NATIONAL NEWS

Lawsuit alleges sexual assault during Virginia Military Institute overnight open house

Sep 15, 2023, 10:08 AM

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — A prospective student claims in a lawsuit that a Virginia Military Institute cadet sexually assaulted her during a 2021 overnight open house.

The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg on Thursday states that the woman, then a high school student interested in attending the nation’s oldest state-supported military college, was assigned a cadet host with whom she shared a room, The Roanoke Times reported.

The woman identified as Jane Doe in court records attended a two-day open house, described on VMI’s website as the best way for high school students to “experience first-hand what it’s like being a cadet,” with her parents, who have strong ties to the school, according to the lawsuit. The assault allegedly happened early on Sept. 18, 2021, and later that day after leaving campus with her parents, the student “expressed in an extremely distressed manner” that she had been sexually assaulted, the lawsuit stated. The cadet was not identified by name or sex in the pleading.

The following day, Doe’s father reported the incident to VMI Police and the matter was turned over to the school’s Title IX coordinator. In December, Superintendent Cedric Wins told Doe’s parents that their daughter’s claims had been deemed unfounded but didn’t share any other information, according to the lawsuit.

Doe accuses VMI and its board of visitors of violating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination against students, prospective students and employees of public schools.

“The environment in which Jane Doe stayed was dangerous due to VMI’s deliberate indifference of campus safety and Title IX protections,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit accuses VMI of failing to maintain a safe campus as required by federal law and mishandling Doe’s complaint through the Title IX process. It also alleges that the student and her family were not advised of their rights under the law or provided written statements of the investigation’s finding.

The suit asks a federal judge to grant an injunction requiring the school to abide by all Title IX requirements, but it doesn’t ask for a specific amount of damages. Doe chose not to apply to VMI and suffered economic and emotional harm from the school’s “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” handling of her case, the lawsuit alleges.

A VMI spokeswoman declined to comment to the newspaper on the case, citing a policy of not discussing pending litigation. Tommy Strelka, a Roanoke attorney who filed the lawsuit, also declined to comment.

In 2021, a state-sanctioned report found VMI failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes.

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Lawsuit alleges sexual assault during Virginia Military Institute overnight open house