Lawsuit Claims UM Failed Rape Victim, Told Her to "Avoid" Rapist
Photo by Ines Hegedus-Garcia / Flickr

Lawsuit Claims UM Failed Rape Victim, Told Her to "Avoid" Rapist

When a University of Miami student told a dean in 2013 that she'd been raped and was now being stalked by the rapist, the dean offered no help and told her to "avoid those situations" where she'd run into her assailant. Later, that same dean told the victim to "feel bad" for her rapist because he "did not have many friends" and also suggested that the assailant had penetrated her with his fingers instead of his penis. And after the school and her professors refused to take action, the student reported her assailant to Coral Gables Police and later said the stress of the ordeal pushed her to attempt suicide.

Those are among the upsetting claims made in a lawsuit the student filed against the university September 15. The student, who is identified only as Jane Doe in the court documents, is now suing the school for violating Title IX, the federal law prohibiting gender or sex discrimination and setting guidelines for handling assault complaints, and the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits discrimination based on a person's disability. The student says she developed severe anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder due to her assault.

"Had the University provided these options to Plaintiff in the Fall of 2013, Plaintiff would have been spared the failing grades, the continued fear for her safety, the depression and anxiety that stemmed from the repeated trauma she experienced in the fall of 2013, and the despair she felt from the University’s inadequate responses that led to suicide attempt," the suit says.

The lawyers for the student and the representatives for the university did not immediately respond to requests for comment from New Times. But this is not the first case in which UM has been accused of mishandling a sexual assault case or violating Title IX.

In April 2015, New Times published a long-form investigation into the university's dealings with Colin McGinn, a high-profile philosophy professor who sent sexually explicit emails to one of his students. After getting caught repeatedly emailing the student the words "handjob," "erection," and "Lolita" and asking on three occasions to have sex with the student, McGinn resigned. The student then sued the school for Title IX violations.

This is also the second high-profile case involving then-Dean William A. "Tony" Lake, who handled Title IX and sexual harassment complaints as the school's judicial affairs director until he was forced out in 2016 for mishandling another student rape case. In that instance, Lake punished then-student David Jia in 2014 for rape claims which later turned out to be false. Jia sued the school this past January. The case also led UM to axe an unofficial rape counselor at the school, then-Professor Katharine Westaway, after she rallied around Jia's accuser and demanded Jia be punished.

Lake did not immediately respond to messages from New Times about the latest lawsuit.

In the new case, the student alleges she was raped August 23, 2013, at an off-campus apartment complex that caters to UM students, known informally as "Red Road." The pair had met through the Hindu Student Council and had recently begun dating. After the assault, the student says, her assailant — a resident adviser (RA) at a campus dorm nearby — regularly stalked her and threatened her. At a frat party September 13, the pair met and the stalker allegedly blew into a fit of rage: He said that she was the reason he didn't get accepted to a campus fraternity and that she was forcing him to "hurt himself." The student says her assailant also left threatening voicemails and followed her to a friend's dorm room and banged on the door demanding to see her.

The student says she first reported the assault and subsequent stalking to the RA program supervisor at her assailant's dorm. She says the supervisor said he'd speak with her rapist but ultimately did nothing and also did not provide the student with anymore advice or reference her Title IX rights in any way.

On September 16, 2013, the student says, she reported the rape to Lake. She says Lake never told her about her Title IX rights and failed to properly investigate the situation, although he did order the rapist not to have any contact with her. The student says she was then denied the ability to drop out of her classes or take a break to deal with the trauma of being raped and harassed. The student says university officials repeatedly refused to inform her professors that she was suffering from trauma and needed extensions or breaks on classwork.

Later that same day, she reported the stalking to Coral Gables Police out of fear for her safety.

"She provided testimony and documentary evidence to the police, such as Facebook messages and text
messages," the suit says. "The police began investigating the case and informed Plaintiff of various resources available to her. They expressed concern that the University had not informed Plaintiff of her option to make a police report."

Just two weeks after the university issued the no-contact order, the student's rapist began harassing her again, she says. When the student reported the issue to Lake, he allegedly said that the school wasn't able to enforce the no-contact order and that it was on her to steer clear of the rapist.

"Dean Lake advised Plaintiff to 'avoid those situations' in which Assailant would come in contact with her," the suit says. "This was nearly impossible without Plaintiff’s avoiding all campus facilities and activities, including classes, therapy appointments, the library, the student center, or any other facilities on campus."

From September to December 2013, the student says, her stalker harassed her nine to ten more times. She claims she reported each case to Lake, but he and the school did nothing. And the suit claims that when the student met with Lake again in October, he tried to insinuate that the victim had not been raped.

"During this meeting, Dean Lake suggested to Plaintiff that perhaps Assailant had inserted his fingers and not his penis into Plaintiff’s vagina, and that this was not rape," the suit says. "He told Plaintiff that she should 'feel bad' for Assailant because he did not have many friends and that Assailant may not have meant to be violent toward her during the September 13, 2013 fraternity party. He suggested that Plaintiff withdraw the rape allegations since the Assailant would likely be punished regardless. Instead of investigating Plaintiff’s allegations, Dean Lake attempted to sweep them under the rug."

At another in-person meeting that month, the student warned Lake that her assailant was harassing other freshman women on campus, she says. Lake allegedly responded that the students would need to "figure out for themselves" if the guy was dangerous.

In December 2013, the student said she was stalked multiple times. She emailed Lake and said she was "fearing for [her] safety." She claims he did not respond for multiple days.

On December 10, a three-person university board found the assailant responsible for charges of "sexual assault and battery, intimate partner/dating violence, underage drinking, physical assault, and sexual harassment." He was, however, allowed to remain on campus despite his victim's repeated protests. The student said she was forced to obtain an emergency restraining order against her assailant from Miami-Dade County December 16, and only then was the rapist finally expelled.

The next day, the accused was arrested on stalking charges, the lawsuit says. He pleaded guilty the following spring.

In the meantime, the victim repeatedly asked professors and school administrators for help dealing with her anxiety, she says. She claims the school steadfastly refused to help in any major capacity until she attempted suicide in January 2014. She was then admitted to a medical clinic in Texas and diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder.

Despite everything, the victim graduated in May 2015 with a degree in microbiology and immunology. She says her grade point average dropped from 3.8 to 3.5 after the assault and blames the school for the few failing grades on her transcript.

"Currently a law student at the University of Houston, Plaintiff is in the process of applying to medical school and is determined to fix her GPA to reflect the caliber of student she was before the rape, and the accurate scholastic marks she would have had without the continued threats to her safety and the University’s deliberate indifference toward her being raped and stalked," the suit says.

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