A former St. Olaf College student has been sentenced to up to five years probation and a $500 fine almost two years after he was kicked out of the college for sexually assaulting a fellow student.
As part of a plea agreement, Dilip G. Rao, 20, of Barrington, Illinois, entered an Alford Plea to one count of fourth-degree criminal sexual misconduct, a felony. A count of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct was dismissed.
In entering an Alford plea, named after the 1969 Supreme Court case of Alford v. North Carolina, the defendant maintains his innocence but concedes that the evidence against him would be sufficient to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Rao was originally charged with four felonies for criminal sexual misconduct. Last June, Rao’s defense attorney filed a motion to have them dismissed and his testimony thrown out on the grounds that he was not properly informed of his Miranda and due process rights.
District Judge John Cajacob ultimately dismissed third degree and fourth degree charges of criminal sexual misconduct with use of force or coercion to accomplish the sexual misconduct. Cajacob said that the prosecution failed to show that the victim was forced to stay in Rao’s room that night.
However, Cajacob allowed the third- and fourth-degree counts of criminal sexual misconduct on a victim who was “mentally impaired, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless,” to stand. The victim, also a St. Olaf student, had been drinking with Rao and friends in his dorm room on the night of the assault, staying overnight because she was drunk and felt her dorm was too far away.
He also refused to throw out the defendant’s testimony, maintaining that it was gathered voluntarily.
As part of the probation agreement, Rao must avoid contact with the victim and her family, cooperate with all search requests authorized by the probation officer, abstain from alcohol and controlled substances with the exception of prescribed medications and continue with individualized counseling as recommended in a court-ordered evaluation.
If Rao fulfills the terms of his probation agreement, the final felony charge will be wiped from his record.
The victim, who remains enrolled at St. Olaf College, took time off from classes to attend the hearing and read an emotional victim impact statement into the record. She said that she had come to college as an enthusiastic and energetic student, but woke up from the incident sad and unmotivated.
A strong student, she faced extreme challenges both personally and academically in the months after the assault. Her friends did what they could to be supportive, telling her that she was strong and would make it through, but she struggled to cope with the trauma.
Academically, she was forced to change majors and extend her academic plan in the wake of the assault. Emotionally, the assault did damage she said will never be undone.
“It will stick with me for the rest of my life,” she said.
District Court Judge Jeffrey C. Johnson on Wednesday praised the victim for her statement. Johnson told her that in was certainly understandable that she could feel a bit weakened in the wake of such personal trauma
According to the victim’s testimony, she was invited to a party where she met Rao, who she didn’t know prior to the incident. After the party ended, she returned to Rao’s dorm room, then to another room in the same hall.
Already drunk, Rao and a group of friends began playing the drinking game “truth or dare.” At one point, Rao “dared” the victim to kiss him, which she consented to, stating it was “just a game.” As the game wound down, Rao invited the victim to stay in his room for the night. Though the defendant was initially hesitant, she agreed to the request.
The defendant stated she got up to go to the bathroom, and when she returned, the defendant was playing loud music and asked her to dance with him. When she refused, he began making out with her and touching her in ways she felt uncomfortable.
The defendant asked her to undress, and she refused. He persisted and removed her clothes as she became too drunk and exhausted to stop him. She testified that he engaged in sexual acts despite her protests. When Rao got up and left the room for a minute, the victim hurried to leave.
The victim’s friends reported that in the coming days, Rao attempted to reach out to the victim to apologize but was rebuffed. Two days after the assault, the defendant admitted to police that he believed he had performed sexual acts on the defendant while she was sleeping and that he had taken advantage of her.
Rao subsequently reported a different series of events, insisting that the sexual encounter was fully consensual. Last year, he sued St. Olaf College in federal court, arguing that protocols adopted by the college in 2016 to deal with sexual assaults are biased against male students and violate federal Title IX regulations. Rao’s lawsuit also claimed that his expulsion was the result of racial discrimination. Rao, of South Asian origin, said that Caucasian students accused of similar behavior didn’t receive similar punishments.
St. Olaf College strongly denied the accusations, and in March the case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can’t be retried.
While the psychological exam requested by the court did not find the defendant to exhibit signs of sexual deviancy or psychopathy, the psychologist expressed concern over what he believed as Rao’s failure to take responsibility for the incident.
“I believe the encounter was consensual,” Rao said in a statement. “I realize she does not believe that, and for that I am sorry.”
The victim was accompanied at the sentencing hearing by Nikki Kelly of the HOPE Center, a Faribault-based nonprofit providing assistance for victims of domestic and sexual violence. Kelly said that while the case may have not ended as she’d hoped, she takes solace in that the victim agreed to the final plea deal.
“I don’t generally think that stays of adjudication are appropriate for felony sexual assault cases, but the victim was consulted and agreed with it, so I think that’s important,” she said. “So often, the victim’s voice is lost in this process.”