Baylor Settles Lawsuit with Woman Who Alleged Sexual Assault - Higher Education
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Baylor Settles Lawsuit with Woman Who Alleged Sexual Assault

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by Jim Vertuno, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — Baylor University has agreed to settle a federal lawsuit with a former student who accused the nation’s largest Baptist school of fostering a “hunting ground for sexual predators” and mishandling her alleged attack in 2015.

A settlement notice was filed in federal court in Waco, Texas on Thursday. No details were released, but the agreement marks Baylor’s first settlement to resolve a cascade of lawsuits over the past 18 months by women who said they were attacked and had their cases ignored or bungled by the university for years.

Baylor has settled with at least three other women who were attacked but did not file lawsuits, and still faces five federal Title IX discrimination lawsuits from more than a dozen women. The school also faces state criminal and federal civil rights investigations, and an NCAA probe into the athletic program.

The scandal, and the school’s own investigation into how Baylor responded to assault allegations, led to the firing of former football coach Art Briles and the demotion and eventual departure of former school President Ken Starr in 2016. New President Linda Livingstone took over June 1.

“Baylor University is pleased that the parties were able to resolve this dispute in an amicable fashion. We are unable to comment further regarding this particular claim out of respect for the student’s privacy,” the school said in a statement.

The settled lawsuit was filed by a woman identified anonymously as Jane Doe who said she was assaulted after being drugged and abducted from an off-campus residence known as “The Rugby House,” a place where Baylor officials had received several previous reports of assaults. The lawsuit did not name her assailant but noted he was not a member of Baylor’s rugby club team.

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According to the lawsuit, Baylor officials initially attempted to help identify the attacker, and told her there were two more reported victims with similar experiences at the house. But school investigators stopped all correspondence with the woman after five weeks and did not schedule an administrative hearing in her case, the lawsuit said. The woman dropped out of Baylor in summer 2015 and moved home out of state.

The woman sued in 2016, alleging Baylor’s own investigation into sexual assault responses showed that officials ignored rape claims at the cost of safety to its students for years. The lawsuit accused the school of creating a “hunting ground for sexual predators to freely prey upon innocent, unsuspecting female students, with no concern of reprisal or consequences.”

The lawsuit said she did not file a police report because she was too embarrassed and the woman’s mother contacted school officials.

Baylor initially tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that while the attack was “horrific” it had not occurred at a place or event under Baylor control. The school also argued the woman couldn’t prove further harassment in her school setting.

The woman’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The settlement notice said the two sides are finalizing details and expect to have the case dismissed within the next two months. Trial had been set for May 2018.

Baylor is locked in legal battles with the other women who have sued. The lawsuits have alleged gang rape, a football program that fostered sexual violence and accused the school of using a strict student code of conduct that prohibits premarital sex and drinking alcohol to intimidate victims and witnesses into silence.

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Baylor’s 2016 investigation report into sexual assault responses found a football program that acted as if it was “above the rules” as coaches and staff had improper contact with complainants, and interfered or impeded school and potentially criminal investigations.

Briles has long denied any wrongdoing and insisted he did not cover up sexual violence by his players or try to obstruct any investigations.

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