NORFOLK Va Jan 7 2017
A woman filed a lawsuit Friday against Old Dominion University, claiming the school’s Police Department responded to her rape report in 2014 by interrogating her for nearly eight hours and preventing her during that time from getting a medical exam that would have preserved evidence.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, echoed a complaint she made last year to federal education officials. It seeks $75,000 in damages, the termination of ODU police Chief Rhonda Harris and several changes in how the department investigates sexual assaults, among other things.
ODU officials declined to comment on the allegations outlined in the lawsuit, issuing a short statement instead.
“While we do not comment on pending litigation, Old Dominion University takes reports of sexual assault seriously,” spokeswoman Giovanna Genard said. “We treat students with compassion, dignity and respect.”
The lawsuit stems from an Oct. 12, 2014, incident in the woman’s on-campus dorm room, located in Virginia House.
The woman, whom the lawsuit identified only as Jane Doe, was an 18-year-old freshman at the time. She said she was raped following an off-campus party at The District, during which she met her alleged attacker, identified as T.W. She said T.W. walked her homeand she told him he could sleep on her couch.
According to the lawsuit, the man took off his clothing and raped her while she slept. The woman eventually woke up, and she said she told him “No” several times. She said she took a picture of her bloody underwear after it was over and called a friend for help. The lawsuit said she then called her mother and sister and a rape crisis center, where she arranged to have a forensic examination at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Later, the woman called 911 to report the sexual assault, the lawsuit said. She was routed to the ODU Police Department. Police picked her up but took her in for questioning instead of to the hospital.
The lawsuit said police questioned her for almost eight hours. In the process, detectives denied her access to food and water and kept her separate from her family and a YWCA victim advocate, the suit said.
At the same time, ODU police questioned T.W. about the incident, the lawsuit said. They provided him a drink and a meal before letting him go home.
The lawsuit said it appeared “ODU was treating a reported rapist better than her, the reported rape victim.”
”Such conduct is outrageous and intolerable in that it offends against the generally accepted standards of decency and morality and no reasonable person should be expected to endure it,” the lawsuit said.
An ODU detective eventually took the woman to a medical facility for a forensic exam. A nurse found evidence of a rape, including swelling, pain, tears and bleeding, according to the lawsuit.
But later in the week, the detective contacted the woman to say the department was not going to pursue charges against the man because of a “lack of probable cause.”
Dozens of schools across the country have faced similar accusations of mishandling sexual assault reports. As of earlier this month, federal education officials had 300 open investigations at more than 200 schools into complaints accusing colleges and universities of mishandling sexual violence cases and violating Title IX.