UH Manoa campus rape trial underway

UH Manoa campus rape trial underway
Published: Mar. 12, 2015 at 10:29 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 13, 2015 at 10:50 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The trial of a former University of Hawaii Manoa freshman accused of raping another student on campus began in Circuit Court Thursday.

19-year-old Tyler Strong is charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault and one count of third-degree sexual assault for the alleged incident that happened in September 2014 at Johnson Hall.

The 19-year old, from Oregon, says the sex was consensual.

"She makes up a story so that Tyler's the bad guy. She's not the bad guy. She's not the loose girl that came over. She can point the finger and say Tyler forced me," said Jeff Hawk, Strong's defense attorney, during opening statements Thursday.

Prosecutors say Tyler Strong raped a fellow freshman he was friends with inside his dorm room.

"M* said, 'No! No stop! Get off me!' M* was crying trying to get the defendant Tyler Strong to get off of her," said prosecutor Kristin Yamamoto, turning to point at the defendant.

The defense says the victim drank all night and is claiming she didn't consent to having sex after the fact because she doesn't want to appear promiscuous.

"M* went to Tyler's room knowing full well what was going to happen. He had sent her a text saying, 'Come over baby, I want to give it to you', and she came. She came over in her underwear and a tiny little top at 5 a.m.," said Hawk.

Prosecutors say the 18-year-old expected some kissing and cuddling, but not for Strong to pin her down on his bed.

"Even when M* was telling him, 'Please, just stop. No, I don't want this.' Crying. Trying to struggle and squirm away from him -- she still can't move," said Yamamoto.

According to the defense, the victim only reported the alleged rape because her friend insisted. Strong's attorney says a doctor found no evidence of a sexual assault.

"There was nothing about the sexual encounter that was forced. He never held her down, he never forced her. She never said no. They had a consensual sexual encounter on that morning," said Hawk.

The trial comes at a time when UH Manoa has been under intense scrutiny following a Title IX audit on-campus.

While officials couldn't comment on the case directly, they say the school has a zero tolerance policy they believe has been strengthened by a new intiative.

"One sexual assault on campus is one too many and it's something that we don't tolerate here and we're doing everything we can to create a culture where that doesn't exist," said UH spokesperson Dan Meisenzahl. "We have a brand new policy in place -- you don't need a 'no', you need a 'yes'."

The "affirmative consent" policy, which defines consent not as waiting for a person to say "no," but rather seeking an explicit "yes" before engaging in any sexual activity, is widely considered the new standard to be used when investigating sexual assault complaints on campus. Officials say alleged attackers can no longer claim reported victims "didn't say no".

Prosecutors say the alleged victim will take the stand to testify against Strong. The trial is expected to last about a week.

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