Rape Victims File Federal Lawsuit Against Howard University

by: Lenore T. Adkins Special to the AFRO
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A federal lawsuit against Howard University alleges that the school’s failure to swiftly respond to reported rapes on campus led at least one suspect to rape another student.

In addition, rape victims who said they were left suicidal from the sex assaults charge that the school did not help them and even let a resident advisor, who was an accused rapist, have access to a key to his purported victim’s dorm room.

Two of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they were so dismayed at the way the school handled the cases that they left Howard for concerns over their safety and mental health. The plaintiffs are referred to as Jane Doe 1 through 5 in the lawsuit, which was filed May 10 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The plaintiffs are five current and former students who reported sexual assaults at the hands of male students and employees of Howard University in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the lawsuit states.

Two of plaintiffs claim the same resident advisor raped them. Jane Doe 1 alleged that she reported the rape to the school and did not receive any response or support, prompting her to complain on Twitter about the school “mishandling” her complaint.

Other rape victims came forward to complain about how the school managed their rape cases, including Jane Doe 2. She alleges the school did not investigate her case and that she ended up leaving the university because she no longer felt safe there.

Buzzfeed News reported that the assailant allegedly transferred to Howard after being accused of sexual misconduct at UCLA.

“Howard’s failure to investigate and effectively resolve Doe 2’s complaint meant the assailant remained on campus as an RA and raped Doe 1 over five months later,” the lawsuit states.

Following public criticism and a campus protest as a result of Jane Doe 1’s tweets in 2016, Howard finally reached out to Doe 2 to investigate her 2015 report, the lawsuit stated. In response to Doe 1’s Tweet storm, the school’s dean of student affairs told her “You embarrassed your family by doing that.” To date, the school still has not investigated her case, the lawsuit claims.

Doe 1 says she was fired as a resident assistant after reporting her rape, while Doe 2 alleges the school rescinded her financial aid and threatened to refer her debt to a collection agency, the lawsuit alleges.

In November 2014, Doe 3 filed a report alleging sexual and physical abuse by a Howard campus police officer. She sought counseling services from the school, which she said did not provide them. Her grades slipped and she was fired from her job due to her untreated emotional distress, the lawsuit states.

In March 2016, Doe 4 reported that a male student from the university raped her in a dorm on campus. Days passed before the school responded to her requests about counseling services and to change dorm rooms for her safety, according to the lawsuit. When she asked about academic accommodations to allow her to recover from the assault, university officials said that was up to the individual professors, not the school. In addition, she alleges that school assigned her assailant to her dorm in the new academic year and did not move him out until three weeks later.

In April 2015, Doe 5 reported to the school that a male Howard student raped her on campus. Shortly after she reported the assault, the school sent her a letter telling her she wouldn’t be graduating that semester as planned. She tried to make arrangements to take her remaining classes at a community college because she did not feel safe at Howard, the lawsuit states. But she claims that Howard administrators passed her around, and she was unable to get help until an outside advocate intervened. When she finished her classes, she alleges that Howard officials again gave her the runaround, this time about whether the school would accept the credits so she could graduate.

Meanwhile, it took the school seven and a half months to investigate her sex assault report—more than three times the period allowed by Howard policy for an investigation. Her assailant was eventually convicted of raping another woman in the District in October 2016, according to the lawsuit.

“The University’s actions have exacerbated and extended, rather than corrected, the resulting interference with the educational opportunities of each women,” the lawsuit states.

Per university policy, Howard does not comment on pending litigation.

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