Last year, Shannon Keeler was on a weekend getaway with her boyfriend when she checked her Facebook messages for the first time in ages. A name appeared that froze her in her tracks.
“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 transported Keeler back to December 2013, when an upperclassman at Gettysburg College stalked her at a party, snuck into her dorm, and barged into her room while she begged him and texted friends for help. It was the last night of her freshman year of college. Eight years later, she is still hoping to persuade Pennsylvania authorities to make an arrest, armed with perhaps her most powerful piece of evidence: his alleged confession, sent via social media.
Keeler followed the protocols designed to prevent campus sex assaults or address them when they occur both before and after the attack. She asked a male friend to accompany her home from the party. That day, she reported the rape, met with police, and endured a painful and intrusive rape examination. She also pushed for charges. However, the justice system failed her at every turn, just as it does the majority of college rape victims.
Despite the #MeToo movement’s emphasis on sexual violence and Title IX student protections, victim advocates and crime data show that very few campus rapes are ever prosecuted. Only one in every five victims of a sex assault on a college campus reports it to police. When they do, prosecutors are often hesitant to take cases in which the victims had been drinking or knew the accused.
From 2013 to 2019, 95 rapes were reported to campus security at Gettysburg, a small school with about 2,500 students, but only 10 non-child rape cases were prosecuted in the entire county, according to school data and county court records.
Students like Katayoun Amir-Aslani, who quietly left Gettysburg after her own sexual assault in the spring of 2014, are discouraged from coming forward as a result. The night she was assaulted, she met Keeler. She was raped at Gettysburg by an acquaintance a few months later, she claimed. She did not submit a report. She was not given a rape kit. Instead, she quietly dropped out of school the following spring.
The suspect’s withdrawal from school effectively ended the Title IX investigation on campus, according to Keeler. Two years later, just as the window for filing a civil suit was about to close, then-District Attorney Scott Wagner announced that he would not be filing charges. Keeler recalls him saying that bringing cases involving alcohol was difficult.
Keeler’s case has been reopened by Adams County authorities after she hired a lawyer and showed them the Facebook messages last June. The 12-year limitation period has not expired. According to records obtained by Keeler, the suspect, who was identified by others at the party, left Gettysburg but denied any wrongdoing in an email to school officials. According to her, his withdrawal put an end to the school’s Title IX investigation.
Last year, Keeler learned from a new detective that her rape kit had been destroyed after the case was initially closed. Her lawyer, Laura Dunn of Washington, said that happens all the time, even before the statute of limitations runs, which “makes no sense.” The practice is now illegal in Pennsylvania. Keeler stayed at Gettysburg and won a Division III national championship her senior year. She saw it as “the ultimate victory” over her assailant. Still, there have been breakdowns, therapy, and a period of excessive drinking, as well as setbacks.