What if Jesse Matthew, the suspect in the disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham, had been found responsible for the campus sexual assaults he was accused of at two different Virginia universities and the universities had worked with law enforcement to identify Matthew as a potential serial rapist? Matthew is now seemingly linked by video evidence to the disappearance of Hannah Graham, and likely linked by DNA evidence to the murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2010. The disappearance of Hannah Graham and the murder of Morgan Harrington may be a consequence of the failure of his universities to properly investigate and share information with law enforcement.
CNN investigative reporter Randi Kaye reported that in 2002, Jesse Matthew attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he was accused by a fellow student of raping her at a university building on-campus. Criminal charges were not filed due to lack of corroboration and the victim supposedly not wishing to go forward. It is unclear what, if any action, that Liberty University took against Matthew.
Less than a year later, Matthew was accused of another campus sexual assault at Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia, where he had enrolled after leaving Liberty. Again, Matthew was accused of a sexual assault on campus. Evidently, the victim did testify against Matthew in a campus disciplinary proceeding and Matthew left the university less than a week later. Christopher Newport University evidently had no hint that Matthew had been accused of a previous campus sexual assault at Liberty University.
Sexual assaults, like homicides, require immediate professional attention to preservation of evidence and fast identification of witnesses. This quick response is difficult enough for professional sexual assault investigators and, at least up until now, tragically impossible for colleges and universities. But colleges and universities are the first responders in campus sexual assaults. If they do nothing, then nothing is likely to happen.
Off-campus law enforcement is unlikely to get involved unless they are specifically informed about the on-campus assault. By the time law enforcement becomes involved precious time may have passed and forensic evidence such as DNA may have been lost. In many, if not most, campus sexual assault investigations, outside law enforcement is never involved and forensic evidence plays no part in the student conduct investigations and hearings. Accordingly, college and university conduct investigations and adjudications are hidden from the outside world. So too may the predators who roam within them remain hidden.
Questions must be asked about Jesse Matthew's campus sexual assault cases. Change must come. What did Liberty and Christopher Newport universities do in response to allegations by their students that Matthew raped them? Did the universities determine insufficient evidence existed because there was lack of "independent witnesses"? That was one of the reasons the Lynchburg prosecutor gave for the failure to prosecute Matthew. Requiring a sexual assault victim to produce independent witnesses is ignorant and repugnant. The United States Department of Justice and Department of Education should both open investigations of Liberty University and Newport University to determine how and why Jesse Matthew escaped notice.
Recent legislation at the state and federal level, as well as scrutiny from the White House, all instruct the nation's colleges and universities to improve. Numerous schools now claim to have revamped their student conduct proceedings and begun giving specialized training about campus sexual assaults to their staff. But training is only as good as the trainers. How many colleges and universities are utilizing training designed and given by experienced sexual assault investigators? What standards exist to judge and guide these efforts at improvement? Parents, students, victim-rights advocates, lawyers, law enforcement, and federal and state governments must work together with the colleges and universities to ensure improvement and accountability. Morgan Harrington, Hannah Graham and others -- known and unknown -- cry out to our consciences. They wait for our accountability.