Student sues Columbia University over response to reports of rape

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2017 2:22 PM

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A student at Columbia University sued the school on Tuesday, claiming officials showed indifference and apathy after she reported two separate incidents of sexual assault on the school's New York City campus in 2015.

The federal lawsuit from Amelia Roskin-Frazee, a member of the undergraduate class of 2019, accuses the Ivy League school of violating Title IX, the U.S. statute that prohibits schools receiving federal funds from engaging in gender discrimination.

A series of high-profile cases in recent years has brought U.S. colleges under heightened scrutiny for how they handle reports of sexual assaults and harassment. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Education issued directives aimed at strengthening protections for those who report being victims of such crimes.

In 2014, about two dozen Columbia students filed Title IX complaints with the education department over the elite university's handling of their sexual assault claims. The department has four open cases involving the school and is investigating 229 U.S. colleges overall for Title IX violations related to sexual violence.

That same year, student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress on her back around campus in protest because her accused rapist, a student named Paul Nungesser, was not disciplined and remained on campus. The act drew national headlines and eventually prompted Nungesser to file his own Title IX lawsuit, claiming the school discriminated against him by allowing Sulkowicz's protest.

Roskin-Frazee said in her suit that she was first attacked on Oct. 5, 2015, when she awoke in her dorm room to find a man raping her.

When she reported the incident to various campus officials, she was told she could go to police but was never advised of her rights under federal law, according to the lawsuit.

In December, Roskin-Frazee was attacked again in her room, according to her lawsuit.

Officials did not open an investigation for months and then failed to interview witnesses or review security card logs for her dormitory, according to the complaint.

In a statement, university spokesman Robert Hornsby said the school does not comment on specific complaints to protect student privacy.

"None of this diminishes the deep concern we feel about any allegation of assault on our campuses," he said, noting the school has added staff to its gender-based misconduct office, strengthened policies and increased resources for responding to sexual assault.

Reuters does not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Roskin-Frazee has previously written publicly about her experiences as a rape victim and filed the lawsuit under her own name.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by David Gregorio)