INDIANAPOLIS — Nine days after Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon resigned in the wake of the Larry Nassar sex abuse scandal, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels issued a message regarding how Purdue should handle allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct.
“We share the responsibility as members of the Purdue community to maintain an environment characterized always by safety, security and integrity. We can tolerate nothing less,” wrote Daniels, the former Indiana governor.
“This means that anyone who becomes aware of an incidence of misconduct or a physical threat in our midst should step forward promptly and take advantage of the many avenues available to report it. The university has established a host of resources for this purpose."
Those resources, however, might have failed a female student who contacted Purdue offices, including Daniels', to report she had been raped by a male undergraduate acquaintance, according to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana on Dec. 5, 2017, about two months before Daniels issued his Feb. 2 message.
The student, who is still working toward a degree at Purdue, is seeking unspecified compensatory and consequential damages. The male undergraduate, who is not a target of the lawsuit, has not been charged with a crime and was cleared by a Purdue investigation of violating the university's anti-harassment policy. He graduated in May 2016.
The female student also seeks an injunction requiring Purdue to "take effective steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment, including sexual assault, in its education programs, to fully investigate conduct that may constitute sex-based harassment and/or sexual assault, to appropriately respond to all conduct that may constitute sex-based harassment and/or sexual assault, and to mitigate the effects of harassment and/or assault including by eliminating any hostile environment that may arise from or contribute to it."
Numerous filings in the female student’s case have been sealed since shortly after the lawsuit was filed. The alleged victim is referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe and the alleged attacker as Jack Roe.
The lawsuit comes at a time when women are speaking out against sexual assault and harassment. The #MeToo movement proliferated on social media in the fall of 2017 amid a stream of reports that powerful, high-profile men in the fields of entertainment, government and business had sexually harassed female associates.
A year earlier, sexual abuse allegations came to light against Nassar, the former athletic trainer for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. In January, Nassar was sentenced to a minimum of 125 years in prison after admitting to sexually abusing young female gymnasts for more than two decades.
More than 260 women have told officials that they were victimized by Nassar; many spoke emotionally about the abuse at his sentencing.
Several months before the slew of allegations against Nassar surfaced in public, the female Purdue student notified university officials in December 2015 that she had been the victim of a sexual assault in her dorm room after a party at the alleged assailant's residence.
The student's attorney, Andrew J. Spica of the Vouga & Barnes law firm in Portage, sees similarities in the way the Nassar and Purdue cases were handled by the two Big Ten universities.
"I think they are connected in the sense that the inconsistency between written policies and statements on the one hand and the real-world actions and responses that we're seeing from various institutions and even private companies across the nation on the other hand is a deeply troubling injustice," Spica told CNHI News Indiana.
Although it's clear that Daniels' recent statement about Purdue's resources for addressing episodes of sexual harassment and assault doesn't directly address the pending lawsuit, the portion of the statement about mutual responsibility sounds disingenuous when contrasted with the student's case, Spica said.
Purdue employees' responsibility should include "additional duties including not only responding promptly but strictly enforcing the anti-harassment policies as they're written, maintaining fairness and impartiality throughout the reporting and investigatory processes," Spica said.
"I don't believe Purdue's actions in this case met either the self-proclaimed standards of mutual responsibility in President Daniels' statement or the additional duties that aren't specifically mentioned in the statement."
Purdue spokesman Brian Zink said the university takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and has confidence in its Title IX policy, procedures and practices.
Title IX is the federal provision enforced by the U.S. Department of Education that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex for those enrolled in education programs.
Daniels is regularly briefed on litigation involving the university and has been aware of the case since shortly after it was filed, Zink said in an email to CNHI News Indiana.
He added that while Daniels' message did touch on Title IX, its overarching purpose was to remind the Purdue community about the collective responsibility to ensure a campus environment of safety, security and integrity, and to encourage the reporting of physical threats and instances of misconduct, Zink said in the email.
"The incident at the heart of this lawsuit was fully investigated and adjudicated in accordance with university procedures, which are designed to protect the rights of complainants and respondents alike," Zink added.
THE FEDERAL LAWSUIT
On Dec. 5, 2017, the Purdue student filed her federal lawsuit, which accuses Daniels and five other officials, as well as Purdue University, of violating Title IX requirements by mishandling her accusation that she had been raped by an undergraduate male student.
The alleged victim was never told by Purdue officials to file a police report, so no law enforcement agency investigated, Spica said. The lawsuit does not address why the student didn't report the alleged assault to police.
Her failure to report to law enforcement isn't unusual. According to a 2016 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, less than 10 percent of rapes of undergraduate women nationally during the 2014-15 academic year were reported to police.
In the lawsuit, the Purdue student alleges the following:
- On Dec. 5, 2015, she went to an off-campus party attended by some of her fellow marching band members at the male student's residence. After the party, she returned to her dorm, took a shower and went to her room. The male student walked over later and had the female student's permission to enter the room.
- Inside the room, he held her down and forced her into her first sexual intercourse. She expressly told him no.
- The next day, she told friends about the incident. The day after that, she went to the student health center and reported the assault to a staffer, who told her she should make better decisions when drinking.
- The student said she wasn’t intoxicated at the time of the assault.
- On Dec. 8, she had an emotional breakdown and told a residence hall staffer about the attack.
- That same day, she told a residence hall worker that she was considering suicide. The staffer created a report about the incident but did not notify police.
On Dec. 9, an official with Purdue’s Center for Advocacy, Response and Education contacted the student, according to the lawsuit.
After she told the official that she was suffering emotional trauma and struggling with class work, the official said it would be best for her to go ahead and leave the university for winter break, the lawsuit maintains.
She had one final exam to take but the university could not find accommodations for her away from her dorm, the lawsuit says. During the winter break, which began Dec. 19, the student went home and received treatment from a rape crisis counselor not affiliated with Purdue.
The student filed a formal complaint Feb. 1, 2016, with Purdue’s Office of Institutional Equity. An investigation was initiated Feb. 16, according to the lawsuit, and two staffers — one a man, the other a woman — were assigned by Purdue’s dean of students to investigate.
The female student and her alleged assailant were interviewed, and they offered different accounts of what had happened, the lawsuit says.
The male student told officials that the two had a previous flirtatious relationship, according to the lawsuit, which alleges that the final investigation report defends the male student's version of the events. He told the Purdue investigators that he was intoxicated at the time of the incident and had a vague recollection of the evening, according to the lawsuit.
CNHI News Indiana requested a copy of the Office of Institution Equity's report, but the request was denied by Purdue's Office of Legal Counsel, which cited federal and state confidentiality laws.
The female student said in the lawsuit she felt as if she were being blamed for the assault.
On May 12, 2016, the student appealed the case with Purdue's Ethics and Compliance office, saying the investigatory panel had asked her accusatory questions and was biased toward the male student. Hearing no response, she emailed President Daniels’ office on May 26. The next day, the ethics office told her that her appeal had been denied, according to the lawsuit.
On June 2, 2016, she filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, which investigates Title IX complaints. In February, a spokesman for the civil rights office said it is the office's policy not to comment on current investigations.
Attorneys with Stuart & Branigin, a Lafayette law firm representing Purdue, are seeking dismissal of the case. In filings, they say the student's attorney needs in part to prove that each of the six defendants' behavior had the "intent to discriminate on the basis of gender and cause adverse effects on women."
She failed to prove that the defendants knew they were violating her rights, the Purdue attorneys claim. Since she did not allege that Purdue should have prevented the initial incident, the university did not fail to prevent any sex-based discrimination, the Purdue defense attorneys state.
Her attorneys have until March 13 to file a response.
Purdue reported seven rapes in 2015, two in 2014 and three apiece in 2016 and in 2017, according to online Purdue documents.
In the aftermath of her alleged rape, the student who is suing Purdue is struggling with her classwork, her attorney said.
"She's doing better than she was. She's improving over time but still not doing great," Spica said. "She's kind of moving on and marching forward with everything."