Going off to college can be an exciting experience for young adults. For many, this will be the first time they have lived or attended school away from their families. In concept, university campuses should be safe environments where students can learn and socialize with one another. without having to be concerned about sexual assault. However, in reality, students may be at increased risk of sexual violence in these settings. This alarming fact raises the question—Can universities be held liable for sexual assault? Here is more on the lability of universities for sexual assault:
College Campus Sexual Assault
According to the non-profit anti-sexual violence organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), college-aged students are at increased risk of being sexually abused or assaulted. This risk is higher during the first few months of their first and second semesters in college. Further, more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in either August, September, October, or November.
With the fall semester barely underway, there have already been reports of on-campus sexual assault. According to a recent article, Colorado University is currently investigating a male-to-female sexual assault that allegedly occurred in a student dorm room. Sadly, these and other sexually abusive incidents have become common occurrences at universities across the country.
University Liability for Sexual Assault
When students attend events and classes on college campuses, they should be able to do so without having to face unreasonable risks of harm or injury. Universities owe a duty of care to keep the environment safe for students. If an institution is aware of certain risk factors, it should take steps to mitigate them. For instance, there are some proactive measures colleges can put in place to help secure on-campus settings. These may include taking action such as:
- Installing alarm systems in high-risk areas such as campus bathrooms and bus stops.
- Providing security personnel to patrol campus grounds
- Installing emergency phones throughout campus grounds
- Providing educational and therapeutic resources for students
Reports of Abusive Groups, Students, and Staff Members
When a college or university fails to provide students with safe surroundings and a student is sexually assaulted, there may be a cause of action against the institution. For instance, if a school fails to act after receiving reports that an on-campus organization such as a sports team or fraternity engages in sexually abusive conduct and a student is harmed, the institution may be liable. Likewise, the school may be held responsible if the administration receives reports of a student or staff member’s sexual misconduct. If the institution fails to take action, it may be liable if a student is later injured or a victim of sexual assault.
Known History of Sexual Violence
There can also be circumstances when a university allows a student or staff member with a known history of sexual violence to be with students. In such a circumstance, the institution may be liable for harm committed by the individual.
Failure to Properly Investigate
Universities also have a special duty to properly investigate a sexual misconduct complaint. When a student makes a complaint, the school is responsible for handling the matter appropriately. The failure to do so could result in liability.
New York’s Adult Survivors Act and University Liability
Earlier this year, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed landmark legislation into law. The Adult Survivors Act (ASA) will provide sexual abuse and adult survivors with a window to bring previously time-barred claims against their abusers. In addition, the ASA allows survivors to pursue action against their assailant and any entity that enabled the abuse through what they did or failed to do. These claims may include colleges, universities, fraternities, employers, government entities, hospitals, and other companies that enable an abuser’s actions and other potential defendants.
If you have been sexually assaulted or abused and believe your university was negligent, you should contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.
Contact an Experienced Sexual Abuse Injury Attorney
Sexual abuse survivors often have pain and suffering and other significant emotional damages. Every survivor deserves to have the opportunity to hold their abusers accountable. If you’ve been the victim of rape, sexual abuse, or other sexual violence, you want an experienced and compassionate sexual abuse injury attorney on your side. Bonina & Bonina, PC understand the importance of helping sexual violence survivors get the help they need for their trauma. Contact us online or call us at 1-888-MEDLAW1 to schedule your free consultation. Home and hospital visits are available. Se Habla Español.