Former JMU Student Speaks Out on Sexual Assault

By: Grant Cruise Email
By: Grant Cruise Email

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- A local college student says she was sexually assaulted by three fellow students who recorded video of at least part of what happened. The video spread around school. Following that summer break, was a year of tough choices and possibly a lifetime of embarrassment.

Students drink to the point of blacking out. It is the dark side of spring break. They risk their reputation and safety.

Sarah Butters said that men she considered friends went too far and that the school didn't go far enough to discipline them.

"I remember going to the beach, probably around 11 that morning with all the girls I was staying with," began Butters, "We met up with a lot of JMU students. There was probably like 100 students all on the beach from JMU drinking together and hanging out."

She was like a lot of sophomores at James Madison University. Planning to cut loose with friends on a spring break trip to Panama City, but that, combined with some foolish, though not uncommon, choices set her down a road she never saw coming.

"Probably like early evening, everyone started to head back in. And they had like a small gathering at the boy's condo. And the last thing I remember is being there with close to 10 or 15 other people. And that's the last thing I can remember that day," said Butters.

She says she started hearing gossip about what happened the night of March 3, 2013 while she and her friends were still in Florida. There were confrontations, questions and denials.

It wasn't until she returned to Harrisonburg that the rumors and grainy images from a cell phone camera brought the disturbing events of that night into focus.

"Once we got back from spring break and got to JMU, it started spreading around more and more people were finding out about it. People were contacting me about it. I had multiple guys texting me saying, 'I just saw this video of you, it's awful, it's pretty bad," said Butters.

Accounts of a cell phone video almost too unthinkable to be believed.

"I needed to see it for myself because I was just having a really hard time believing that my friends could do something like that to me. And record it and send it around and lie to my face about it," continued Butters.

It isn't clear how many people saw the video before Butters, or how many have since.

"I watched the video and I was disgusted. It was just really humiliating that so many people had seen that," explained Butters.

The video depicts Butters as topless and by all appearances, drunk. WHSV has chosen not to show it due to its graphic nature and out of sensitivity to sexual assault victims.

"I'm clearly like not really able to defend myself or fight them off," said Butters, "We were in an enclosed bathroom. It was three of them surrounding me and none of them thought they were doing anything wrong."

Three young men, JMU fraternity brothers, laughing and groping.

"I just don't know why they didn't think to help me instead. It wasn't like I was some random girl. I was their friend. And not one of them stood up and said this isn't okay," said Butters.

She discussed her options with her dad, a police officer. She decided not go to the Panama City Police, since they were out of state, and instead to tell school leaders.

She gave JMU a copy of the video and said she was told if the Code of Conduct was clearly violated, the case would move forward with or without her.

She returned to school, but said the case didn't start moving forward until late fall of last year, "It just seemed like they were trying to say that the video wasn't that bad at first because they didn't want to acknowledge it. They just wanted to avoid the situation all together."

There were hearings and appeals, and in April 2014 Butters said she received the last word from JMU.


An e-mail from JMU's Office of Judicial Affairs titled "Final Decision in your Case" reads that all three students, Mike Lunney, Jay Dertzbaugh and Nick Scallion were responsible for sexual assault and harassment. It went on to say that the three would be expelled upon graduation, meaning they may not be on JMU's campus for any reason after graduation. They would also not be allowed to walk at graduation.

"I was not okay with that. I told them I was not okay with that type of punishment," said Butters.

We called and e-mailed the young men Butters said are in the video for an interview, but they never responded.

In Part II of this story, which will be posted on Wednesday, learn what action the Sigma Chi Fraternity took and what Butters says is next for her.


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