RICHMOND, Va. — A woman who says Old Dominion University police interrogated her for nearly eight hours before allowing her to get a medical exam to preserve evidence of her reported rape filed a federal lawsuit against the school Friday.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk and obtained by The Associated Press, accuses the school and campus officers of unlawfully detaining the woman, intentionally inflicting emotional harm on her and violating Title IX after her alleged sexual assault in October 2014. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any educational program receiving federal funds.
The woman says police held her in a locked conference room for hours — without any family members or a victim advocate — instead of taking her to get a rape kit, even though she told the officers she had an appointment and was still bleeding from the sexual assault.
She claims the officers treated her like a criminal instead of a victim and denied her access to food, water and use of the bathroom. She says the officers told her that her alleged attacker had been given food and water in a nearby room, demonstrating “that ODU was treating a reported rapist better than her, the reported rape victim,” the lawsuit says.
The detectives “knew the prompt collection of forensic evidence could support Ms. Doe’s report of rape and provide sufficient probable cause to arrest (her alleged attacker), but instead they intentionally denied her timely access to receiving such collection services. Instead they conducted back-to-back interrogations, during which time they expressed repeated criticism of her criminal complaint,” the lawsuit says. The filing identified the detectives as Robert Taylor and Christopher S. Jones.
The woman, who is not identified, filed a complaint with federal education officials in October accusing the school of mishandling her case. In that complaint, she claimed the school violated the Clery Act, which requires schools to inform victims about their options to notify law enforcement after an assault, among other things. The education department could fine the school up to $35,000 per Clery violation.
A criminal investigation was launched after the assault, but the alleged attacker was never charged, the woman’s attorney, Laura Dunn, has said. Dunn, who is executive director of the Washington-based nonprofit, SurvJustice, declined to comment on the lawsuit beyond what’s in the complaint.
ODU Spokeswoman Giovanna Genard said in an email that the school would not comment on the lawsuit.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, Old Dominion University takes reports of sexual assault seriously. We treat students with compassion, dignity and respect,” Genard said.
Dozens of schools across the country have faced similar accusations of mishandling sexual assault reports. As of this month, federal education officials had 300 open investigations into complaints accusing colleges and universities of mishandling sexual violence cases and violating Title IX.
The woman says in the lawsuit that a man offered to walk her home from a party, where another man was being sexually aggressive toward her. She says she offered to let the man who walked her home to sleep on a couch. After falling asleep, she says she woke up to the man violently raping her.
In a personal statement attached to the woman’s Clery Act complaint, she said the ODU officers made inappropriate comments while questioning her like “Do you like rough sex?” and “I’m just trying to find the crime here.” She says she has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and insomnia, among other things.
The lawsuit says ODU failed to adequately ensure her safety by not having any university staff in the on-campus building where she says she was raped. She says the officers released her alleged attacker while she was still being interrogated and before she could provide forensic evidence that would have given them probable cause to arrest him.
The woman is asking the court to award more than $75,000 in damages and force the school to make several changes, including requiring officials to immediately take sexual assault victims to a hospital or medical center so they can preserve any possible evidence.