College rape and sexual assault lawyers at our firm advise that college students raped on campus can sue their college for negligence in failing to prevent a foreseeable crime. Most recently, the Department of Justice just came out with a recent study that 25 percent of college women, or 1 out of 4 college women, will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period, and that women between the ages of 16 to 24 will experience rape at a rate that’s four times higher than the assault rate of all women.
Colleges and universities have a legal duty to warn students of known dangers and to provide reasonable protection. If a crime is foreseeable, then a college can be held liable for not sufficiently protecting against it.
For example, at one highly respected university, a male student admitted to the Office of Student Affairs judicial officer that he had raped a fellow female student on the college campus. The Office of Student Affairs judicial officer showed unbelievable stupidity by failing to expel the student immediately, choosing rather to put him on probation and removing him to a separate dorm. The young woman who had been raped suffered serious psychological trama at the university’s handling of the situation, especially now that she was forced to face her rapist everyday on campus. Her grades quickly plummeted and she withdrew from the university the following semester.
This true story gets much worse however, because the male student rapist felt he had received a carte blanche pass to continue his predatory activities, since the university had chosen to only slap him on the wrist as a punishment for his admitted rape. Consequently, he continued his sexual deviant behavior directed towards other women on campus.
After more and more young female students came forward to report their fears about his stalking and other predatory behaviors, a scandal erupted as a whistleblower came forward to disclose that someone in the student affairs department had knowledge as to his previous misconduct and failed to punish him for actually admitting rape.
The most shocking aspect about this story isn’t only that it is true: rather that it happens all too often on college campuses. Oftentimes, universities and colleges are fearful of turning in their students to the authorities or even responding appropriately to a campus rape. Vice Presidents who are responsible for reporting the numbers of sexual assaults on campus pursuant to the Clery Act can feel pressured by the powers that be to minimize those reports, and often take the brunt of the blame for any unsafe environment occurring on campus. Additionally, judicial officers who are put in charge of handling such disciplinary proceedings are often not properly trained on sexual assault laws or appropriate rape counseling response.
This culture of silence and cover up is also created by university administrators reluctant to report the crime as required by federal law out of fear of the negative publicity and PR problem that may affect their enrollment numbers if the perception is created that their campus is unsafe.
The pressure to quash a rape incident can come up from a Director or Vice President to as high as the Board of Trustees or Board of Regents that oversees the President of the university. Additionally, universities sometimes act more fearful of being sued by the student charged with the rape, rather than the more likely event that the university will be sued by the rape victim because of the university’s own negligence in permitting a foreseeable danger to occur.
The irony of all of this is that in terms of risk management, failure to properly respond to sexual assault is one of the riskiest mistakes a universities can make. By permitting a culture where students are not educated on rape awareness, where sexual assault is silenced and rapes are covered up, and where sex assault is not treated with ‘zero tolerance;’ —universities become “aiders and abettors” and will be held responsible for their negligence in failing to warn or prevent students from a harmful, foreseeable danger.
This not only puts students’ safety at risk but creates the worst kind of public relations nightmare possible—practically insuring that the institution will be found liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages from tort claims and bad publicity because of a failure to do the right thing.
Williams Oinonen LLC represents college students who have been raped or sexually assaulted on campus. Williams Oinonen LLC also offers preventative training on this issue and provides consulting workshops to university staff and faculty on all legal issues within education.
If you are a student, faculty, or staff member who could benefit from legal advice pertaining to this topic, please feel free to call us today: 404-654-0288.