By Autumn Owens—
On an autumn day last year, in a crowded yet quiet courtroom in Erath County, a 19-year-old Tarleton student confronted the man she accused of assaulting her.
“Dakota Duty,” she began, “I hope you realize just what you did. You took the control out of my hands. Ten months later and I still have flashbacks and nightmares and I fear they will never stop.
“You took away what hope I had in finding someone and the ability for me to trust guys. For five months I couldn’t even look at guys the same, let alone get close with anyone. Not only was I physically in pain but I felt dirty and ruined.”
Duty, himself a student at Tarleton, was standing trial on a case that began as sexual assault only to be dismissed and re-filed as a charge of unlawful restraint. The woman accused him of assaulting her on Jan. 16, 2013 in Bender Hall, where he lived at the time.
Duty was arrested on Jan. 20, 2013 for sexual assault. Jailers said he spent three days in jail before being released on a $30,000 bond. On June 27, 2013 he was indicted for sexual assault. Duty was contacted by Texan News via Facebook and text message and responded by text. “I know what happened that night and that’s all that matters,” he said. “I want to thank all the people who supported me.”
Duty, the woman recalls, kept his head down as she read her emotional letter aloud.
“I always think of ways I could have changed what happened. Maybe I could have fought back more and made it clearer that I didn’t want to have sex with you; maybe I could have left whenever everyone else did. But then I’m reminded that this wasn’t my fault, you took it too far.”
The student said she met Duty through mutual friends who were not supportive of her pressing charges.
“Walking around campus I felt like everyone was staring at me, blaming me, and thought of me as a slut. I relied on my close friends to be there for me but truly I lost most of them. For the longest time I felt so alone.”
She then expressed how what happened has affected her parents.
“Now I think about my mom’s face whenever I told her, the look and tears of my parents because they couldn’t save me from what happened, they couldn’t protect me,” she wrote. “I still hear the fear in my mom’s voice because she can’t always be here to watch over me.
“Then I think of my future children, what if something like this happens to my daughter, and that thought haunts me,” she continued. “I can’t even sleep alone because of the fear of having a nightmare. I can’t even be alone without feeling like this might happen again. I’m scared of my friends going out and this happening to them. So many girls have confided in me that this type of thing has happened to them but they were too scared to report it, or didn’t know that what happened to them was considered sexual assault.”
In an interview with Texan News, the student said she wants Duty to know that she will recover and help other women who have been through the same experience. She was identified by name in the court records, but has asked that her name be withheld by Texan News Service.
“That’s why I have now made it my mission to spread awareness and stop guys like you on campus and in the community,” she wrote. “I had to learn the hard way of the danger, but hopefully now I can save someone from having to go through what I went and am going through. I know I will never be the same and will always remember what happened but I refuse to let you ruin my future, I will be ok! I know we all make mistakes but I hope you know now just what the impact your action had and that you never do this again.”
According to the case file, the victim told Duty she did not want to have sex with him but Duty ignored her protests. The affidavit in the case file states that Duty said he forced the woman to have sex with him. On Nov. 12, 2013, a plea bargain was agreed upon by both sides and the sexual assault case was dismissed. Duty waived an appeal and pled guilty to a charge of unlawful restraint. He was given 10 years’ deferred adjudication probation (no contact with the victim), a $1,500 fine plus $320 in court fees and 300 hours of community supervision.
In an interview with Texan News on March 25, 2014, the survivor explained what she wants people to know and how the university handled the delicate situation.
She said she was disappointed about the punishment Duty received. “I am aware of the charges,” she said. “The one thing I really wanted was for him to be a registered sex offender, but he wasn’t.”
She said her mission is to spread awareness and help future victims.
She wants people to know that “it’s never ok to take advantage of someone. Guys need to know that no matter if a girl kisses you, her “no” to sex is “no.” There’s no convincing her and it’s not ok.”
She has left Tarleton because she was ridiculed on campus and she felt the school didn’t treat her appropriately as a victim. “Everyone made it seem like it was my fault,” she said. “It wasn’t a good experience.”
She said the university could improve the way it treats sexual assault.
“Focus more on the victim and be more compassionate and more considerate,” she said.
She knows that the university has to get both sides of the story, but she wants Tarleton to be more aware about what the victim is going through and that they’re hurting.
“They didn’t treat me like a person, they just saw me as a problem,” she said. She heard from the university twice after her parents met with President Dominic Dottavio and others about the charges. However, she didn’t feel comforted by them. “They just acted like nothing happened,” she said.
Texan News attempted to contact Dottavio and was unable to get a response.
Tarleton’s Assistant Vice President of External Relations, Janice Horak, released an official statement about the case, in response to questions from Texan News this month.
“Tarleton takes all allegations of sexual assault very seriously. Following an investigation and administrative hearing, disciplinary action was taken against the responsible party,” she wrote in an email. “With regard to the victim, university rules and procedures were followed and a meeting was arranged for the victim, members of the victim’s family and necessary university personnel. After the meeting, Tarleton’s Division of Student Life took action to follow up with the victim on two occasions.”
As far as how she was treated by police and courthouse personnel, the student said, “The district attorney’s office was very supportive and they took care of me.” She said the victims’ coordinator and the Erath County investigator who were assigned to the case were particularly supportive. “They asked me how I was doing and checked up on me many times,” she said. “They fought for me.”
District Attorney Alan Nash could not be reached for comment by deadline.
The victim said she has left Tarleton, but she wants people to know the importance of reporting sexual assault. “If you don’t and hold it inside you, it will eat away at you,” she said. “In the end, it’s satisfying that you did something.”
She said she plans to continue her education and go on to teach at a college level. “Gives me a good way to do what I love to do,” she said, “and then be able to help others and be someone they can come to.”