University of Central Florida professor wins job back after concealing student's rape

UCF: Professor had to report rape, despite promising victim confidentiality

ORLANDO, Fla. – A University of Central Florida study abroad "trip from hell" ended with one student raped and allegations that the professor on the trip was drunk, according to students and UCF documents.

[WEB EXTRAS: UCF findings arbitrator | UCF new form - Study Abroad Appointments Form final 2014-15 | VIDEO: Local 6 report ]

UCF fired French professor Dr. Charlotte Trinquet after the trip, but she fought back, arguing during a year-long legal battle that accusations against her were false and that she was blamed for UCF's "failure to have a response mechanism in place for victims of sexual assault."

She won her job back in the summer 2013. The situation has led to major changes in UCF's study abroad program.

The 23 UCF students on the trip to Paris and Toulouse were expecting the experience of a lifetime.

"My mom, she was very excited for me and she wanted me to do it and she felt very confident about it because I was going through UCF and not just going by myself on my own," said a young woman who went on the trip.

Local 6 is not identifying her because she fears being identified could also lead to identifying the victim.

Excitement turns to concern in Paris

Some students claimed they became concerned about Trinquet when the group arrived in Paris, according to records provided by UCF.

"She definitely was there to enjoy herself and enjoy the trip," a young man on the trip who asked for anonymity told Local 6. "She was under the impression, 'While in France, do as the French do.'"

And that, he believed, included drinking wine, which was included with their dinners.

One of the students who reported concerns with the professor was the woman who would eventually be raped by an American tourist she met one night at a Parisian bar and keep it hidden from the professor.

"She was like, 'No, no, no, I don't want to talk to Dr. Trinquet, I don't trust her,'" the young woman told Local 6.

But why wouldn't she want her professor to know?

"Dr. Trinquet shared personal information about students with other students when inebriated. [The victim] personally observed this during the first week of the program. It was the main reason she did not inform Dr. Trinquet in a timely manner that she had been the victim of sexual violence via an illegal drug. She did not believe her information would remain confidential," according to a summary of the rape victim's testimony published in a UCF investigative report.

Trinquet denied the allegations and told Local 6 she was not drunk on the trip. She also provided UCF a signed statement insisting that "she drinks one glass throughout an evening or other period. People may assume she empties and refills it, but that is false. She stated it was false that she was intoxicated frequently during the trip," according to UCF's report.

Concealing the crime

The rape victim first concealed the rape from her professor by telling Trinquet she was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. But when the professor became suspicious of the cost of the medication and pressed her about what was wrong, the victim told the professor she was raped.

Local 6 asked Trinquet if she offered to call the police.

"Yes, of course," she said. "Immediately."

But the victim didn't want the trauma of a police investigation and, according to Trinquet, begged her not to tell anyone.

"She said to me, 'My mom, my father and my boyfriend know. That's enough people who know. I do not want the story to get out. Please do not say (anything) to anybody. Not UCF. Not the police. I don't want the report.  I want nothing,'" Trinquet said.

Trinquet instead told UCF officials the student had suffered from a urinary tract infection and bedbugs, something the university calls a false report that could "prevent the student from reporting the sexual assault."

A UCF investigative report also stated, "At the time, Dr. Trinquet had no investigative evidence to rule out a UCF student as the assailant, making a Title IX investigation appropriate."

"I'm not going to go behind her back and do things she does not want me to do," Trinquet said. "She's an adult. She decided the way she wanted it to be and I respected that entirely."

‘I never got any training'

The professor stood by her decision to respect the student's confidentiality, arguing UCF gave her no preparation before the trip.

"In fact, I don't know what I was supposed to do, to tell you the truth," Trinquet said. "I never got a contract. I never got any training."

During the arbitration case to fight her firing, the professor's attorney, Patty Draper, argued UCF "provided no written information to Dr. Trinquet regarding her responsibilities if students reported sexual assault," even though UCF instructed students in their handbook to "inform the faculty director... if they are sexually assaulted."

The young woman on the trip that talked to Local 6 said she believed the professor was obligated to report the crime to the university. UCF argued reporting the crime was required as well, and steps could have been taken to protect the victim's anonymity.

"There has to be some sort of accountability here," the young woman said.

Arbitrator overturns UCF's decision to fire professor

In reversing the termination, which was authorized by UCF President John Hitt, the arbitrator found that the professor did not report the rape to UCF "because she was not aware she was not required to do so, and because of her promise of confidentiality."

While UCF's equal opportunity investigative report by Janet Park Balanoff determined that Trinquet breached the confidentiality she promised the rape victim by discussing the rape with another student in the program, the arbitrator determined UCF's finding was not correct because the victim herself had already told that student in the program.

The arbitrator, Barney Spurlock Jr., also pointed out additional concerns with UCF's investigation and findings.

Two university departments -- one with jurisdiction over equal opportunity issues and the other over academic affairs -- were supposed to investigate the alleged violations under their jurisdiction. However, while "Academic Affairs testified that their investigation was independent of that of [the equal opportunity office], they failed to identify those they interviewed, they acknowledged that they did not interview Dr. Trinquet, and that they relied substantially on the information contained in the [equal opportunity] report."

UCF's equal opportunity investigation stated five students described "Trinquet's conduct and appearance as inebriated" during a boat tour at the end of the trip.

Four of the five students chose to make written statements claiming Trinquett said, "I'm drunk; I just had to tell you," during the boat tour, according to that UCF investigation.

While the arbitrator agreed the students' testimony describing, "Dr. Trinquet drinking heavily on the last night of the program on the dinner cruise... was credible," he ruled her "lapse in good judgment on the dinner cruise at the end of the six-week program does not warrant the imposition of the penalty of termination."

The arbitrator pointed out the professor overcame and assisted with other challenges on the trip and that drinking did not prevent her from doing her job. Trinquet continues to stress in conversations with Local 6 that she was never drunk on the trip.

When the arbitrator overturned Trinquet's firing and awarded her a year of backpay and tenure, UCF's faculty union issued a statement praising the decision and criticizing UCF's administration.

"These events make it clear that we cannot rely on the University administration to uphold faculty rights or to follow due process after a complaint," the union statement said.

As for the professor, she said she is grateful to have her job back and be working with students again, but that she is still bothered by how she was treated and said talking about it again was difficult.

"Having to do this, I haven't slept in two nights," Trinquet said. "This is still affecting me a lot. It was terrible. I still feel for that kid. Every day I think about her. Every day."

Trinquet said she'll never take students who aren't her own on a study abroad trip again.

"It's really sad, because I have so much to teach them," she said. "I know so much about France and my culture. But that's it."

The people on the trip who spoke to Local 6 said there were serious problems in addition to the rape, such as the hotel arranged for them being unprepared and dirty when they arrived, and later burglarized. Despite the difficulties, they said they made friendships they'll cherish, and hope their bad experience forced UCF to make sure others in the future have the positive study abroad experience they expected.

UCF makes changes

UCF declined to make any official available for an on-camera interview about the situation, but provided a statement confirming the French study abroad program was moved to Nice.

"We have not returned to Toulouse," the UCF statement said.

Toulouse was the city where students and the professor complained about the hotel.

"Prior to that summer term, the university provided workshops for program leaders about safety and other topics. After 2012, faculty members are required to complete additional training, including a mandatory web course that covers incident management, program leader conduct and logistics. This course started in fall 2013 as an in-person class and moved online in spring 2014. We are adding an additional component of the class focused on helping students in distress," the statement said.

UCF is confident in its program, pointing out in its statement, "Through the online class and in the program materials, we have gone to greater lengths to make it absolutely clear to faculty members who lead study abroad trips that they are required to report any incidents affecting student health and safety to the university. Students also take an orientation to learn safety tips and are given a card to contact UCF police during a crisis."

UCF also now requires faculty members to sign a form regarding their responsibilities as a program leader. That form requires the program leader to "contact the Office of International Studies immediately if there is an emergency affecting the health or well-being of a student(s) while on a Study Abroad experience."

It also requires faculty to acknowledge that they are expected to conduct themselves "with the utmost professionalism and maturity while on any UCF Study Abroad program, as [they are]representing the University of Central Florida."

Local 6 ran UCF's new form by Winter Park employment attorney Travis Hollifield, who had concerns with the ambiguous language.

"The terms 'utmost professionalism' and 'maturity' -- what does that mean?" he asked. "What is the standard? Are you mature if you have a couple of alcoholic beverages at a social event? Is it three, is it five? From a lawyer's perspective there would be a lot to fight about."