Sexual Assault–Crime on College Campuses

Being the victim of a rape, sexual assault or other violent crime can lead to a lifetime of incredible trauma. As to the former, the shocking reality is that according to a 2014 Whitehouse report, 1 in 5 women are being sexually assaulted on college campuses during their time in school.

Our team has handled some of the toughest cases, including those that have made national headlines. Mr. Plotnick understands the dynamics of these cases and the consequences sexual assault can have on the victims’ lives, and he has the experience and expertise to get you the justice you deserve.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault or other violent crime on campus, and you need to help concerning your legal rights, call (301) 605-9469 to schedule a case evaluation in the Maryland, District or Virginia regions.

Injuries:  Typical injuries and by-products of sexual assault or violent crime include post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, panic      disorder(s), depression, fear, anger, and eating disorders for many female victims.  The problem of sexual assault on campus has become so widespread that the President announced a White House Task Force aimed at combatting  this epidemic. As part of its effort, the White House established the “Not Alone” website in order to provide a centralized resource containing information for victims, including material on crisis and counseling services, guidance about reporting attacks, prevention and avoidance, and other critical information about how to cope with the devastation that is part of these crimes.  Additionally in 2014, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill concluded a report surveying over 350 colleges and universities.  The results found that the majority of colleges receive “F’s” when it comes to  protecting our children  from sexual assault on campus and living up to their obligations under the law.

The Shocking Numbers:  As noted, statistics show that 1 in 5 female college students is sexually assaulted during their time at school.  The majority of the attacks occur during freshman and sophomore years as they are adapting to a new environment and trying to find their way. Experts and law enforcement call the first three months of the fall semester, “The Red Zone,”  as this is the time period when female students are most likely to be attacked.

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Alcohol:   In most instances, alcohol is the tool of choice used by rapists and those seeking to do harm.  First, it is easily accessible, and consumption is  masked as being in the spirit of having fun and a good time.  However, also to key, is that it lowers the victim’s defenses, and is also easily spiked or drugged.  This renders the potential victim incapable of defending her or himself from attack. Numerous studies have found that incidents of sexual assault or rape correlate directly with alcohol consumption on the part of the attacker and/or the victim.  It is involved in over 75% of campus attacks, and thus that fraternity party flowing with alcohol can be fraught with danger.  In fact, in an ongoing case at a University of Wisconsin fraternity, members are alleged to have placed different colored wrist bands on female party-goers as they arrived.  Investigators discovered that the colors of the bands were used as a marking system to identify targets for drink spiking, and then sexual attack.

Under-reporting by Victims of Sexual Assault: According to the National Institute of Justice, only 13% of victims of forcible rape report the crime to local police or campus security.  This  generally occurs for several reasons.  First, victims are afraid to accuse their fellow students, i.e. the big man campus or the popular fraternity for fear of becoming an outcast or criticized by their peers;  second, they are afraid to worry their parents and loved ones; and third, in various cases the victim thinks it was their fault in some way because they had a drink before the attack or flirted with her attacker not knowing what was to come. This feeling of “shame” is a common deterrent to reporting.

Finally, the evidence is clear that college administrations are not welcoming to charges that they did are not doing their job in protecting their students, and in many situations are hostile to or turn a deaf ear to a student or parent alleging that there is a crime problem on campus.  They also cover-up or distort the number of crimes.  An article posted by a leading Ohio newspaper states the issue in a nutshell:

The crime statistics being released by colleges nationwide on Wednesday are so misleading that they give students and parents a false sense of security.

Even the U.S. Department of Education official who oversees compliance with a federal law requiring that the statistics be posted on Oct. 1 each year admits that they are inaccurate. Jim Moore said that a vast majority of schools comply with the law but some purposely underreport crimes to protect their images….

What to Do:  Both the McCaskill and White House Report, as well as a number of individual State task-forces dealing with the issue, including Virginia’s own, agree that it is time to hold schools accountable for creating campus environments where drinking, crime, and in turn, sexual assault, are out of control.   Under the law these schools may be held liable in numerous ways to the victims of sexual assault. If a school fails to protect its students or is negligent in providing security it may be subject to a lawsuit by the victim for its role in setting in a motion the chain of events leading to the attack. Most critically, if a school provides a climate that enhances the chance that sexual assault or crime will occur, there may be legal consequences for it:

  • Allowing unchecked consumption of alcohol;
  • Failing to have or enforce alcohol policies or laws;
  • Failing to police or monitor on-campus drinking or parties
  • Failing to have an adequate quantity or quality of police;
  • Failing to prosecute or expel students with past disciplinary issues who present a danger;
  • Failing to accurately report or keep crime statistics in compliance with federal law; and;
  • Failing to keep students, parents and the campus community informed of the true severity of the crime problem on campus.

The above are all factors our firm and the courts consider in deciding to hold the school accountable to the victim of sexual assault and crime  on campus.

How Do I insure that my Child is Attending a Safe School and the Clery Act Sadly, their is no guarantee due to the reporting problems discussed above that a parent will know the true extent of the crime problem.  The problem of sexual assault on campus has been known about and swept under the rug for decades.  In 1986, a federal law known as the Clery Act was passed in response to the rape and murder of a female college freshman, Jeanne Clery, by another student on campus.  In response to her tragic death, Jeanne’s parents convinced Congress to pass the law requiring colleges to publish and make available statistics concerning various crimes with the Department of Education. These records are available to the public, but as the recent investigations have found (see above), colleges do not always accurately report for fear that the true numbers will scare away potential applicants.  So, when you visit schools with your kids, do not be afraid to ask the tough questions about safety on campus, drinking, and the school’s track record. Your child’s safety may depend on it.

Do Not Make Yourself a Target:  If you are going to have a drink at that fraternity or campus party, do not leave your drink out of your sight at any time, and do not drink to excess.  Use a buddy-system with friends in order to keep an eye on each other.  Always, trust your gut instinct. If something does not seem right, leave or report.  Do not allow peer pressure to make you drink or do something you would not ordinarily do. Do not wander into a areas of the campus alone or with somebody you do not know.

Do Not Remain Silent; Report:  If you are the victim of an attack or other crime on campus, do not rely on the campus police or administration to do its job. Certainly, report to the event to them, but go to the local county or city police as well.  Get medical assistance, if needed, right away.

 The Law Offices of Stuart L. Plotnick Will Fight for You:  In recent years we have handled several of these cases seeking compensation for students and other victims of sexual assault or rape, when their college failed to protect them.  We send our children off to school, and the school promises that they are in good hands and will be safe.  Colleges have a duty to protect their students from the horrors of crime, and you and your child have the right to justice when they do not. If you or a loved one has been the victim of sexual assault or crime on campus, please contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Stuart Plotnick, LLC at (301) 605-9469 today. This is not a battle to fight alone.  We are here to help.