Former George Washington Student Sues School, Alleging Botched Sexual Assault Case

The lawsuit, alleges that GWU "actively created and was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility and violence" at the school.

Former George Washington Student Sues School, Alleging Botched Sexual Assault Case

The victim Aniqa Raihan alleged that she was sexually assaulted in her dorm room in the University (File)

A former George Washington University student sued her alma mater Friday, claiming the school mishandled her sexual assault case, an allegation that came as schools and students nationwide continue to struggle with concerns over campus sexual violence.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court for the District of Columbia, alleges that GWU "actively created and was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility and violence" at the school. It was filed by Aniqa Raihan, who alleges she was sexually assaulted in 2014, during her freshman year, in a campus dorm room.

The male student Raihan accused in the incident was given a "deferred suspension" instead of facing the disciplinary action that a university panel had recommended, the lawsuit alleges.

"The practical effect of that was no sanction, because [Raihan's alleged assailant] was allowed to continue his studies and graduate on time, as if nothing had happened," Raihan's attorney, Alex Zalkin, said at a news conference.

The university, he said, "fostered an environment on campus in which sexual misconduct is tolerated and tacitly approved."

A university spokeswoman, Maralee Csellar, said in a statement that GWU takes sexual misconduct and sexual violence concerns seriously.

"The university is committed to fully supporting survivors, providing an equitable process for those who are accused, and treating appropriately those who are found responsible for engaging in sexual misconduct or sexual violence," she said.

Raihan had previously made public the allegations she raised with university officials. At a commencement ceremony in May 2017, she was among the protesters who unfurled a banner that read "GW Protects Rapists," according to the GW Hatchet, the school's student newspaper.

"We have stated previously in response to prior concerns Ms. Raihan has raised in the media, the university respectfully disagrees with her characterization of the administrative process and outcome in this situation," Csellar said. "The university will vigorously defend itself in court and will not comment on the specifics of this case."

Zalkin said Raihan has also filed a Title IX complaint with the Education Department. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding.

The lawsuit alleges that in March 2014, Raihan was drinking and playing games with friends in her dorm room. Her roommate asked the group to leave, and the accused student invited Raihan to his room. Raihan began to feel dizzy, and the man suggested she rest on his bed, according to the court documents. The man tried to kiss Raihan, who said she turned away and also tried to push him away, the documents state.

Raihan can remember going in and out of consciousness, the complaint states. Before she blacked out, she remembers the man "engaging in sexual activity with her that she did not consent to."

Raihan said Friday that the university had created an environment in which people like her attacker knew they could get away with an assault, and survivors like her "knew that there wasn't even a point in reporting."

Raihan filed a formal complaint with GWU officials in October 2016, about two years after the alleged attack. A hearing was held in December 2016, and a university panel found that the accused student had engaged in sexual misconduct. The panel recommended that he be suspended, according to the lawsuit.

But the male student was instead given a deferred suspension, which meant he could finish his classes without a delay. A university official had suggested the deferred punishment, which the student affairs dean signed off on.

At Friday's news conference, Raihan, a 22-year-old who lives in Philadelphia, said she wasn't sure what a deferred suspension meant and had to find someone to explain the punishment.

"It was immediately infuriating," Raihan said. "And then obviously really upsetting to know that GW could acknowledge what happened, could find him responsible . . . and they accept what happened to me, but they're just not going to do anything about it."

The lawsuit alleges that university officials didn't immediately tell Raihan about the hearing or sanction. After repeatedly trying to get information about the matter, Raihan eventually learned of the outcome in March 2017, more than 150 days after she filed her complaint.

The lawsuit alleges that the university delayed investigating and deciding on the allegation of sexual misconduct. "GW also consistently fails to communicate with students who file reports of sexual misconduct, including failing to provide timely updates to claimants," the lawsuit says.

Raihan said she tried to speak to university officials about her case but was given false information. She said she believes the school "created an elaborate lie about the adjudication process" to cover up the deferred suspension decision, the lawsuit states. She also claimed the university did not put additional safety measures in place to protect her during the process, although she shared a campus with the man she had accused of assaulting her.

The court documents include the name of the man accused of the assault, but an attempt to contact him by The Washington Post was unsuccessful.

The lawsuit seeks damages, with an amount that would be established at trial, according to the documents. Raihan said she has gone to meetings with university officials, which have included discussions of how the complaint process could be improved, she said. A year has passed since those meetings, she said, and she doesn't see the changes she sought.

"This lawsuit is a way to keep the pressure on them to actually make changes, not just hire people to look at your policies, not just say you're going to make a change," she said. "We're not going to forget about this and move on until they actually make this process better."

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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