May 19, 2019
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5 women say a man UMF cleared of rape also assaulted or harassed them

Courtesy of Olivia Cyr | BDN
Courtesy of Olivia Cyr | BDN
Olivia Cyr, 23, of Bristol, Connecticut, said in 2015 a male student at the University of Maine at Farmington shoved her against a dorm room wall and kissed and groped her as she struggled to escape. She, along with several other women, decided to speak publicly about the man's treatment of them after reading a Bangor Daily News story that detailed how the school allowed him to remain on campus after overturning a ruling that had found him responsible for rape. On Friday the school suspended the man on an interim basis while it conducts an investigation.

Update: The University of Maine at Farmington responded Tuesday to this story. Read the response here.

For the last four years, Olivia Cyr was mostly silent about the night in 2015 when a male student at the University of Maine at Farmington shoved her against a dorm room wall and kissed and groped her as she struggled to escape, she said.

Then, several weeks ago, she read a Bangor Daily News article that described how the university handled the rape cases of two current female students, ultimately allowing the alleged perpetrators to remain on campus after overturning rulings that had found the men responsible for sexual assault.

The story didn’t name the male students, but a friend of Cyr’s, who was familiar with one of the cases, posted an image of one of the men on Facebook. For a moment, Cyr said, she may have stopped breathing.

Cyr didn’t know the woman in the case, who went by the pseudonym Sierra, but she knew her alleged attacker, she said. It was the same man who she said physically forced himself on her that night in his dorm room.

Cyr was not the only woman who came to fear the male student, who was still enrolled at the university as of March 4 and has been a student since the fall of 2013. The BDN is not naming him to prevent potential retaliation against the women, and because he hasn’t been charged with a crime, doesn’t hold a position of authority, and is already known to police and the school.

A total of four former students, who did not always know one another’s stories, told the BDN that the man physically took advantage of them both before and after he allegedly raped Sierra in 2017. A fifth woman described how he continued to ask her for sex after she said no. A sixth woman said she witnessed him harass her friend.

Together, they paint a picture of a man who coerced women into staying with him and sending him nude pictures, physically harmed women, harassed them online, grabbed them without their permission, pressured them to have sex after they said no, and performed sexual acts to which they didn’t consent. It appears that none of these women’s allegations came out during the school’s investigation into him during Sierra’s case.

Most of the women did not tell police or school officials about his actions because they didn’t think they had enough evidence, but they also had little faith anything would be done.

All of the women who spoke to the BDN have since graduated, raising questions not just about how the school can maintain safety when alleged victims don’t come forward, as is most often the case, but about how it can better catch those who may have a history of hurting women, while also protecting their rights.

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After being interviewed by the BDN, one of the women decided to tell the school on Friday what had happened to her. In response, the university suspended him on an interim basis, effective immediately, pending an administrative investigation into whether he committed the student conduct code violations of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, harassment and causing fear of physical harm, according to a school record obtained by the BDN. If he returns to university property, he may be arrested for trespassing.

Ironically, the school’s process for handling Sierra’s rape case allowed the man to remain on campus because of another woman’s allegation. After a committee found the man had more likely than not sexually assaulted Sierra, which is the standard of evidence required under the federal law Title IX, an appeals panel overturned the finding.

Because the alleged perpetrator brought up another woman’s pending protection from abuse order against him during the committee hearing, it had biased the committee, the review panel said. It did not say how. Sierra had no control over his statements. The man essentially won his case on a technicality by pointing to the fact that another woman alleged wrongdoing.

The university will pursue other leads if the information comes up during the course of a Title IX investigation, but it does not actively seek out other potential victims, said Dan Demeritt, a spokesman for the University of Maine System. If the university learns of additional misconduct during the investigation, and the new alleged victim wishes to file a complaint, the school will conduct a separate investigation. There are no time limits restricting when people can file complaints.

Regardless of whether a new alleged victim is willing to file a formal complaint, “we would still be evaluating whether alleged patterns of conduct against multiple students posed any risk to the campus generally or any other individuals,” Demeritt said.

[Step by step, 2 women detail Maine university’s failings in their rape cases]

And the university can pursue an investigation even without an individual complainant if it learns of a likely problematic pattern of behavior — though it would still need to speak with those involved, he said.

Cyr, 23, of Bristol, Connecticut, said she tried to leave the man’s dorm room in the spring semester of her sophomore year after they had an argument. As she was walking away, he pinned her against the wall and began to force himself on her, she said. She told him loudly to stop and pushed him, she said, and he put up his hands.

Cyr stopped seeing the man after that, she said, but he continued to contact her. His messages felt relentless, she said.

She deleted her texts and Facebook messages from him, however, not wanting to see the conversations on her phone, and blocked him from reaching her on Facebook and with his cell phone. She wrote about him in her private journal but, until recently, only told her current boyfriend what had happened.

Even after she graduated in 2017 she continued to think about the man’s physical and sexual aggression, she said, and struggled with what to do.

“To this day, I convince myself that, ‘Nothing happened to you because you got away,’ and ‘Well, he didn’t actually assault you or rape you or punch or hit you, so you don’t have any place to say anything,’” she said.

But after reading the BDN article, she decided to speak publicly, so the students who described being raped would know they weren’t alone and the school would know that someone potentially dangerous remained on campus.

The Jan. 28 story described how a current student, Sierra, received more than 500 calls and 700 text messages over two months from the man, who sometimes used the threat of suicide as a way to stay in touch after Sierra ended their relationship. Then, on the night of Sept. 27, 2017, Sierra said he raped her in his off-campus apartment in Farmington.

In addition to the school, Sierra reported the rape to police. The Franklin County District Attorney’s Office, which would have to meet the high bar of “beyond a reasonable doubt” in court, declined to prosecute. But it did confirm the man’s identity to the BDN.

Through an attorney, the man declined to comment for this story.

Sierra said she was astounded to hear that other women had come forward. She didn’t know who they all were, she said, but felt an automatic kinship.

“I know what it feels like to think that you are alone, and the last thing I want another woman to feel is alone because in reality we are survivors who have been through hell,” she said.

All of the women who spoke to the BDN described experiencing the man’s unwanted contact, manipulation and inability to listen to the word no.

Kristen Taylor, 22, of Belgrade, described how he drove her to a secluded spot off campus the night of July 12, 2016, under the pretenses of needing to talk to someone. Instead, even as she repeatedly told him no, he asked to make out with her, have her touch him, play truth or dare, and get in the back seat, she said.

Several times, he leaned over and kissed her on the mouth, prompting her to get out of the car, though she didn’t know where she could go, she said. What’s more, he came around to grab her from behind, and told her not to run.

“I was really just in shock,” she said.

Over the coming months, Taylor said it appeared he made her pay for rebuffing him, by sending her explicit messages through Facebook about what he wanted to do to her sexually, according to screenshots she kept and shared with the BDN, and by sending her explicit pictures when she refused to send him nude pictures of herself. She blocked him on Facebook but talked about what happened with a friend in November 2016 and gave that message history to the BDN.

She said the man also took pictures of her through Snapchat when she was in her bathing suit at the school’s pool on Oct. 22, 2016, writing to ask what would happen if her top came off or if her bathing suit was shorter.

Allie Umstadt, 23, of Pepperell, Massachusetts, said she didn’t know the man well either when he asked her to come to his room to have sex in either late 2014 or early 2015. When she declined, he continued to press her, she said, at one point getting angry and asking her if she was uninterested in sex, like a plant. He continued to text her even when she didn’t respond, she said.

Another woman, Summer McCollough, 24, of Skowhegan, said she also stopped talking with him, in 2013 — after he, without forewarning, pressed a heavy, tempurpedic pillow over her head during the only time they had sex, preventing her from breathing.

“I was like, oh, my gosh, is he trying to kill me?” McCollough said.

He stayed in her dorm room after she told him they were done, she said, prompting her to text a friend for advice. The friend told her to put on her boots and get out.

Amelia Coburn, 25, of Greenville, said she witnessed the man harassing her close friend — who declined to be interviewed — through Snapchat. Eventually, Coburn said, she helped her friend craft a message back to the man, saying she wasn’t going to talk to him. But he continued to message her, Coburn said, inviting Coburn’s friend to come over, asking her to talk to him and saying life wasn’t worth living.

One woman, who declined to be named, grew to know the man over three years, starting in 2015, and described a pattern of abusive and controlling behavior.

At first he touched or kissed her without her consent, she said, but even though she told him to stop she continued to get together with him. Looking back, she said, she wishes they hadn’t grown close. While he could be charming and funny, “he’s very good at manipulation,” she said.

She recalled many times when she said she didn’t want to sleep with him, and he got angry. But “then he would very quickly switch to being upset and crying and vulnerable and getting me to take care of him, which often presented through sex,” she said. He would tell her, “This will make me feel better.”

He became physically violent after she told him several times she just wanted to be friends, she said. During the summer of 2016, during an argument, he pressed her against a wall and choked her briefly, she said. She pushed him away and ran into another room, she said.

Another time, several weeks before she graduated in 2017, he screamed at her and pushed her multiple times against the wall and floor as she tried to calm him down, she said. She had gone to check on him after he’d talked about ending his life.

The pattern repeated about a week later, she said, but this time he grabbed her and pinned her to the bed. With the mattress on the floor, she struggled to fully stand up, she said. But when she managed to push him off her and turn for the door, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back down.

“After that it kind of is a blur. It was a lot of him yelling, spitting in my face, laughing. I started crying, and I remember just hysterically sobbing and at that point giving up. He kept laughing and asking why I was so scared,” she said.

He threatened to rape her, she said, and pulled off her pajama bottoms. She began struggling again to get away. His elbow collided with her face and split her lip, which started to swell up and bleed, she said. But it jolted him enough to let her leave the room.

The BDN spoke with a male friend who said she confided in him after the fact about the physical violence and emotional manipulation. A female friend confirmed seeing her split lip.

The woman also shared more than 200 text messages between her and the man from May 2018 that show how he didn’t listen when she told him not to contact her and coerced her into sending him pictures of her body. All of it caused her to struggle with anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and believing in her own emotions, she said.

Eventually, she said, she shared his messages with his girlfriend at the time, and his attitude flipped.

“Leave me alone ok. I’m literally deleting you from everything so leave me alone,” he texted her May 15, 2018.

She told him that’s what she wanted, to be left alone.

But he continued to text her. “You leave me and my friends alone and then you won’t have to deal with any of this got it,” he said.

“Will you leave me alone yes or no,” he texted four minutes later.

She said she would because that’s what she had wanted for a long time.

But he continued. “You stop and … say we are done and you won’t contact people,” he said.

And again, 13 minutes later, “So you promise you’re done.”

Maine Focus is a journalism and community engagement initiative at the Bangor Daily News. Questions? Write to mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.



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