion.”
Originally printed in the 4/27/22 issue.