Thursday, December 1, 2016

NIC settles lawsuit with woman who says school ignored her gang-rape

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 10:45 AM

North Idaho College has settled a lawsuit with a woman who accused the school of disciplining her, and not her alleged attackers, after she reported being gang-raped near campus.

The woman's attorney, Rebecca Rainey, confirmed to the Inlander that North Idaho College settled the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, for $75,000.

The college did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. In a statement, NIC spokesman Tom Greene said NIC settled to "limit the costs and distraction associated with lengthy litigation." It was paid through insurance and does not impact the school's operating budget.

"The settlement agreement expressly acknowledges that NIC denies any liability or wrongdoing regarding [the woman's] allegations in her lawsuit. [The woman] further agreed that the settlement was a compromise of doubtful and disputed claims and that she agrees to release NIC from any claims and to dismiss the current lawsuit."

The woman was a 17-year-old freshman at NIC in November 2013 when she says the assault took place. She was falling in and out of consciousness from intoxication, but says she recalls three men she knew sexually assaulting her. At one point, she says one man raped her, as another stood by "asking for a turn" before he did, too, according to the lawsuit.

She reported the rape to a student resident assistant, who then forwarded the complaint to school officials. The lawsuit accused NIC of "deliberate indifference" to the woman's complaint and of violating federal Title IX standards that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. The lawsuit says officials did nothing to investigate the alleged rapists, ignored the situation entirely, and then tried to convince the woman to move out of the dorms.

The woman, who did not want to be named in this article, says it was "surreal" that the lawsuit was settled.

"I think that [the school] having to come to the table and address it is a huge deal to me, at least because they're finally acknowledging it," she says. "Hopefully that will help them make the right decision next time."

The woman filed a police report to Coeur d'Alene police in February 2014, months after the incident. Police recommended charges against the men, but the Kootenai County Prosecutors Office did not pursue charges and the case was closed.

Meanwhile, the school — instead of investigating the incident — tracked the victim's behavior, according to the lawsuit. A resident assistant at the dorm noted that "all [the victim] wants to do is drink to forget what happened," months after the reported rape. The school then tasked that RA with tracking when the victim would come and go from the dorm, the lawsuit states. The victim was also forced to enter into a behavior contract to address her drinking issues.

Frustrated, the victim wrote graffiti on dorm windows months after the alleged rape. The graffiti expressed "her dissatisfaction with how she was being treated within residence life."
The victim eventually dropped out of school.

"I think what hurt me the most is that they scrutinized me, they punished me, they made me do the behavior contract and monitored me," she says. "It's been a few years now, but in my mind, I've always felt like I'm doing something wrong, I'm not good, that I've done something bad."

As part of the settlement, Alex Harris, student development Title IX officer, wrote a letter to the woman saying she could return to school if she desired, Rainey says. But the victim says she isn't sure if she wants to return to school.

The victim says the whole process led to issues with binge drinking, and an eating disorder. But she says she feels "content" after the lawsuit.

"It gives me a sense of closure," she says.

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione, born and raised in Spokane, is an Inlander staff writer covering education and social services in the Inland Northwest.