What became fodder for jokes on Twitter was a very real and traumatic experience for one Texas A&M student.
When A&M receiver Kirk Merritt was accused of indecent exposure back in October 2016, his attorney blamed it on a “bad case of jock itch.” Jokes were made about that defense, but Merritt’s accuser said in a recent social media post that the jock itch explanation actually assisted the receiver in a student conduct hearing.
In turn, and in light of recent events at Texas A&M, she decided to speak out.
The victim, A&M student Meghan Romere, detailed the incident and what followed in a message posted on her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“In a tutoring session at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 24th, I was sexually assaulted by one of my students. We were alone, in a secluded room in the Nye Academic Center. He was easily twice my size, and sitting approximately two feet from me when he began masturbating in front of me, posturing in a threatening manner, and speaking to me in a way that made me extremely uncomfortable. I abruptly ended the session and left the room, trying to stay calm as he followed me out.”
From there, Romere says she reported the incident to her supervisor later that day and again recounted what happened to her supervisor and an athletic department official the next morning. There, she says she learned another tutor accused Merritt of similar behavior and reported it to police.
A few months later, the case reached a Student Affairs Conduct Panel where she says they told her Merritt could not be found guilty.
Private documents obtained by the Chronicle concerning the on-campus hearing claimed Merritt’s actions did “not fit the rule of sexual exploitation.” According to one of the documents the panel concluded, “We believe the vigorous scratching, which is a biological response to a skin condition, led to the exposure of his penis.”
“I (was) subjected to questioning by a board of supposedly unbiased judges and required to relive the entire incident again. Only to be told that even though they believed me, they couldn’t find him guilty because he had ‘jock itch’ and couldn’t control his scratching. They said they were sorry I was ‘offended’ but that there was nothing they could do,” she wrote.
Romere says she and the other accuser were granted a new hearing after an appeal but subsequently learned that Merritt’s student conduct case was “downgraded from sexual exploitation to sexual harassment.”
Soon after, Merritt, who was taking a redshirt season at the time of the incident, returned to the football team and participated in spring practice in February, though he did not play in the 2017 spring game. Later that year, after news of the incident was publicly reported, Merritt was dismissed from the team.
“We were declassified as victims and instead were ‘witnesses’ which removed our rights to know whether or not our attacker had been found guilty of his actions. His suspension from the football team was lifted two days later, and we were required to sign no-contact orders barring us from being in the same building as him. If we knew that he would be present in an area, it was our responsibility to leave. This effectively barred us from any events where the football team would be present.”
Merritt pleaded no contest in local court
In August 2017, Merritt pleaded no contest to two charges of indecent exposure in Brazos County court.
According to the Houston Chronicle, he received two years deferred adjudication and 40 hours of community service.
Romere spoke out after another incident at Texas A&M
Romere decided to go public after another A&M student said publicly that a member of the men’s swimming and diving team was allowed to compete even after being found responsible for sexually assaulting her. According to the Dallas Morning-News, the woman said the athlete was allowed to redshirt for the 2016-17 season before returning to the roster.
Romere says A&M has “failed each and every vulnerable student that walks across campus” and needs to take victims seriously.
You have proven, in my case and in countless other cases, that you will invalidate and downplay and make excuses until you’re blue in the face, simply because you cannot accept that this university has a serious problem with rape culture.
Your precious athletics program means nothing if it represents a university that’s rotting from the inside out. The administration at Texas A&M has a priority problem, and until they realize that the safety and well-being of ordinary students matters just as much as the skill of their athletes, stories like this will become the norm.
Romere’s full message is below:
Hi Twitter. I don’t tweet often, but when I do, I really mean it. Sharing this has taken me over a year and a half, but I’m tired of waiting for @TAMU to step up. Please please share this. It’s time to do something. pic.twitter.com/grEvQ1sVzR
— Megs (@MeghanRomere) June 12, 2018
Kirk Merritt now plays for Arkansas State
Merritt, a four-star recruit in the 2015 class, began his career at Oregon and caught five passes for 61 yards as a freshman. From there, he transferred to A&M. After he was removed from the Aggies’ roster, he moved on to East Mississippi Community College, the junior college program known for being featured on Netflix series “Last Chance U.” At EMCC, he caught 52 passes for 628 yards and four touchdowns.
After the season, Merritt signed with Arkansas State as part of the Red Wolves’ 2018 recruiting class. He has two years of eligibility remaining.
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