By Phoebe Doscher, Editor-in-Chief
On May 17, the Associated Press released a story about two sexual assault cases that occurred on Gettysburg’s campus in 2013 and 2014. Gettysburg alumna Shannon Keeler ‘17 and former Gettysburg student Katayoun Amir-Aslani came forward about their experiences after Keeler received a message with an alleged confession to her sexual assault, prompting her to bring the case to Pennsylvania authorities last year in hopes of an arrest.
Back in 2013, Keeler reported the rape the same day it happened, took a rape exam, and met with police. The suspect denied any wrongdoing, according to an email to school officials, and later withdrew from Gettysburg, which ended the Title IX investigation on campus.
Two years later, shortly after the window to file a civil suit had closed, Shawn Wagner, the district attorney at the time, said he would not file charges despite Keeler’s push for prosecution. Her rape kit has since been destroyed, though the 12-year statute of limitations has yet to lapse. Adams County authorities are revisiting the case since Keeler and her lawyer brought the messages to them last June.
Amir-Aslani, whom Keeler met the night of her 2013 assault, was raped by an acquaintance a few months after Keeler. She withdrew from Gettysburg in the spring of 2014, and did not get a rape kit or file a report.
In an interview with the AP, Amir-Aslani said, “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?’ So I just didn’t really tell anyone.”
These cases bring up an ongoing discussion about hesitations to report instances of sexual violence and how few sexual assaults on college campuses are prosecuted. The AP found that “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.”
Gettysburg President Bob Iuliano addressed the cases in an email to the campus community on May 18. He applauded the bravery of Keeler and Amir-Aslani and said that “pursuing these cases criminally remains an ongoing challenge.” He also recognized “the essential work that we have as a community in addressing these problems on our campus—and across all of higher education.”
The AP reported that at Gettysburg, “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.”
Iuliano also mentioned the college’s commitment to preventing, educating, and adjudicating instances of sexual assault at Gettysburg by improving “sexual assault awareness and education, reporting processes, and adjudication.” Earlier in 2021, Gettysburg received the $30,000 It’s On Us PA Grant, effective through May 2022, to provide funding for programming, training on restorative conferencing, resources to reduce reporting barriers, and an awareness campaign for the upcoming academic year.
Gettysburg’s chapter of Survivors, a group affiliated with the national University Survivors movement, released a statement in response to Keeler and Amir-Aslani’s stories. “The fact that incidents like what happened to Shannon and Katayoun continue to happen here at Gettysburg … is the reason why organizations like Survivors of Gettysburg exist,” they said. “There is clearly a disconnect between the Gettysburg College administration’s efforts to address sexual violence within our community and the lived experiences of students and survivors.”
The college’s Students Against Sexual Assault club also shared a statement, noting, “The experiences of Shannon Keeler and Katayoun Amir-Aslani must be listened to and learned from so that we can eradicate sexual violence on our campus. While we are concerned with some of the College’s proceedings in Shannon Keeler’s case, the police’s response is extremely unsettling.”
The Survivors of Gettysburg group uses their Instagram page to share stories of interpersonal violence at Gettysburg College from current students and alumni and advocate for preventing, addressing, and condemning sexual violence on campus. They posted their one hundredth survivor story on Instagram on May 28.
President Iuliano commissioned the college’s first Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Task force earlier in 2021 to provide institutional recommendations for addressing sexual harassment and violence. Results from the Task Force are expected to be released this June.