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Only on AP: A report of college rape, a Facebook admission years later and a woman’s fight for justice

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“So I raped you.”

Those four words, messaged on Facebook years after Shannon Keeler left college, sent her back to the night as a freshman that changed her life. It also was the basis for her continued fight for justice, as well as this exclusive, powerful examination of campus sexual assault by AP’s Maryclaire Dale and Allen Breed.

Dale, a legal affairs reporter in Philadelphia, spoke to Keeler after the woman’s lawyer reached out to AP. She and Breed, who is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, interviewed Keeler and many others, including another student who befriended Keeler on the night of the 2013 attack. That woman told her story, too: She was raped later, by a different man.

The deeply reported all-formats package sheds light on often unreported college rapes,and the systemic obstacles students like Keeler face in their search for justice when they do report. Prosecutors say they are newly considering charges in Keeler’s case.

In the text piece,Dale used Keeler’s story as a launching point to later describe the second woman’s decision not to come forward after her assault. That woman,Katayoun Amir-Aslani,didn’t have the witnesses or the rape kit evidence that Keeler did,and had seen the Keeler’s case stall,so she decided against reporting. For the video,Breed wove the two stories together,along with drone video from the campus at Gettysburg,Pennsylvania,and puppet animations by Amir-Aslani, who is an artist. Philadephia photographer Matt Rourke and New York’s Bebeto Matthews shot portraits of the two women.

Combo Assaults
Shannon Keeler, left, poses for a portrait, April 7, 2021. A series of Facebook messages from her alleged attacker has Keeler, a Gettysburg College graduate, trying again to get authorities to make an arrest in her 2013 sexual assault. Katayoun Amir-Aslani, right, stands for a portrait with her floral art in New York, April 9, 2021. The artwork signals “rebirth and new beginnings,” she said. Amir-Aslani left Gettysburg College after a sexual assault in the spring of 2014. She chose not to report the assault at the time. – AP Photos
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The Gettysburg College campus in Gettysburg, Pa., April 7, 2021. – AP Photo / Matt Rourke

Dale and Breed faced challenges to tell the story in its entirety. Keeler’s attorney initially declined when asked if her client would appear on camera. But once Amir-Aslani’s experience became part of the piece,Dale and Breed were able to persuade both Keeler and her lawyer to go on camera. Gettysburg College wouldn’t allow the journalists on campus,citing COVID precautions,so Breed relied on drone video tracing the route taken on the night of Keeler’s attack. And Gettysburg’s lacrosse coach agreed to send written comments,in which she described asking herself what more she could have done to protect her players — and,poignantly,why she had to ask the question at all.

Dale,meanwhile,kept pressing despite past refusals, eventually getting comments from the current district attorney and police chief.

The story drew major attention on AP News,where it was the most-read story for days,garnering tens of thousands of pageviews with strong reader engagement of more than three minutes on the page. The video was downloaded by customers in major TV markets from New York to Los Angeles,as well as international customers,including clients in Tehran and Seoul. After the Only on AP story ran,other media rushed to match it,and Keeler has since spoken to GMA,Inside Edition and Nightline.

For sensitive and insightful reporting on a system that one of the victims describes as “broken,” Dale and Breed receive this week’s Best of the States award.

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