Rare Rape Trial Turns Spotlight On Dartmouth's Sexual Assault Problem

Mar 19, 2014

An unusual trial in Haverhill, N.H is re-fueling the long-simmering controversy at Dartmouth College about whether the administration is doing enough to prevent and respond to sexual assaults on campus.

The defendant, Parker Gilbert, is a former Dartmouth student who allegedly raped another student in her dorm room on campus last May. Her name is being withheld, as is customary in rape cases.

The defense claims the sex was consensual, but prosecutors say Gilbert assaulted the woman after a drunken party. The trial is unusual because campus rape often goes unreported, or is handled by campus judicial authorities rather than the state’s criminal justice system. 

The verdict is likely to attract national attention because Dartmouth has been sharply criticized for failing to prevent such assaults. The college is being investigated by the federal Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights. This week, a national group, Ultraviolet, began circulating a petition demanding that Dartmouth make sexual assault a non-negotiable cause for expulsion.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean has supported that petition drive in a recent tweet, which concludes that Dartmouth is a college to be avoided.

College spokesman Justin Anderson has responded to Dean’s  tweet in an email to VPR:

While we applaud Governor Dean's attention to sexual assault, a pressing national issue, it's unfortunate he did no fact-checking before tweeting an article to his followers. The fact is Dartmouth is taking action on sexual assault. On Friday we submitted for comment from our community a proposal calling for mandatory expulsion in cases of rape. At Dartmouth, we believe that even one sexual assault is one too many. We are working hard and taking action to erase this scourge that impacts the lives of so many.

Anderson says the College has been making other serious efforts to address a problem which afflicts campuses nationwide. According to the most recent public safety report required by federal law, there were 24 forced sexual assaults in the last year recorded, 2012. That is the highest rate among most major colleges in the VPR listening area. Howard Dean has not responded to VPR’s request for further comment.