UCF students debated the impact alcohol has on sexual consent Monday night after hearing the case of Melissa Stanton.
When Stanton went clubbing in September, she didn’t expect to wake up sick, naked and confused.
On Monday, Joseph Richards was deemed guilty on charges of rape and sexual assault.
That was the verdict at the fourth annual UCF mock trial meant to explore the differences between consensual sex and rape.
More than 100 people filled the Pegasus Ballroom in the Student Union on UCF’s main campus Monday night to attend the trial, which was produced and presented by UCF Victim Services, an advocacy and support organization for the UCF community, and Knight Advocates, a club for students interested in entering a field in advocacy.
The trial included both student and professional actors and was complete with cross-examinations by unyielding attorneys, emotional witness testimonies and a jury selected from the audience.
The goal of the event was to spark conversation and teach people that if you’ve been drinking, you can’t give consent, Christey Oberbeck, 46, a victim advocate for UCF Victim Services and main organizer of the event, said.
Before there was a trial, there was a night out at a club.
Stanton, 23, went out with her friend to blow off some steam, an actress playing Stanton said. She ran into her coworker Richards, whom she referred to as one of the most “eligible bachelors.”
Stanton drank rum and Cokes and danced the night away with Richards as her friend turned in early for the night.
UCF student Travis Slocum played Richards in the trial and said he was proud to play such an important role.
“I wanted to make sure this defendant came off as somebody who would be that everyday guy that you see … and wouldn’t necessarily see them as the individual with all the allegations put upon them,” Slocum, 22, said.
Suddenly, Stanton’s face was numb and her limbs were heavy. She wanted to go home, she said.
Richards drugged her with Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid, which is commonly referred to as GHB, and is one of the top three most common date rape drugs, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health.
UCF student Sonide Dentilus, 20, stumbled upon the event as she walked around the Student Union. As a victim of sexual abuse, she was immediately interested and hoped to join the jury, she said.
Dentilus, a senior studying communication disorders, was called to the jury.
Although there were different opinions during the jury deliberation, she enjoyed the experience overall, she said.
“The jury today was split right down the middle,” Oberbeck said.
Ultimately, the trial boiled down to alcohol and its effect on consent.
“Consent is an understandable exchange of affirmative words or actions, which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually agreed upon sexual activity,” according to the 2017-18 UCF Golden Rule Student Handbook.
A person under the influence of drugs or alcohol cannot give consent, according to the same source.
“In the end we decided she was inebriated, under the influence of something, whether it was alcohol or the drug that was given, and she was not able to give consent, so at the end of the day it was rape,” Dentilus said.
Richards, dressed in a gray suit and red tie, appeared to be a clean-cut man. His attorney praised his current promotion at work.
“I liked the fact that when we spoke [the jury] didn’t really focus on his physical appearance,” Dentilus said. “They really tried to focus on what was presented in the case despite how he looked or what the victim was wearing.”
Left with each attorney’s closing arguments, the jury debated and the audience voted.
A text message system allowed the audience to vote on their cell phones by texting “A” for “Guilty” and “B” for “Not guilty.”
With 63 percent, the crowd considered Richards guilty.
As the jury reconvened after deliberation, it came to the same conclusion.
“It was really great to see that 60 percent of the crowd was saying that [Richards] was guilty and that awareness was there, so that’s a great start,” Slocum said. “But it does kind of worry me a little bit that one third of the audience thought I was not guilty.”
He explained the importance of time to victims of sexual abuse.
“Time is needed to cope, and time is needed to obtain very essential evidence that is needed for your case as well,” Slocum, a junior mechanical engineering student, said.
Time was a critical factor as an actress playing a forensic toxicologist took to the podium and said Stanton’s test for GHB came out negative.
Only about 1 to 5 percent of a dose of GHB is recoverable in urine, and the window of detection is relatively short, ranging from three to 10 hours, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“It also brings to light how difficult it is to investigate and prove these cases; as you can see, it’s never clear-cut when you have alcohol and drugs involved,” UCF Police Department Deputy Chief Carl Metzger said.
Although the verdict was “guilty” this year, the jury’s interpretation of evidence surprises Oberbeck every year, she said.
“Last year was the first time we had a ‘guilty,’ the first time it was unanimous without a doubt,” she said.
For the fifth annual mock trial, parts of the script are being rewritten to be more inclusive and diverse, Oberbeck said.