A Brave Survivor Fights to Hold University Accountable

It was the fall of Rachel’s senior year at a public university when she reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow student. She was on track to graduate summa cum laude that spring, but she says the experience and how it was handled derailed her plans.

Sexual violence is a form of gender discrimination prohibited by federal civil rights law under Title IX. When a report of sexual assault is filed, under Title IX schools are required to take prompt and effective steps to end discrimination and prevent recurrence of sexual violence. Under the federal law, all reports of sexual violence must be investigated and supported by impartial and prompt processes.

After the alleged assault, Rachel reported it to the assigned university administrator. Rachel’s complaint states she was shepherded from an unwelcoming counseling center to an uncooperative administrator, as she tried to maintain her status as a student while struggling with the reality of being a survivor. Rachel stated that she later learned the university contact for the complaint process was allegedly personally linked to her assailant as his fraternity advisor.

The struggle to cope became near impossible for Rachel. She felt unsafe leaving her apartment, wasn’t eating, and stopped attending classes. After negotiating with her fall semester professors to finish the courses, Rachel reported that upon returning to school in the spring, it felt like campus backs had been turned.

Rachel’s complaint states that the university failed to provide a fair and timely hearing. Additionally, she reported that the student who she says sexually assaulted her was allowed to question her about her past sexual history, a direct violation of Title IX. According to Rachel, while the governing board decided he had only broken student handbook agreements, he walked away with a slap on the wrist.

Throughout the harrowing ordeal, Rachel said the school never connected her with trauma-informed care, and she was made to feel as though she were a nuisance, not a student. Rachel also stated that due to the stress and trauma she endured as the result of the sexual assault and the lack of support from the university, she withdrew from the school before she had the opportunity to graduate.

Thanks to the civil justice system and her attorney, Rachel was able to obtain a small measure of justice for her horrific experience.

Students who have been sexually harassed and assaulted deserve support. Only the civil justice system allows Rachel and others like her to hold institutions accountable when they fail to protect and support survivors of sexual violence.