MOORESTOWN, New Jersey (AP) — Shannon Keeler was enjoying a weekend getaway with her boyfriend last year when she checked her Facebook messages for the first time in ages. A name popped up that stopped her cold.
“So I raped you,” the person said in a burst of unread messages sent six months earlier.
“I’ll never do it to anyone ever again.”
“I need to hear your voice.”
“I’ll pray for you.”
The messages rocketed Keeler back to the life-shattering night in December 2013 when an upperclassman at Gettysburg College stalked her at a party, snuck into her dorm and barged into her room while she pleaded with him and texted friends for help. It was the final night of her first semester of college.
Eight years later, she still hopes to persuade authorities in Pennsylvania to make an arrest, armed now with perhaps her strongest piece of evidence: his alleged confession, sent via social media.
But is it enough?
Before and after the attack, Keeler followed the protocols designed to prevent campus sex assaults or address them when they happen. She had a male friend walk her home from the party. She reported the rape that day, met with police and endured a painful and intrusive rape exam. And she pushed for charges. Yet, at every turn, the justice system failed her, just like it fails most college rape victims.
For all the focus on sexual violence in the #MeToo era, and on student protections under Title IX, very few campus rapes are ever prosecuted, according to victim advocates and the limited crime data available. Only one in five college sex assault victims report to police. And when they do, prosecutors often hesitate to take cases where victims had been drinking or knew the accused.
“It has bothered me over the years that I was never able to do anything,” said Keeler, now 26. “If you’re not going to help me, who are you going to help? Because I do have evidence.”
At Gettysburg, a small school with about 2,500 students, 95 rapes were reported to campus security from 2013 to 2019 — but only 10 non-child rape cases were prosecuted in the entire county during that period, according to school data and county court records.
And that discourages students like Katayoun Amir-Aslani, who quietly left Gettysburg after her own sexual assault in the spring of 2014, from coming forward.
She met Keeler the night she was assaulted. Then few months later, she was raped at Gettysburg by an acquaintance, she said.
She did not file a report. She did not get a rape kit. Instead, she quietly left school after that spring.
“I didn’t have any witnesses, and after the experience I had … with Shannon, and nothing happened with her, I just (thought), ‘Well, what’s the point of me going through all of this for nothing?’” said the 26-year-old New Yorker. “So I just didn’t really tell anyone.’”
For Keeler, the suspect’s withdrawal from school ended the campus Title IX investigation. Two years later, just after the window to file a civil suit closed, then-District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he wouldn’t be filing charges.
Keeler recalls him saying it was difficult to bring cases when alcohol is involved.
Wagner, now a county judge, declined to speak with The Associated Press. His successor, District Attorney Brian Sinnett, would not discuss the specifics of Keeler’s case, but said he can’t file charges unless a case meets the high bar needed for conviction.
“You have to look at what evidence do you have: can it be corroborated, whether it fits in with the statute of limitations, what is the likelihood of success at trial? All of those types of things,” he said
Authorities in Adams County are looking anew at Keeler’s case since she retained a lawyer and showed them the Facebook messages last June. The 12-year statute of limitations has not run.
The suspect, identified by others at the party, left Gettysburg but denied any wrongdoing in an email to school officials, according to records that Keeler obtained. His withdrawal ended the school’s Title IX investigation, she said.
The Associated Press — which tried to reach the 28-year-old man through phone numbers and emails linked to him and his parents, and through social media — is not identifying him because he has not been charged. None of the AP’s messages were returned. He appeared to finish college at another school, based on his online profile.
Keeler learned last year from a new detective that her rape kit had been destroyed after the case was initially closed. Her lawyer, Washington-based Laura Dunn, said that often happens even before the statute of limitations runs, “which makes no sense.” Pennsylvania law now bars the practice.
Keeler stayed at Gettysburg, capping her time there with a Division III national championship in lacrosse her senior year. She thought of it as “the ultimate victory” over her attacker.
Still, there have been breakdowns, and therapy, and too much drinking for a time, and setbacks.
“I wasn’t the best version of myself for a few years,” said Keeler, who now has a job she enjoys in software sales and a happy relationship with her long-time boyfriend. “My anger was more at the criminal justice system than what actually happened.“
This story has been updated to correct the first name of the former Adams County DA. It is Shawn Wagner, not Scott Wagner.
AP National Writer Allen G. Breed contributed to this report from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Follow Maryclaire Dale on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Maryclairedale