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Union College mishandled second student’s rape complaint, new lawsuit says

Union College mishandled second student’s rape complaint, new lawsuit says

A former Union student claims she was raped while incapacitated by alcohol and the college let her assailant off
Union College mishandled second student’s rape complaint, new lawsuit says

SCHENECTADY -- A second woman in four months has sued Union College over an alleged rape and what she argues was the college’s mishandling of an investigation into her claims and its inability to protect her from sexual harassment on campus.

The student, who in the complaint uses the pseudonym Jane Roe, arrived at Union as a freshman in fall 2015. She alleges she was raped by a male student in her dorm room after a night of heavy drinking around Jan. 6, 2016.

The complaint, filed by New York City-based attorney Andrew Miltenberg, further contends Union officials treated her unfairly as it investigated her accusations and failed to prevent her alleged assailant and other students from harassing her both while a hearing into her claims was still pending and after the college decided the male student had not violated college policy.

Jane Roe didn’t remember the alleged rape, according to a complaint filed in late July, until after an encounter with her alleged assaulter three months after the alleged rape set off “an onslaught of … repressed memories of the assault” -- in what the complaint called the “worst 24 hours of her life.”

“Over the next 24 hours, plaintiff experienced heartbreaking and painful flashbacks of the assault, remembering the harrowing incident in detailed flashes,” according to the complaint.

In the complaint, the woman recounted consuming “approximately 11 shots of vodka and 5 cups of beer” within about an hour and the feeling of becoming increasingly inebriated throughout the night of the alleged rape. At one point her alleged rapist, identified in the suit as “assaulter Smith,” whom she knew through her social group, approached her at a party that night and kissed her on the lips. At a second party, the alleged assaulter began to “grind” on Jane Roe and again started to kiss her, according to the complaint. Throughout the night, Jane Roe struggled to control her balance and speech due to inebriation. Ultimately, the alleged assaulter accompanied Jane Roe back to her campus dorm room. Roe vomited in a bucket beside her bed, slurred her words and in a panic asked her alleged assailant if she would be OK. At that point, according to the complaint, the alleged assailant proceeded to rape Jane Roe, at times covering her mouth as she tried to scream for help.

“Seeing plaintiff in her most vulnerable state, assaulter Smith took it upon himself to attack her,” the complaint alleged. “Uninvited and without any semblance of consent from plaintiff, assaulter Smith proceeded to remove all of plaintiff’s clothing. Plaintiff wanted desperately to resist but found that she lacked the coordination and ability to stop him.”

The next morning Jane Roe woke up naked with her alleged assailant still in her bed. After she said she didn’t remember what happened the previous night, he said that nothing had happened between the two of them. But Jane Roe “was still very confused and uncomfortable about not remembering the previous night’s events” and “always felt as though she were missing something.”

It was not until three months later that after an encounter with her alleged assailant – in which he grabbed her butt, according to the complaint – Jane Roe’s memory of the alleged rape started to flood back to her. Her attorneys said she has been formally diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of the alleged rape.

The lawsuit marks the second similar suit filed against Union by attorney Miltenberg, who on Monday said the latest plaintiff came forward with her accusations after another plaintiff, going by Jane Doe in that suit, filed a complaint in March, alleging Union mishandled its investigation into her alleged rape. Miltenberg said multiple women have come to him with accounts of sexual assaults they felt were mishandled by the college but not all of them are comfortable moving forward with a lawsuit.

In a statement provided by Union spokesman Phil Wajda on Monday afternoon, college officials stood by its handling of sexual assault allegations.

“While it is not appropriate to discuss specific details of the suit, we remain confident that facts will show that this case was adjudicated in accordance with our established Title IX policies and procedures at that time,” according to the statement. “As is the case with all matters of this nature, we made every effort possible to support the individuals involved.”

In the college’s statement, officials outlined steps taken last year to strengthen its response to sexual assault and other related issues, including the hiring of someone experienced in the field to conduct a review of the college’s Title IX policies and procedures. The college also reconstituted a college committee focused on safety and education.

The latest lawsuit, though, claimed in recent years “no less than five woman have reported their experiences of sexual assault to the college in the hopes that their complaints would be properly investigated and handled by Union” only to find the complaint “fell on deaf ears.”

“Based on what I’ve observed and the stories I’ve heard coming out of Union, I think they have a problem, and I think they know that,” Miltenberg said. “For such a small school to have such a multiple of these types of allegations tells me there’s something more going on there.”

After Jane Roe filed a formal complaint with Union Title IX Office, responsible for investigating and adjudicating sexual assault allegations among students, the college treated her unfairly and failed to protect her from harassment, the complaint also alleged.

The complaint claimed the college’s investigators didn’t interview all of the witnesses the plaintiff has put forward, including one who was in a position to corroborate Jane Roe's moment of recall of the assault she previously repressed. The suit also claimed the investigators focused on her past drinking and partying habits and included “damning and demeaning character ‘evidence’” and excluded positive character evidence in their final report. The report, however, did include the alleged assailant’s “physiologically impractical claim” that he was physically incapable of getting an erection with a woman he was not in a long-term relationship with, according to the complaint.

Ultimately, a panel of college officials who heard the case determined the two students had engaged in consensual sexual contact by hand but did not engage in sexual intercourse, Jane Roe’s lawyers said.

The plaintiff alleged that she sustained ongoing harassment from her alleged assailant and his friends throughout both the investigation and after the college’s decision in the case. Despite a no contact order that was supposed to prevent the alleged assailant from approaching Jane Roe, he and other students bullied her by calling her names and referred to her as “the girl who tried to get a nice guy in trouble,” the complaint alleged. The alleged assailant was even caught following Jane Roe across by Union security. The plaintiff claimed at one point the alleged assailant walked up to her, groped her butt and whispered in her ear, “You’re still mine.” Jane Roe left Union as a result of the ongoing harassment, according to the complaint.

The complaint claimed the college fostered a “culture of sexual hostility” that violated Jane Roe’s federal protection against gender discrimination in her education, mirroring the claims brought by the Jane Doe who filed suit against the college in March. Union College has moved to dismiss the case, a motion still pending before the court.

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