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Duke reviewing old policies following Fairfax accuser’s claim administration ignored previous rape

February 13, 2019

Duke University officials are culling through old policies to figure out what happened two decades ago now that a former student said she was raped twice on campus and that a dean ignored her after she reported the first assault.

Meredith Watson made national headlines last week when she became the second woman to accuse Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault. She alleged the incident occurred when both were Duke students.

Watson said that assault came after she was raped during her sophomore year by a Duke basketball player. The New York Times identified the player as Corey Maggette.

In a statement, Watson’s attorney said Watson went to an unidentified dean at Duke, who “provided no help and discouraged her from pursuing the claim further.” The statement claims that Fairfax knew of that episode and then raped Watson because he believed she wouldn’t pursue action against him.

Both Fairfax and Maggette have denied the accusations.

Facebook messages sent by Watson that were released Tuesday show she confided in friends about the attack as early as 2017.

The screenshots of messages sent to WRAL News from a representative for Watson show a message Watson wrote to an unidentified friend in March 2017. In the message, Watson writes, “This is absolutely disgusting,” in reference to a flattering article about Fairfax’s political career. She then writes, “This dude raped me.”

The friend replies to Watson, asking if she ever reported the rape or would want to report it, prompting Watson to respond by saying, “You know I didn’t report it after how the university responded when I reported Corey Maggette.”

Watson goes on to say that Fairfax “told me he did it on purpose because of what Corey did and because he knew I’d be too scared to say anything. He shouldn’t be running for office. I just don’t know what I can do.”

In a reply, the friend encourages Watson to report the incident anonymously. Watson responds by saying, “Anonymous accusations carry no weight. But lets face it, rape accusations barely carry any weight when they aren’t anonymous. It’s probably worth a shot though.”

Months later, on Nov. 7, 2017, Watson reached out to another friend on Facebook, writing, “I see you’ve been promoting Justin Fairfax on Facebook, despite knowing he raped me, which is mind-blowing to me. Are you seriously voting for him today?” Watson signed her message with #MeToo.

WRAL has not independently verified the authenticity of the Facebook messages, which were obtained through Watson’s spokeswoman.

Duke officials declined to comment on the allegations, saying only in a statement, “We are in the process of gathering information to determine what policies and procedures were in place during the time period in which these events are alleged to have occurred and whether they were activated and followed.”

Kathy Hodges, deputy director of the Durham Crisis Response Center, said being ignored victimizes a sex assault survivor a second time.

“It’s heartbreaking for a survivor to come forward and to be told that you don’t matter. It’s just really sad to hear that a survivor had that experience,” said Hodges, who has worked with sex assault survivors for more than 30 years.

“I know that many people have multiple victimizations, that once they’ve been sexually assaulted, it may happen again. It’s a tragedy,” she said. “If someone’s in a vulnerable position, people are going to take advantage of their vulnerability.”

Duke now has a lengthy sexual assault policy on its website, detailing how allegations are handled.

Since the time of Watson’s accusations, Hodges said, campus sexual assault policies have changed tremendously.

“Title IX made a world of difference in how [university administrators] dealt with it. In the past decade, they’ve really tried to be more proactive and more supportive of victims in the way that they deal with this,” she said.

Hodges said she works with some Duke student survivors who have many more resources now than would have been available to Watson.

“There’s been much more support for survivors on college campuses, and in the communities as well, over the past two decades,” she said.

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