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College Student: I Was Forced to Prosecute My Rapist Alone

After suffering a sexual assault in a Stony Brook University dorm room, she suffered flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares.
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Still, she pushed forward in pursing the case through the university’s internal disciplinary procedures. She expected the experience would be difficult and trying. She did not anticipate being forced to prosecute her rapist on her own, despite having zero legal training.

The process reportedly required her to question the alleged attacker on the witness stand, and to also be subjected to cross-examination directly from him.

All this is according to a lawsuit filed against the university for violation of Title IX. This is a federal statute that bars gender discrimination at institutions of higher education that rely on money from the U.S. government. The law also encompasses claims of sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment.

The 22-year-old in her federal higher education lawsuit is seeking not only monetary damages, but also a court order that would bar the practice of requiring sexual assault victims to prosecute their own cases within the framework of a university tribunal.

She alleges the attack happened about a year before December 2014, when the school passed a more detailed policy on how to investigate and handle reports of sexual assaults on campus. That move came at the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

According to her complaint, the assault happened in January 2014, following a campus party where she and her attacker were playing drinking games. She then followed him to his dorm room, intending to have sex with him. However, she changed her mind. She tried to physically resist, she said, but the assailant forced her to continue engaging in various sex acts.

Two days later, she attempted to file a report with police on campus. However, she was told she would first have to undergo a rape examination at the local hospital, after which point she could return and file a complaint. She endured the rape examination and returned to file a formal complaint, only to be told her case was not viable because she did not loudly yell “No” or “violently fight back.” The officer allegedly told her she could contact the local district attorney’s office, but that they would likely say the same thing.

Instead, she pursued disciplinary action against her attacker internally through the university. Although officials at the school interviewed the other student, spoke to witnesses and reviewed video surveillance footage, she was informed a week prior to the hearing that she would be responsible for the prosecution. She spent some 60 hours to prepare. She only that one week to gather her own witness testimony, write an opening statement and create exhibits.

Although she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, she was not allowed to bring her therapist to the hearing. Neither were their any security forces or police officer present, which she said compounded her anxiety during the five-hour hearing.

The other student was ultimately found “not responsible.”

She was granted an appeal because it was later determined the school failed to weigh the proper definition of consent to sexual activity as it relates to intoxication. However, the case has remained stagnant, and the alleged victim has heard nothing from the school about how matters may proceed. She has contacted officials numerous times, but has yet to receive an answer.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides education litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
SUNY grad says school made her prosecute her own sex attacker, Feb. 23, 2015, By Lee Higgins, The Journal News
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