College alum convicted of on-campus rape

Samuel Wolf

Yoonsang Bae ’17, who was suspended from the College for a two year period, was convicted Friday in a bench trial

Update, Monday Sept. 16 2:26 p.m.: Bae was sentenced today in Berkshire Superior Court to serve three years in state prison. Further coverage to follow.

This piece contains details regarding sexual assault. 

On Sept. 6, the Berkshire Superior Court convicted Yoonsang Bae ’17 on one count of rape. 

Judge Michael Callan found him guilty, after a bench trial, of sexually assaulting another student while he was attending the College in 2014. His ultimate conviction was the product of several years of investigation, including his two-year suspension from the College between 2014 and 2016. Bae will be sentenced by Callan on Friday and he faces up to 20 years in prison.

In July 2014, Bae provided large quantities of alcohol to a then-19-year-old student while at a party. She became sick several times, and he ultimately led her back to his room, where she fell asleep. When she awoke, he was assaulting her, and he refused to stop despite her repeated insistence.  

Under Title IX, the federal statute barring sex discrimination at institutions receiving federal funding, the College has a responsibility to investigate cases of sexual assault separately from legal authorities. Whether a respondent has violated the College’s code of conduct is investigated by an outside investigator, whose findings are presented to a three-member panel of College staff — not faculty or students. Decisions are made by majority vote. In 2014, following an investigation, the College found Bae responsible for misconduct and imposed a two-year suspension.  

The victim also chose to report her assault to law enforcement, resulting in Bae’s indictment by a Berkshire County grand jury on Aug. 9, 2017. 

Bae was offered a lenient plea deal by the former Berkshire County District Attorney Paul Caccaviello, where he would have pleaded guilty only to indecent assault and battery, a lesser charge. The case also would have been continued, allowing Bae to potentially avoid a criminal conviction. The current district attorney, Andrea Harrington, pledged not to make similar offers. “My office will not plea rape charges down to lesser offenses when we have victims who wish to go to trial,” she said in a public statement following the trial. 

Cacciavello’s and previous district attorneys’ perceived lenience in prosecuting  cases of sexual violence involving the College was a key point of discussion in his failed reelection bid, which he lost to Harrington. Indeed, the district attorney’s office prosecuted only one of dozens of sexual assault cases at the College between 2014 and 2016. Cacciavello blamed the College for not reporting such incidents, which Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Meg Bossong ’05 called “patently and categorically false” in a letter to the editor to The Berkshire Eagle. Bossong wrote in the same statement that it is College policy to inform the police of all cases of sexual assault. 

“We did not necessarily change any formal office policies regarding sexual assault on college campuses [in the new administration],” said Andy McKeever, public information officer at the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office. “However, District Attorney Andrea Harrington has placed a priority on pursuing these cases aggressively. If a victim wants to go to trial we are going to fully support the victim and pursue justice.” 

 McKeever drew distinction between the work of the College and the district attorney’s prosecution. “The Berkshire District Attorney’s Office does not coordinate with the college directly on these cases. The criminal matter is investigated by local police,” he said.  

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom added, “People also have the option of making a report to the police. My colleagues and I encourage anyone who has been harmed to consider this pathway. We can aid them in making a report if they choose. Individuals have the choice to pursue college disciplinary processes and legal processes — jointly or individually — and we support students in whatever decisions they make.” 

News of Bae’s rape conviction has gained significant media circulation, including by the Daily Mail, a UK-based publication. The College has not released a statement on Bae’s conviction, nor is it College policy to comment on specific cases, but Sandstrom described the conviction as an opportunity to discuss the College’s current handling of such incidents. “Williams works hard to make this a safe community for all of our members,” she said. “This is a joint commitment of many staff and faculty and students and alumni. We are working hard to design and implement prevention efforts in order to reduce sexual misconduct down to a prevalence level of zero; that is our goal. When members of our community are harmed, however, it’s the College’s duty to provide resources that address their need for accountability, healing, and support.”