Brown students file a federal class action lawsuit claiming the school doesn’t protect women from sexual abuse

The lawsuits allege that Brown “failed and continues to fail” to protect women and is creating a campus culture that “ignores women and even silently allows trauma to be inflicted on them.” The four women, all of whom were identified as victims of sexual misconduct at the university, claim that Brown broke his own promise to investigate all forms of sexual misconduct under Title IX.

The complaint submitted stated that the school had “actively prevented the reporting of incidents of sexual violence” and created an “inexcusable breach of trust with its students”.

Cass Cliatt, a spokeswoman for the university, declined to characterize Brown’s efforts in relation to sexual harassment and assault by the women.

“Brown has taken a strategic and sustainable approach to addressing sexual harassment and gender-based violence on campus, based on transformative recommendations made by the university’s Sexual Assault Task Force in 2015,” she said in an email to the Globe. “Every element of Brown’s approach to preventing and responding to incidents of sexual misconduct is based on the fact that it is a serious problem, not just in colleges and universities in the United States, but also off-campus.”

Cliatt said that “every element” of Brown’s approach to sexual misconduct prevention and response is based on the “reality that this is a serious problem.”

“Brown has made it an institutional priority to create an environment in which incidents of sexual violence will not be tolerated.

The four women who filed the lawsuit are Chloe Burns, a 2019 graduate; Taja Hirata-Epstein, graduate 2020; Katiana Soenen, an aspiring second grader; and Carter Woodruff, who is on medical leave from Brown. They are calling for an injunction to ensure “strict compliance with the provisions of Title IX”.

In a statement sent to the Globe, the four women claimed that Brown survivors “are being silenced, injured, fired and discouraged from seeking justice” by the university.

“Brown’s recent history has been marked by numerous student riots led by survivors and their allies; However, the university has never responded to these requests for justice with anything other than reluctant, minor changes in policy and procedure, “the women said in a statement. “Despite claims to the contrary, the university has failed to alleviate the rampant public health crisis from sexual violence on our campus. Although we four plaintiffs speak out against Brown’s abuse today, we hope our lawsuit will bring justice to the countless survivors who have suffered at the hands of the university. “

In early April, more than 200 students dressed in pink marched to University President Christina Paxson’s home on College Hill, demanding that the administration crack down on sexual violence on campus. The rally was one of several held on campus across the country under the direction of the University Survivors Movement, a student-led coalition committed to ending sexual violence on campus.

The organizers of Ending Sexual Violence at Brown had sent the government an open letter demanding that they “recognize the long history of neglect, apathy and institutional aggravation of the chronic public health and safety crisis that is sexual violence at Brown,” puts an end to it. ”

But the first protest against sexual violence in Brown began in 1985 when survivors wrote the names of their perpetrators on the library bathroom walls.

In 2019, Brown released survey data on campus sexual assault and misconduct that found students reported “increased confidence” in the university and knowledge of resources. Of the 3,100 Brown students surveyed, a quarter of the female students reported having had non-consensual sexual contact during their studies. But more than 48 percent of all students reported having experienced at least one type of abusive or inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature.

The four women are represented by Grant & Eisenhofer and Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky.

Grant & Eisenhofer’s co-advisor Kim Evans, who heads the firm’s civil rights group, told the Globe that Brown had ignored the voices of these four women and others calling for reform.

“We keep Ivy Leagues on a different standard. We expect such institutions to go beyond that. It was shocking to us here that Brown didn’t even do the bare minimum, ”said Evans, who has done similar cases to Sterling et al. Evanstown Township High School District 202 et al. claims relating to sexual assault and improper care of the plaintiff and other students by the school’s security officers.

“That’s what makes this case stand out,” said Evans. “Brown should know better, and they should do more. There is a recurring pattern of errors. “

Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky’s trial attorney Elizabeth Bailey said that based on the firm’s preliminary investigations, she believes there will be many more sexual violence survivors to come forward.

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.

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