Five women have filed a federal lawsuit against Washington DC’s Howard University, claiming administrators violated Title IX by creating an unsafe learning environment for the plaintiffs after they reported being sexually assaulted on campus.
The women, named in the suit as Jane Does 1-5, are all students at or former students of Howard. In a detailed report, Buzzfeed News’ Tyler Kinkade writes that “the university’s handling of the sexual assault cases pushed two of the plaintiffs...to leave Howard’s campus due to concerns about safety and their mental health.”
According to victims, the school administrators (particularly the Howard official charged with handling sexual assault cases, Candi Smiley) were negligent, taking weeks to months to respond to the students’ emails or phone calls regarding the status of their cases.
In an incident where the victim’s alleged rapist was also a resident advisor with key access to her room, the lawsuit says, the university refused to remove the assailant from the position until the investigation was complete. For her comfort and safety, the plaintiff, Doe 2, moved dorms at her own expense.
Both Doe 1 and Doe 2, previously unacquainted, were allegedly raped by the same student, something they only became aware of when Doe 1—frustrated by Howard’s inaction—went public on Twitter, leading to a campus rally against sexual assault. It was then that Doe 2 first contacted Doe 1 to tell her that, allegedly, they had been sexually assaulted by the same man. In response to the tweets that brought the women together, Howard’s Dean of Student Affairs supposedly told Doe 1, “You embarrassed your family by doing that.”
“If my case was handled the way it was supposed to be handled, [Doe 1] would’ve never met her assailant. He would’ve been dismissed,” Doe 2 told Buzzfeed News.
Additionally, Kingkade reports that Doe 1 was “fired as a resident assistant after reporting her rape, while Doe 2 says the university took away her financial aid and threatened to refer her debt to a collection agency.” Doe 2 has since left Howard to return home to Alabama while the student who allegedly raped both her and Doe 1 has been suspended for two years following a university investigation. Doe 1 has yet to be informed of this outcome, according to the suit.
When Doe 3 reported that she had been sexually and physically assaulted by her then-boyfriend, an on-campus police officer, she also informed officials that she was suicidal and in need of counseling, a request that was allegedly ignored. The complaint says that Doe 4 requested a no contact order for her assailant, but Howard officials—after a three-month wait—denied the request. For Doe 5, the complaint says, Howard took seven months to suspend her alleged attacker for violating the school’s sexual assault policy and still hasn’t responded to the D.C. police’s request for records of the investigation.
According to a study prepared for the National Department of Justice in 2011, 14.2 percent of women at historically black colleges (HBCUs) such as Howard reported experiencing an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college. The national average, with statistics coming primarily from predominantly white colleges, is 23.1 percent, according to RAINN.
Jezebel has contacted Howard for comment and will update if/when we receive a reply. To read Kingkade’s full report for Buzzfeed News, click here.
[UPDATE] Howard University has responded with the following statement:
Sexual assault is a critical issue on campuses across higher education. Howard University takes very seriously all allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and gender-based discrimination occurring on the University’s campus or involving the University’s students. Our commitment is evidenced by our rigorous enforcement of the University’s Title IX Policy on Prohibited Sexual Harassment and Gender-Based Discrimination in Education Program and Activities. The University has been, and remains, committed to diligently investigating any such allegations to ensure a safe and healthy community for our faculty, staff and students.
Out of consideration for the privacy of all individuals involved, and as a matter of practice, we do not comment on pending litigation.