Student vs. USD on sexual assault allegations

car-pic-2Another lawsuit, alleging sexual assault, hit the University of San Diego.

In the spring of 2015, a law school student, given the name Jane Doe for privacy reasons, filed a lawsuit and sued USD for allegedly mishandling her sexual assault case. Eventually, Jane Doe dropped her lawsuit. Not long after, another one emerged.

A woman, who is using the alias “Niki” for The USD Vista, is currently suing USD. Niki claimed in her lawsuit that USD mishandled her sexual assault case against another USD student. Niki claims that the USD Public Safety did not notify the San Diego Police Department of the incident in a timely fashion.

Niki said that it happened in Feb. 2014 when she was an undergraduate student. She agreed to speak with The USD Vista.

“It was in my dorm room in [campus housing],” Niki said. “It was [with] my roommates and two or three other guys. […] We just had a few drinks and were playing board games, and he slipped me some drug into one of my drinks. And it escalated from there.”

Niki claimed that she woke up in her bed early the next morning. She said that there was a guy next to her sleeping. Niki said she did not give consent to have sex with him. She said that is when she called her friend.

“[…] I was picked up by a friend, who called Public Safety,” Niki said. “And Public Safety asked me if I wanted to report it to the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), and I said yes. The public safety officer encouraged me not to do so, as it would interfere with USD’s own investigation.”

“Once I connected with Public Safety that morning, they had gone to my dorm room to see if he was still there, which he was,” Niki said. “And they just told him to put his clothes on and leave. Instead of holding him and questioning him, and to find out what really happened, Public Safety just let him go.”

Niki said that it wasn’t until she arrived at the hospital that she got a visit from the San Diego police. The USD Vista has obtained the San Diego Police Department report from that incident.

In the police report the police said they arrived after being notified by USD Public Safety.

“[Niki] was transported to the […] hospital and USD Officer […] followed the medic unit and called SDPD upon arrival,” the SDPD report said.

The report stated that USD Public Safety told the police department that the accused male involved in this incident told USD Public Safety officers that the sex was consensual. The SDPD report also stated that USD Public Safety released the accused male student to his residence off campus.

Niki’s lawsuit also claims that during the alleged rape she was also choked.

“I couldn’t really move at all,” Niki said. “There were a few times where I was struggling—I guess it was when I was regaining consciousness. When I was moving around, he was either holding my arms down or putting his hands on my throat. He would also strangle me during the forced oral sex as well. Pretty much, he was strangling me the whole entire time.”

Niki’s mother also agreed to be interviewed by The USD Vista. The incident rattled Niki so much that her parents came down from Northern California to be with their daughter the same day. Her mother explained that she was frustrated. Niki’s mother said that she believed that, because Niki was 18, she could not get answers from USD staffers in various departments right away.

“You start to feel guilty as a parent—should have done this, should have done that,” Niki’s mother said. “I wish I had physically gone into those offices and looked straight into those people’s eyes. [I was thinking] I should just take care of Niki—one minute she is crying, one minute she is sleeping, one minute she is throwing up. There is no book to go to tell you what you should do.”

The lawsuit stated that Niki stayed on campus for another month. It alleged that the accused male student had begun stalking her on campus. Niki said that she asked USD Public Safety to escort her to and from classes.

“Although USD had promised Public Safety would escort [Niki] to and from classes, they discouraged her from pursuing this option because it would, supposedly, draw ‘unwanted attention,’” the lawsuit said.

USD answered Niki’s complaint.

“In sum, USD met or exceeded all legal obligations it had to [Niki],” USD’s answer said.

The USD Vista also reached out to USD’s public relations department regarding the lawsuit. The Associate Vice President of University Communications, Peter Marlow, was asked to comment regarding allegations of mishandling the sexual assault.

He was asked to comment about the charge that USD Public Safety did not notify SDPD of the incident in a timely manner, and that she was dissuaded from following through on her request on getting a Public Safety escort. Marlow explained that USD does not comment specifically about ongoing lawsuits.

“Consistent with the requirements of federal student privacy law, the university does not share specific information with the media about student situations like this one,” Marlow said. “The university is confident that when all of the evidence comes out through the legal process, it will show that the university acted appropriately in its response to the incident.”

In March of 2014, Niki withdrew from USD to attend college on the East Coast. A year later, she got her own attorney.

It was Niki’s choice to sue, but her mother said she hopes something will come of the lawsuit.

“Peace, I just want that whatever happens to bring closure for Niki, so that she can move on, so she knows that it wasn’t her fault, and that she did not do anything wrong,” Niki’s mother said.

Carla DiMare is Niki’s attorney.

“I believe that USD was unwilling to adequately investigate and adjudicate this violent sexual assault because USD wanted to sweep it under the rug, which keeps their crime statistics low,” DiMare said. “USD should have immediately referred this serious crime to the police and referred it to the police before campus security contaminated the crime scene.”

DiMare is seeking damages.

“My client has paid a high price emotionally and financially because USD unfairly mishandled her claim of drugging, strangulation and rape,” DiMare said. “And then USD did not ensure that she had an equal opportunity to continue her education at USD. My client hopes that USD will change its policies to protect future sexual assault victims.”

Because of privacy laws and ongoing litigation, USD officials cannot comment specifically on this case. They want to ensure that they take all of these claims seriously.

“We are confident that when all of the evidence comes out through the legal process, it will show that the university acted appropriately and in a manner consistent with its protocols and its memorandum of understanding with the San Diego Police Department in its response to the incident,” Marlow said.

The University Communications explained its commitment to ensuring the security of all its students.

“USD is deeply committed to and engaged in efforts that promote the well-being and safety of all of our students,” Marlow said.

“We also are proactive in our efforts to comply with our responsibilities under Title IX. The university has processes in place to address and encourage the reporting of incidents to the San Diego Police Department and to USD officials.”

USD encourages anyone looking for more information about USD’s sexual assault responses should visit the Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) website

Written by Sarah Brewington, Associate Editor