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EMU defends itself against rape lawsuit; says many victims didn't report assaults

Eastern Michigan University
F. Delventhal
Flickr Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Eastern Michigan University says it can’t be held responsible campus sexual assaults that were never reported. That’s in response to a lawsuitalleging that school officials allowed a culture of rape to flourish there.

Eleven former students are suing EMU. They say they were sexually assaulted during their time there. Nine of the young women say they were assaulted by the same man, who’s since been criminally charged.

Their lawsuit contends that EMU officials failed to investigate reported rapes, and in some cases actually discouraged victims from reporting them at all.

“Defendants placed vulnerable female students like Plaintiffs in harm’s way by: 1) covering up several reports of sexual assault despite knowing the same were continuing, thereby creating an ongoing and increased risk of danger for EMU’s female students; 2) acting in a manner that was deliberately indifferent to the knowledge of reported and suspected sexual assaults against EMU’s female students; 3) failing to follow EMU’s Title IX policies and/or protocols; 4) failing to sufficiently train EMU staff and/or related personnel to properly investigate sexual assaults; and 5) committing overt acts of misfeasance and malfeasance,” according to the women’s complaint.

But EMU says most of the young women never reported their assaults to the university, or didn’t do so until years after they occurred. Of the three that did, the school says two declined to participate in follow-up investigations. The other submitted an anonymous Title IX complaint, meaning that “the University had no reporting party from whom it could gather information related to the anonymous complaint from and no means to determine who the reporting party was, so no investigation could occur.”

“As horrific as Plaintiffs’ assaults were – as all sexual violence is – the University can only act when someone tells it something is wrong,” the university wrote. “Most of the Plaintiffs never did.

“Plaintiffs’ choices in this case were meaningful. By choosing to not report their assaults to the University and/or not to participate in any proceedings against their assailants, Plaintiffs did not provide the University any opportunity to respond or to help. Plaintiffs simply cannot place blame on the University for not responding to information it did not have; the University cannot respond to instances of assault it does not know about.”

EMU said it was not obligated to pursue investigations in the cases it was aware of because it “takes seriously the wishes and rights of survivors who may not want to participate in an investigation or adjudication that they feel may retraumatize them, or for any other reason.”

The school also denies allegations that its police officers and Title IX coordinator “discouraged victims of sexual assault from reporting to the police.”

The eleven women suing EMU are identified only as Jane Does 1-11. All say they were deeply traumatized by their assaults, and the school’s failure to respond to them appropriately. The lawsuit charges the school with Title IX violations, retaliating against victims, sex discrimination, and gross negligence, among other things.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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