AMES, Iowa — A former Iowa State University student is suing the school for allegedly mishandling the response to her sexual assault by another student in 2014, saying its insensitive approach and bureaucratic errors further traumatized her.
The 21-year-old woman alleges in the lawsuit filed last week that university officials “actively discouraged” her from formally reporting the assault, then took months to investigate and take action against her assailant. In the meantime, the university placed her and her assailant in the same housing complex during the next semester, with their near-daily encounters making the woman uncomfortable and contributing to her decision to drop out, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says the university made several other errors, giving her F grades for classes that a support assistant had withdrawn her from, sending a letter seeking to collect payments that had been forgiven and putting a hold on her transcript, which delayed her ability to transfer. Her attorney said those errors were corrected.
“ISU further victimized (her) as a result of its handling of the sexual assault and its response,” the lawsuit says.
The Associated Press is not identifying the woman under its general policy of not naming victims in sexual assault cases.
Patrick Whetstone, 21, has been charged with third-degree sexual abuse for allegedly assaulting the woman after a drinking party at an on-campus apartment in March 2014. The woman had been sick from drinking and passed out on a couch, waking up to find Whetstone sexually assaulting her, police say.
Whetstone has claimed that the sexual encounter was consensual and has pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled for later this month. He is also appealing the university’s decision to expel him from school. One of his attorneys, Angela Campbell, declined comment.
The woman’s case prompted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights into the university’s handling of sexual assault. That inquiry is still open nearly two years after it began.
The woman’s attorney, Andrew Zbaracki, said Wednesday she has suffered “considerable emotional damage” from the assault and its aftermath.
“The problem is that Iowa State compounded it for her and really didn’t treat her in a way that she could just move on from it,” he said. “There are a lot of things that ISU could have done much better to make this experience not as traumatic as it became.”
Zbaracki said “the biggest issue” for his client was being placed in a university dorm room one building away from Whetstone, who she ran into at a get-together party for the housing complex at the start of the semester and saw routinely at the bus stop. The lawsuit says the university later offered to move her into a community dorm with three other students, a setup that she said was unacceptable and inferior to Whetstone’s accommodations.
The woman eventually withdrew from school “because of the proximity of the assailant and the delay of ISU’s response,” which took about 8 months to result in criminal charges. It seeks unspecified damages for her emotional distress and losses to her earning capacity which resulted from falling behind in her studies.
Iowa State spokesman John McCarroll said the university hasn’t been served with the lawsuit and had no immediate comment.
The university police have said the criminal investigation was delayed because witnesses left campus at the end of the spring 2014 semester, and resumed in the fall when students returned.