Female students say they were encouraged to stay silent after incidents of sexual assault.
Four current and former female students of Brown University in Rhode Island have filed a federal lawsuit claiming that the Ivy League institution failed to protect them from sexual misconduct. They cite multiple Title IX violations.
“Brown University has systematically and repeatedly failed to protect women from rape and other sexual misconduct,” according to the lawsuit, which also indicates that the university promotes a “culture of silence” which prevents the reporting of such cases. One of the women said she was advised against making a formal complaint after being raped at a party because it happened off campus.
Kim Evans, one of the women’s attorneys, said, “It’s hard enough for a survivor of abuse to come forward with their truth, even under the best circumstances. But here we have Brown survivors who are met with apathy and indifference, which makes a really hard situation, even more traumatic.”
The women named are Chloe Burns, a 2019 graduate; Taja Hirata-Epstein, a 2020 graduate; Katiana Soenen, a sophomore; and Carter Woodruff, who enrolled in 2016, went on medical leave and is seeking reinstatement.
One of the plaintiffs said Brown found her alleged assailant responsible but named him a speaker at the school’s commencement ceremony while he was appealing the case. The university ultimately overturned the conviction and sanctioned her after she went public. The male student did not speak at the ceremony.
In a joint statement, the four women wrote of the university’s policies surrounding incidents of misconduct, “The so-called systems of justice and support at Brown, as well as the faculty, staff and administrators who implement them, actively perpetuate and exacerbate the injustices and harm they claim to remedy. Survivors at Brown are silenced, harmed, dismissed and discouraged from seeking justice by the university.”
Evans said the women want a court order requiring Brown to follow federal Title IX requirements, as well as damages. She stated, “Their primary focus here is making changes and getting reforms to protect current and future students.”
The litigation follows student protests that took place a few months ago over Brown’s mishandling of sexual assault cases, which allegedly began as early as 1985 when victims began to “write the names of their perpetrators on the library bathroom walls,” the suit states. The university was originally founded in 1765 and currently has more than 10,000 students enrolled.
“Our clients are taking this necessary step, convinced that, given its previous decades of inaction, Brown will simply continue to act like it’s the 18th century and perpetuate its noncompliant, haphazard and ineffective internal grievance process,” Elizabeth Bailey, another attorney for the women, said.
Cass Cliatt, the university’s senior vice president for communications, said “Brown has made it an institutional priority to create an environment in which no incident of sexual violence is tolerated, and the experiences and perspective of students and others impacted by sexual violence have been instrumental in informing the actions we’ve taken.”
Brown settled a federal lawsuit in September 2020 for $14 million. The suit was filed after the university made the decision to reduce women’s varsity sports teams.