College can be a fun, albeit stressful time. For many of us, our first year at college represents our first chance at true freedom from our parents and our first opportunity to reinvent ourselves into the person we want to be.
Yet, going away to college can be just as harrowing as it is enjoyable. Sometimes, being “free” becomes synonymous with being reckless. One night of heavy drinking and partying can end in dire consequences for you and everyone around you.
It was October 2016, and 18-year-old Nikki Yovino was happy to finally feel like an adult. She was away a school, barely into her first year of college at Sacred Heart University, and the swell of independence was quite liberating. She decided to celebrate with some new friends.
Time to Party
Nikki and her friends headed off-campus to Bridgeport for a party. There, she met Malik St. Hilaire and several of his football team buddies. The new friends spent several hours celebrating their liberation until suddenly, the night took a turn for the worst.
Though the major details of the night seem to be fuzzy, Nikki did recall the most unpleasant of the evening’s escapades. At some point in the evening, Malik, Nikki, and one of Malik’s unnamed friends went into the bathroom together. The next morning, Nikki reported that she had been sexually assaulted.
Malik and his friend were brought before the school’s disciplinary committee to explain their actions. According to them, the sexual encounter in the bathroom had indeed happened but it was no assault; it was completely consensual between the three parties involved. It was now a true “he said, she said” situation.
Something’s Not Right
Erring on the side of caution, the school decided to suspend the boys pending further investigation. Police began looking into the matter and soon discovered that texts between Nikki and the two football players seemed somewhat inconsistent with her account of the evening’s more violent events. They decided it might be time to bring her in for further questioning.
Because she had allegedly been the victim of a sexual assault, the police were remiss to question her too intently. Nevertheless, the fate of two potentially innocent young men was hanging in the balance. The officers began by questioning her about the inconsistencies in her account.
Faced with the truth, Nikki knew that she had little choice about what happened next. She admitted that she’d made up the sexual assault. The sexual intercourse that she, Malik, and the other student had engaged in had indeed been consensual.
As it turned out, Nikki had made up the sexual assault on a whim when one of her friends questioned her about the incident. The friend was a young man who Nikki saw as a potential boyfriend. Having casual sex with two other young men at a party was not going to put her into his good graces.
Nikki’s belief was that when the potential boyfriend heard the allegation, he would become angry at the two “assailants.” She also believed that this would make her seem more desirable. She had been right of course, though the ruse all fell apart when the boys were punished for doing nothing wrong.
Although the two players were never officially arrested, both Malik and his friend ended up withdrawing from Sacred Heart while facing possible discipline. One of the young men even lost his football scholarship because of the fallout. As for Nikki, she wasn’t about to get away with the false accusation.
Clearing Their Names
Nikki entered a plea of guilty to the misdemeanor charges of falsely reporting an incident and interfering with police. Malik spoke out about the situation after Nikki was finally held to account. “I went from being a college student to sitting at home being expelled with no way to clear my name,” he explained.
I Hope She Knows
Malik went on to say that he hoped his accuser knew exactly what she had done to him. “My life will never be the same. I did nothing wrong, but everything has been altered because of this,” he said. The second player, who wished to remain unidentified, had a similar reaction to Nikki being taken to court.
Depression and Anxiety
Frank Riccio, an attorney who represents the second player, was asked to read a detailed account from the second accused player. The account detailed how the young man had suffered from anxiety, humiliation, and depression. He added that because he lost the scholarship, he is now $30,000 in debt for no reason.
Rolling Her Eyes
Even as she sat in the courtroom, hearing testimony from the two men whose lives she’d ruined, Nikki rolled her eyes at their accounts. It appeared that there was not much about the situation that impressed Nikki. She didn’t seem to take the sentencing seriously.
After two years of court proceedings, the now 20-year-old Nikki was recently sentenced by Bridgeport Superior Court. Her sentence consisted of three years in prison with a suspended sentence to follow after she has served only one year. She smirked and rolled her eyes at one of the victims even as the verdict was read.
Nikki’s lawyer, Ryan O’Neill, denied that she gestured in such a disrespectful way and even noted that if the judge had seen it, he had chosen to not comment upon her alleged misbehavior in court. Regardless of her negative behavior, it appeared that charging her in the first place was actually a subject of some debate.
Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Tatiana Messina allegedly told the presiding judge that it was not an easy charging decision. That said, she added that given the evidence they had against Nikki, they believe the disposition to be both fair and appropriate.
Messina added that, “Many true victims of sexual assault are often disbelieved, but that is because of cases like this and the impact they have on public perceptions. Miss Yovino’s actions are a disservice to those true victims, in addition to the two young men whose lives were greatly affected, and that was not something that could have been ignored.”
Despite her allegedly sarcastic expressions in the courtroom, Nikki’s lawyer has stated that “her willingness to accept the plea deal reflects her accountability for what happened.” Accountability won’t repair the two football players’ tarnished reputations, however. It also won’t pay their mounting college debt.
Even though the case is officially over, both Malik and his friend are moving forward with a civil suit against Nikki. They want to recoup damages and get their lives back on track before her baseless accusations derailed them. It remains to be seen if they will see this portion of justice done.