A woman who says she was raped by two fellow students in separate assaults at Carleton College has sued the private school in Northfield, saying that it failed to suspend or expel either of her attackers, even after one was found responsible for the assault.
The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court in Minneapolis, accuses Carleton of violating state and federal laws in its handling of the two complaints.
The woman, now 23, graduated from the college in 2015 and suffers from both physical and mental health problems as a result of the assaults, according to her attorney, Barbara Podlucky Berens.
“The best word would be traumatized,” Berens said of her client. “She lives in terror.”
Carleton officials declined to comment on the lawsuit but released a brief statement saying: “Sexual assault and other forms of sexual misconduct have no place at Carleton and are not tolerated.” It also said that when “we receive complaints, we take them seriously and have strong systems in place that provide a safe community where individuals are encouraged to report concerns and get the support they need.”
The Carleton case is the latest in a spate of lawsuits and protests against Minnesota colleges in which either accusers or the accused have challenged the handling of campus investigations of sexual assault. Last week, a male student sued the University of St. Thomas after he was suspended for an alleged sexual assault, saying he was the victim of a “rigged and unfair disciplinary process.”
At Carleton, the woman said she was raped during her first week on campus, as an 18-year-old freshman in September 2011, by another first-year student after an alcohol-laden campus party. Both students were intoxicated when the male offered to walk the woman to her dorm room, where he “sexually assaulted and violently raped” her, according to the lawsuit.
Two days later, the male student sent her a Facebook message saying he was “sorry for what happened the other night, I didn’t seek consent from you and am sorry about that,” the lawsuit said.
A day later, the victim told a college counselor that she had been raped, but no complaint was filed until April. The college launched an investigation, and a campus panel, called the Community Board on Sexual Misconduct, ruled that the male student “had violated Carleton’s sexual assault policy,” according to the lawsuit.
The woman said she was told the student who assaulted her was given a “no contact” order to stay away from her, but that he was neither suspended nor expelled from school. When she tried to appeal the decision, the college refused.
Three years later, just months before graduation, the woman said she was raped by another student after he put “some type of drug” in her drink. She said a college adviser discouraged her from filing a formal complaint because the accused was a graduating senior and would “be gone from the college in two months,” the lawsuit says.
Berens, her attorney, says that no police reports were filed in either case. “Most rapes are not reported to the police because survivors are afraid that their stories will be doubted and they will be blamed,” she said. In this case, “she really looked to Carleton for meaningful assistance.”
Under federal law, colleges and universities are required to investigate reports of sexual assault, even if they are not reported to police.
The lawsuit states that “time and again, Carleton placed the burden on [her] to get over the rapes, act as if nothing had happened, and focus on her studies instead.”
It also accuses Carleton of condoning underage drinking at campus parties. “Our argument is that Carleton created an environment in which the likelihood of sexual assault would increase, because there’s a strong correlation between drinking and sexual assault,” said Berens.
The lawsuit would require Carleton to impose a minimum of two-year suspensions on students found responsible for rape. It also seeks undisclosed damages for the plaintiff’s medical expenses, emotional distress and a refund of “all tuition, fees and residence charges” paid to Carleton on her behalf.