By Arielle Martinez, Hanaa’ Tameez and Kelly Zegers
A Stony Brook University alumna is suing the university for the manner in which the administration allegedly handled her complaint of sexual assault by another student.
The lawsuit was filed on Jan. 23, 2015 with the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, in White Plains. Judge Nelson Stephen Roman will preside over the case.
The Statesman is withholding the names of the plaintiff and her alleged assailant, who is currently a Stony Brook student and is also being sued by the plaintiff, due to the sensitive nature of the allegation. At the time of publication, neither could be reached for comment.
The plaintiff, a former social work major, alleged in the complaint she was sexually assaulted by a male student in his dorm room during the early morning hours of Jan. 26, 2014 after attending a party at West Apartments with him the night before.
She alleged that the man switched her mixed drink with straight liquor, causing her to become deeply intoxicated. After the two started kissing and the plaintiff tried to stop the encounter from going any further, the defendant allegedly “overpowered” her, according to the complaint.
The complaint also details that the defendant allegedly forced her to perform oral sex at least twice, once by pinning the plaintiff down by forcing his knees onto her shoulders and once by pushing her head down to his penis. She alleged that she blacked out several times during the attack due to a combination of trauma and intoxication and is therefore unsure as to whether the defendant forced her to engage in vaginal intercourse with him.
The plaintiff reported the incident to the University Police Department, was examined by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and reported the incident to the Office of University Community Standards, the complaint states.
The plaintiff states in the lawsuit that campus police “were aggressive and intimidating in their questioning of her” and failed to investigate the case fully. It also alleges that the plaintiff was told by the unnamed detective that she did not have a “viable case” because “she did not scream ‘No’ or violently fight back in order to stop the attack, and that, while she could go to the District Attorney’s office, prosecutors would probably feel the same way about her case.”
Assistant Chief of Investigations and Administration of University Police Neil Farrell was not immediately available for comment.
The plaintiff then reported the matter to the Office of University Community Standards, which scheduled the disciplinary hearing during the plaintiff’s final exams and less than a week before her graduation ceremony in the spring of 2014.
The plaintiff was allegedly informed that “she would be responsible for prosecuting her case” during the hearing.
“The process of prosecuting her own attacker, while also defending her own version of the facts, put [the plaintiff] in the impossible position of being her own surrogate lawyer while finishing her college education, attending to her job responsibilities, and suffering the trauma of the original attack,” the complaint alleged.
On May 22, 2014, the day of her first graduation ceremony, the plaintiff was informed the alleged assailant was found not responsible.
After receiving the written basis for the hearing panel’s decision, dated July 9, 2014, the plaintiff filed an appeal.
In a letter dated Aug. 28, 2014, Director of Campus Recreation Jay Souza allegedly advised her that after reviewing the case, he “found no evidence that the Hearing Board considered the definition of consent found in the University Code of Conduct and/or applied that definition to the facts of this case” and that the finding “constitutes a significant procedural error warranting the granting of your appeal.”
The lawsuit states the plaintiff was also notified she would be contacted by the Office of University Community Standards with the next steps in the process but after repeated attempts on the part of the plaintiff to establish contact, no university official provided any “substantive response” or further steps.
Souza declined to comment on the matter.
Stony Brook University is already under investigation by the Department of Education for possible violations of Title IX, the federal clause that prohibits discrimination based on sex at any federally-funded educational institution. An April 4, 2011 letter from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights clarified that Title IX’s definition of discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment and assault.
“Stony Brook University takes all claimed violations of Title IX very seriously and is committed to prevention of sexual assault and violence on campus,” SBU Media Relations Officer Lauren Sheprow said in an email. “We have policies and procedures in place to fully investigate every such claim that is brought to us. We are unable to comment on litigation, as Federal privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing student information, and await the court’s consideration of the full record.”
Earlier in January, Stony Brook also declined an offer from the Association of American Universities to anonymously survey the campus about the prevalence of sexual assault at SBU.
“While we appreciate the AAU effort in this process, as part of the Board of Trustees resolution on sexual violence, SUNY will be developing its own campus climate survey, in which SBU is required to participate,” Director of Title IX and Risk Management Marjolie Leonard said in an email in January.
Leonard was not immediately available for comment regarding this lawsuit.
Director of Office of University Community Standards Matty Orlich, who oversaw the plaintiff’s case at Stony Brook, was also not immediately available for comment.
For more of The Statesman’s coverage of and relating to Title IX, click here.