Federal Lawsuit Says Wesleyan Failed To Protect Woman From Assault At Fraternity House Called A ‘Rape Factory’
Former Student’s Lawsuit Names University, Fraternity, Property Owner As Defendants
MIDDLETOWN — A former Wesleyan University student who was assaulted two years ago during a Halloween fraternity party filed a federal lawsuit Friday accusing the school of failing to protect her from dangers at the fraternity, which she claims was known on campus as the “Rape Factory.”
The 27-page lawsuit, filed electronically Friday at U.S. District Court in Connecticut by a Maryland woman identified as “Jane Doe,” charges Wesleyan with violating Title IX, the federal gender-equity law, by failing “to supervise, discipline, warn or take other corrective action” against the Mu Epsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, actions that it says could have prevented the assault. The lawsuit says the student was raped.
Jane Doe, after reporting the incident, became a target of those who protested a recommendation by Wesleyan officials that students avoid the fraternity, the lawsuit says. They chanted “Free Beta” outside her dorm and other places she was at on campus, according to the lawsuit.
“Wesleyan did nothing to prevent, and was deliberately indifferent to the harm caused to Jane Doe by the rape and outrageous sexual harassment and intimidation that followed her everywhere on campus,” the lawsuit says.
The school, it says, “acted with deliberate indifference towards the rights of Jane Doe and other female students to a safe and secure education environment thus materially impairing Jane Doe’s ability to pursue her education at Wesleyan in violation of the requirements of Title IX.”
In the lawsuit, Beta Theta Pi is depicted as a troubled place with “a long-documented history of dangerous misconduct, student injuries and numerous sexual assaults of women.” The lawsuit says the chapter lost its recognition from Wesleyan as a student organization in 2005 and instead gained “the reputation in the Wesleyan community as the ‘Rape Factory.’”
The lawsuit says that Wesleyan warned students in an email in March 2010 to stay away from the fraternity, saying that the school “could not ensure students’ safety on the premises.”
Jane Doe, a freshman in the fall of 2010, was unaware of that warning from seven months earlier and went to the frat house’s Halloween party on Oct. 30, 2010, and was raped in a locked room, the lawsuit says.
She charges in the lawsuit that she told the resident assistant in her dorm about the assault the next day, Oct. 31, but that the resident assistant did not call police, campus safety officials or school administrators.
Jane Doe was unable to officially report the assault until Nov. 1, 2010, because the student health services were closed on Oct. 31, 2010, which was a Sunday, the suit said.
“Wesleyan advised that she could go to the hospital, but offered neither transportation or accompaniment,” the lawsuit says. “Wesleyan did not contact its rape counselor … offer any other services or other academic help” to Jane Doe.
According to the lawsuit, following Jane Doe’s reporting of the incident to Wesleyan, school officials again advised in a campuswide email that students stay away from the frat house. In early 2011, the school terminated the fraternity’s status as program housing. Eventually, Jane Doe’s identity became known on campus and those angry about the ban on the fraternity staged protests at the woman’s dorm and at other places on campus, the suit says.
“The protests led to Wesleyan’s revocation of the policy. A reconciliation meeting with student protestors and administrators was held at the Beta House,” the lawsuit states.
The woman — described in the lawsuit as “an exceptional student” in math, science and music “before the rape” — secluded herself and hid in her room, missing classes and meals, the lawsuit says.
She eventually withdrew from Wesleyan and transferred to another school, said Timothy O’Keefe, of Kenny, O’Keefe & Usseglio of Hartford, who represents the woman along with Douglas Fierberg of Bode & Grenier in Washington, D.C.
“These are, obviously, serious allegations of negligence against the college and the fraternity defendants. We intend to prove that they are all legally responsible for the harms that this young woman has suffered,” O’Keefe said in an interview Friday. “The harms and legal damages that this young woman suffered were preventable.”
The man accused of the assault, John O’Neill of Yorktown, N.Y., was not a Wesleyan student and was “a guest of a Beta member” that weekend, according to the lawsuit. He was originally charged with first-degree sexual assault, according to a Courant news report. He is currently serving a 15-month prison sentence at Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers after pleading no contest in June to charges of third-degree assault and first-degree unlawful restraint.