College: Protecting Students From Rape Is Not Our Responsibility

Illustration for article titled College: Protecting Students From Rape Is Not Our Responsibility

In the fall of 2012, a woman enrolled at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. Just three days into the school year, she says, she was raped in her room by a member of the lacrosse team after being given a shot she believes was spiked with some kind of drug. This month, the woman, identified as Jane Doe in court documents, filed a $10 million lawsuit against the school, arguing that they'd failed to protect her from her rapist and to take appropriate action after she reported her rape.


But in an increasingly ugly series of court filings, Virginia Wesleyan first accused her of exercising "poor judgment," and followed that up with a claim that it's not their duty to "warn or protect" students about criminal actions. They're the second school this month alone to argue that protecting students from rape isn't their job; Emerson College made the same argument in a lawsuit filed against them by a former student named Jillian Doherty, who was also raped in her room in March 2013.

Virginia Wesleyan's Jane Doe sued the school earlier this month. In a series of responses and motions, the school asked for a change of venue (that is, for the case to be moved to another court), arguing that Doe was trying to "sway" potential jurors by giving what they called "extensive" media interviews. (They also questioned why she needs to be anonymous in court, since she's willing to talk to reporters, a bogus argument considering that no responsible news outlet will print her real name.) The school argued too that she'd "exercised poor judgment by consuming any alcohol," but allowed that was probably no excuse for a fellow student, who they identify as Robert Roe, to follow her back to her dorm room and rape her. And they say that under Virginia law, there's no "special relationship" between college and student that would make it their job to protect a student from rape or other criminal acts.

Even worse, though, the same filing arguing that the rape isn't their problem or their responsibility also pushed back in a particularly odious way against Doe's claim that sexual assault was a special problem at VWC. In her original complaint, Doe says that spiked drinks were known to be such a problem at campus parties, her RAs warned her and her fellow female students to never put a drink down. And while VWC presented a skit on the dangers of sexual assault at campus parties at the very beginning of the year, Doe says, it was "presented as a comedy," and, afterwards, that the school didn't do anything to prevent the parties from taking place.

Doe's lawyers argued that the school had experienced "an extremely high rate of sexual assaults" in the years leading up to her rape. But VWC's lawyers breezily disagreed, questioning how serious those assaults were anyway: "How many of the alleged prior rapes and sexual assaults involved forcible intercourse, as opposed to an unwanted kiss on the cheek?" they wrote in a filing. (You can read it in full here.)

The school argues that they "properly advised [Doe] that she was a member of the 'at risk' population" — meaning, we guess, any student, especially female, attending a VWC party. Moreover, they add, they "suggested a way to minimize the risk of rape or sexual assault — i.e. avoiding parties were alcohol was served. Unfortunately, Plaintiff didn't heed VWC's advice and now seeks to take VWC to task for even providing such advice."

VWC is one of many schools who are increasingly coming under fire for their handling of sexual assault cases. It was one of the schools mentioned in an excellent story published this month by the Huffington Post's Taylor Kingkade, about schools who allow students found responsible for rape and sexual assault to easily transfer to other institutions, avoiding any real accountability for their crimes. Robert Roe, the student accused of raping Doe, was ultimately found responsible for the crime in an on-campus disciplinary hearing and expelled. But the school changed his records to state he had "voluntarily withdrawn" in order to "assist him in seeking further studies."


The school admitted all this in a letter to Doe. Roe is now attending another school. Doe dropped out of college after her rape and has not returned.

Image of Virginia Wesleyan College via Facebook


I'm sure I'll get hate for this, but I don't believe it should be a college's responsibility to protect their students at all times in every aspect of their lives. There is a ridiculous amount of mission creep in modern universities, in which a college is expected to service every aspect of a student's life experience, rather than just their education. That is part of what makes American colleges so fucking expensive. College students are adults.

The way colleges respond to rape accusations is, of course, a completely separate issue.