19 year old Nikki Yovino has accepted a plea deal, according to the clerk of court in Hartford, Connecticut. She faces a year in prison as a result of her false claims.
Yovino has admitted that she made up the rape allegations in order to gain the sympathy of another student she wanted to date.
This guilty plea is the latest development in this unfortunate case, which began when Yovino reported being raped by two Sacred Heart football players at an off-campus party in Bridgeport, Connecticut. That event occurred in October of 2016.
Authorities say Yovino later admitted that the sexual encounter with the football players was consensual. She even told the players her motive for the false report; a desire to curry favor with a third student whom she wanted to be dating.
Yovino was charged with evidence tampering, which is a felony, and falsely reporting an incident, which is a misdemeanor. Evidence tampering charges can carry up to a five year sentence, but because Yovino has agreed to a guilty plea, she will most likely only be in prison for a year.
Throughout the case, Yovino’s lawyers maintained that cops had pressured her into making a false confession. Ryan O’Neill, Yovino’s attorney, said that Yovino told police the two football players had sex with her against her will, but that she never used the terms rape or sexual assault.
O’Neill claims that during a second interview a police detective, Detective Walbert Cotto, “put words in her mouth” by asking yes or no questions. (A standard police interrogation procedure, by the way.) Yovino answered only yes or no during the recorded interview. O’Neill alleges that she can be heard “admitting to things that didn’t happen”.
But isn’t that the definition of lying?
And if Yovino initially told police that her sexual encounter with the football players was non-consensual, then she was claiming that she was sexually assaulted, according to the law. By going to the police and claiming a non-consensual encounter took place when it was in fact consensual, Yovino was making the kind of false allegations that so many college athletes today live in fear of.
It doesn’t matter whether or not she used the words “rape” in her initial allegations. Police take reports of involuntary sexual contact seriously. Nobody goes to the police to report a totally consensual encounter, unless of course they have malfeasant motives, like Yovino apparently did.
The two football players in the case were never criminally charged, but both withdrew from Sacred Heart University as they faced disciplinary action based on Yovino’s false allegations. One player lost his football scholarship, according to his lawyer.
While false rape allegations are considered a rarity, their existence in cases like this is extremely troubling. When events like this occur, when one woman makes false accusations which are proven to be untrue, it casts doubt on the stories of the many other women who have legitimately suffered rape or sexual assault.
False allegations are damaging not only because they ruin the lives of the accused, but because they cast a shadow of doubt over the stories of legitimate victims. False victim-hood makes it more difficult for real victims to find justice.
And there is a major issue with the lack of due process present in most campus sexual-assault investigations, which usually occur within a college’s Title IX office rather than the criminal court system.
If a claim is investigated by a Title IX office and found to be untrue (which, by the way, rarely happens, given that these “investigations” don’t look at much more than the testimony of the accuser before making a decision) the penalties can range from probation to expulsion.
But not, as in Nikki Yovino’s case, jail time.
That’s the crucial difference, and why Title IX has a serious due process problem as it stands. Because we know that jealous girls will sometimes, in rare cases on the margins, make false police reports in order to attract attention from suitors, even given the possibility of jail time as a result.
So the bar for making a false Title IX claim may be much lower in the eyes of women who are already predisposed to make false claims like this. And unlike criminal trials, in Title IX cases defendants are very rarely given the right to retain a lawyer or meaningfully contribute to their own defense.
All this to say, if Nikki Yovino had taken her claim to a Title IX officer, this story might have turned out very differently.