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Campus Sexual Assault: Greek Life

By April 30, 2019Blog
sexual assault greek life

Over the years, new laws have expanded the rights of sexually assaulted college students and the scope of the Title IX anti-discrimination law has broadened to include a hard stance on sexual assault, adding unavoidable liability for colleges and the organizations they permit on campus.

In this article, you’ll learn how prevalent sexual assault is among Greek life on college campuses, who can be held liable for sexual assault, and the deadlines for pressing criminal charges and/or filing a civil lawsuit in California.   

Statistics Surrounding Sexual Assault Within Greek Life

When it comes to sexual assault on college campuses, Greek life has a leading role.

A longitudinal study published in 2018 by Rutgers University Psychologist Rita Seabrook and colleagues found that “Spending time with peers who are accepting of sexual violence leads men to be accepting of sexual violence themselves.” They concluded that individuals who were interested in fraternities “scored higher on proclivity to perpetrate sexual aggression and some rape myths than non-interested nonmembers,” and the socialization process within fraternities “reinforces feelings of male dominance and control.”

With the amount of data surrounding Greek life sexual assaults, one can only imagine who can be held liable.

Who Is Liable for Sexual Assault Within Frats and Sororities?

Of course, the person who commits the sexual assault is responsible for their own actions—that is the approach the criminal justice system takes. In criminal court, the innocence or guilt of the accused is determined and they are exonerated or punished accordingly. However, the civil courts allow for the expansion of liability to any third party that possesses a standard “duty of care” to the victim.

Potentially liable parties in an incident of Greek life sexual assault may include:

The School: Universities can no longer escape liability. Broader interpretations of Title IX—the 1972 federal law banning sex discrimination in higher education—have made it harder for colleges to take a passive role in rape prevention. Schools that are aware of sexual discrimination have a duty to respond to it.

In one case, four women filed lawsuits against a New Jersey university, claiming that school officials allowed an unsanctioned fraternity known for underage drinking and sexual misconduct access to recruit victims at events on campus. According to the lawsuit, the school had been well aware of the fraternity’s criminal activity for at least eight years, but did nothing to limit sexual predator access to the student body and uphold their duty to maintain “a safe environment, free from sexual discrimination.”

The Greek Organization (local and national chapters) and the Interfraternity Council: Greek organizations have a legal responsibility to enforce their own conduct guidelines and take steps to ensure a safe environment.

A Jane Doe is suing UCLA’s Greek chapters and the council that governs them after she was sexually assaulted at a party. She says the attacker had already sexually assaulted another one of her sorority sisters in 2015, prior to the August 2016 attack—an accusation the university verified. The individual was expelled in 2017, lost his subsequent appeal to return to campus, and was sued in civil court for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Greek organizations Zeta Beta Tau and Sigma Alpha Epsilon, as well as the UCLA Interfraternity Council were also charged with “negligence” in the lawsuit. The complaint alleged the fraternity “had no mechanism of supervision or security to prevent a fraternity member from bringing an obviously [intoxicated] girl upstairs and raping her.” The organization should have known that the perpetrator was a serial offender, should have known students were illegally drinking at parties, and should have taken steps to prevent it. Jane Doe also contended that she reported the rape to the ZBT president and a board member—a lawyer who dissuaded her from filing a Title IX complaint.

In response, the Interfraternity Council approved a six-week ban on alcohol at fraternity house events while it devised a new risk-management policy. New rules require a licensed third-party security guard to check IDs at the door and give out wristbands for students who can legally consume alcohol. Fraternity members are barred from bringing guests into private rooms unless space has been reserved in advance. Two sober fraternity members must patrol each party to monitor for drunkenness and ensure safety.     

The Benefits of Suing a Third Party for Sexual Assault

There are many advantages to holding third parties accountable for sexual assault, including:

  • encouraged policy changes that make colleges safer
  • compensation for damages available from well-funded schools and Greek organizations
  • the message sent to schools, frats, sororities and other campus organizations that discrimination is not tolerated

If you wish to send a strong message and pursue justice to the fullest extent of the law, you should contact a civil attorney who specializes in sexual assault cases.

How Long Do You Have to File a Civil Lawsuit or Press Criminal Charges?

Generally speaking, you must file your civil lawsuit within three years of the date you realized the harm you suffered was caused by the sexual assault. Many sexual assault victims do not trace their suffering back to sexual assault for many years due to denial, guilt, shame, or poor recollection.

Emotional harm may not manifest until a major life event triggers anxiety, depression, PTSD, or other side effects much later in life. Some assessments have found that the cost of sexual assault can reach $283,000 over the course of a lifetime. Naturally, you want to ensure you can get the best possible care, should you continue to struggle with the aftereffects down the road.

You may choose to report your crime to the authorities, but ultimately the decision whether to press criminal charges or not will be up to the state district attorney. If there is enough evidence, the perpetrator could end up with a prison sentence, fine payable to the state, probation time, and inclusion on the California sex offender registry.

As of January 1, 2017, the State of California has abolished the criminal statute of limitations for prosecuting rape and other forms of sexual assault with SB 813. Crimes occurring before that date are subject to the old deadlines—within six years of the offense or until age 40 (for minors).

Regardless if you choose to file a civil claim, press criminal charges, or both, an experienced attorney can overcome the obstacles of time to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

Contact Sexual Assault Attorneys in San Francisco for Help

If you or someone you know has been a victim of Greek life sexual assault, attorneys in San Francisco can help. The attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn specialize in litigating sexual assault cases and can help survivors connect with medical service providers and counselors, in addition to providing legal representation. We file all the court paperwork, conduct a thorough investigation, devise a winning legal strategy, procure expert witnesses, protect you from witness badgering, represent you in court, and make sure you are justly compensated.

The California attorneys at Lewis & Llewellyn have the experience, grit, and compassion to help you obtain justice and maximum compensation. Contact our team online for support and guidance to see you through this emotional time, or call +1 (415) 800-0590 to schedule an appointment with an advocate today.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this blog is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this blog or on this website should be construed as legal advice from Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. Neither your receipt of information from this website, nor your use of this website to contact Lewis & Llewellyn LLP creates an attorney-client relationship between you and the firm or any of its lawyers. No reader of this website should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this website without seeking the appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction.