NBC's Dateline features former students in episode on sexual assault

by Laura King / Beacon Staff • June 21, 2015

Two former Emerson students will be featured on an episode of NBC’s Dateline regarding sexual assault on college campuses. The segment will air on June 21 at 7 p.m.

The episode, reported by Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning, focuses on the stories of Sarah Tedesco, 20, and Jillian Doherty, 22, of Emerson and a student from the University of Montana, who all allege that they were sexually assaulted on their campuses.

Doherty has been involved in an ongoing lawsuit against Emerson for failing to properly handle her sexual assault case. A second similar suit was filed against the college in January by an anonymous student identified as Jane Doe.

Paul Ryan, senior producer for Dateline, said in an interview that sexual assault was a big issue that’s gotten a lot of attention recently, so his staff was looking to create a comprehensive view of the problem.

“[Dateline] likes to kind of go on a personal journey with people to understand their experience,” Ryan said.

Doherty wrote in an email statement that she thinks Dateline is a good platform for her story to be told.

“I think [Dateline’s] viewers are passionate for justice, and that is what we're ultimately seeking here,” Doherty wrote.  

Liz Brown, a producer for Dateline, said in an interview that she reached out to advocates of campus sexual assault to find personal stories of sexual assault on campus. She said this is how she found Tedesco, and, later, Doherty.

Ryan said that it was their paired stories that made them an interesting focus for the Dateline segment.

“One thing we like about them is that it was two young women who were going through similar experiences unbeknownst to one another –– and they found each other,” he said.

Tedesco said in an interview that she and Jillian had been friends when they were both at Emerson, and that they had stayed in contact over the years.

“She was definitely someone who I was able to talk to as a friend, and as an advocate,” Tedesco said.

A piece of the segment will show the two demonstrations held by Emerson students last semester during accepted students days. These events, organized by Doherty, were to educate prospective students on the complaints against the school, including Doherty’s own lawsuit.

Tedesco said that she thinks the episode is less about sexual assault and more about advocates for victims of this issue on college campuses.

“The story is definitely very focused on our advocacy –– which is something that, nationally, is what is interesting about college sexual assault stories,” Tedesco said.

According to Tedesco, she and Doherty had used social media in the past to bring survivors together and make a change both on Emerson’s campus and nationally.

“They're both obviously very passionate about the issue,” Brown said. “They create a platform for the discussion.”

Ryan said that Dateline approached Emerson several times for comment. The college declined requests for on-camera interviews, but did give written statements on Emerson’s programs regarding sexual assault and also details as to how they were handling the two suits. These statements will be featured in the episode, according to Ryan.

According to Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing, the college declined to comment until after the episode aired.

Dateline did conduct on-camera interviews with representatives of the University of Montana, according to Ryan.

Doherty wrote that the strangest part of putting her story on national television is that both strangers and people she knows will know the exact nature of her assault and her experiences following it.

“I especially don't want people to think that I'm a fragile being,” Doherty wrote. “I'm a strong person.”

Tedesco said she wanted to inspire hope in other survivors of sexual assault. She said she understands how lonely it feels to be in their position, and wants them to be able to find support in a person or network.

“It’s going to be hard to see myself up on national television,” Tedesco said. “But I think that it’s important to get [my story] out there.”

Ryan said that sexual assault is difficult to talk about, especially because people often have strong feelings about it.

“I think what we were heartened to find out," Ryan said, "is that people on every side are working really hard to figure it out.”