What We Can Learn from the EMU Title IX Lawsuit

Eleven women have come forward with a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University for neglecting to address sexual assault on campus. Let's take a closer look.

The Lawsuit

All eleven victims claim that their attempts to report sexual assault were covered up or ignored by the administration, EMU Police Department, and the local and national chapters of the Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

The lawsuit claims law enforcement is investigating more than 30 rapes at EMU from 2015-2020. At least four former students were arrested as a part of the investigation, but the victims say these efforts are overdue.

Former Title IX coordinator Melody Werner allegedly told a student that her assault was not worth reporting. EMU Police Chief Bob Heighes may have known about the assaults but ignored it in favor of a family member who was in a fraternity. Additionally, the university froze one student's transcript for "pending litigation" until 2099 in retaliation for reporting the crime.

The lawsuit accuses EMU of Title IX and civil rights violations, gross negligence, failure to train and supervise, sex discrimination, and other charges.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault on campus is rampant, and too often, victims are blamed or ignored. Regardless of personal prejudices, there are federal and state laws that protect victims of sexual assault.

The state of Michigan recognizes the following forms of sexual violence:

  • Rape
  • Sexual abuse
  • Sexual battery or assault
  • Sexual coercion
  • Aggravated sexual assault

Under Title IX, a federal law protecting students from sexual assault, sex discrimination, and violence, is banned at universities that receive federal funding. The fact that a Title IX representative refused to accept a report of violence on campus points to gross negligence and a culture that does not support students in crisis.

Why are Sexual Assault Cases so Complicated?

Sexual assault cases have a long, complicated history. For starters, law enforcement has only recently begun to take allegations of abuse more seriously. Because of the antipathy toward victims, many people are afraid to report crimes against them.

Universities, in particular, pose a problem for victims because many feel pressure to stay silent to avoid retaliation that might jeopardize their education. The EMU lawsuit is a prime example of the general sentiment many schools have toward sexual assault victims, and it's no wonder why students feel like they can't report a crime on campus.

What Can We Learn from this Case?

The EMU lawsuit is not the first, and it certainly won't be the last campus sexual assault suit. The bottom line for many victims of assault is that they feel like there is no one to help them. State laws and Title IX can only go so far in protecting victims from abuse, and those protections only go as far as the administration is willing to enforce.

Until colleges and universities root out the culture of victim-blaming and stop ignoring claims, students will continue to turn to outside sources for guidance and protection.

If you believe you have a case, don't hesitate to contact White Law PLLC.