- Police Beat
- The Forecaster
GORHAM — A former University of Southern Maine student claims she was sexually assaulted twice in USM dormitories six years ago.
Although she says she reported both assaults to campus police, she claims the university didn’t investigate as required by law.
The woman, now 25, filed a lawsuit Jan. 15 in U.S. District Court in Portland, seeking unspecified damages and a jury trial. She is represented by Portland attorney Sarah Churchill and names the University of Maine System and two males as defendants.
The woman initially agreed to discuss the case publicly, but later declined to do so without permission from her attorney. Churchill’s office last week said Churchill was out of town and could not be reached.
The Forecaster does not identify sexual assault victims without their consent.
Court documents claim the woman was sexually assaulted in separate incidents on Jan. 19 and Jan. 29, 2012. The lawsuit claims she was drugged by one male before he assaulted her. She claims the second assault was by another male in a dormitory shower.
The lawsuit claims she reported both incidents to campus police, who did not investigate.
James Thelen, chief of staff and general counsel for the UMaine System, on Tuesday said the university had not been served with the lawsuit. He declined to comment on specific allegations until reviewing the complaint.
Thelen said USM President Glenn Cummings, who was not president at the time of the alleged assaults, would not make a statement.
USM has policy in place under federal Title IX, Thelen said, to handle violent incidents that include sexual assault.
“We’re confident we have a robust and caring support system in place for victims of sexual assault and that we are fully compliant with Title IX and other legal standards,” Thelen said.
The Portland Press Herald in an April 2014 story said the Gorham campus reported 15 forcible sex offenses in 2012. According to the latest U.S. Department of Education statistics, forcible sex offenses, including rape, reported on the Gorham campus dropped to four in 2013, four in 2014, and five in 2015.
In a 2016 study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an average of approximately 21 percent of undergraduate women at nine schools participating in a national study reported experiencing sexual assault since entering college.
University police would be the investigating department for criminal matters on campus, according to Gorham Deputy Police Chief Christopher Sanborn. Any reports to the town Police Department involving the campus would be referred back to the university police, he said.
Sanborn said the plaintiff in this case did not file any complaints with town police.
The lawsuit says she sought medical treatment at Maine Medical Center in Portland after each alleged assault.
The court documents name the two alleged assailants, but do not reveal ages, addresses or other specific details about them. Because of that, The Forecaster is withholding their names until more identifying details can be provided.
In the incident on Jan. 19, court documents claim a male USM student gave the plaintiff what she thought was marijuana at a dormitory gathering.
“Plaintiff became extremely loopy and had some hallucinations after ingesting the drug,” the lawsuit says. The plaintiff said she was assaulted after taking the drug.
The following day, the lawsuit says, the male student admitted to her the drug was not marijuana. The lawsuit says the male student was allowed to remain on campus even after the incident was reported to university officials.
The Jan. 29 assault allegedly involved a second male known by the plaintiff, but who was not a USM student.
He arrived for a pre-arranged visit and found her in the shower, the lawsuit states. She told him he was not welcome to join her in the shower, but “over her objections” he began to “have sexual intercourse” with her until she was able get away from him.
The lawsuit claims USM breached its contractual agreement to protect the plaintiff as defined by its Student Code of Conduct, denied her “equal protection and due process,” “acted with an improper motive” because of her gender and/or race, and was “deliberately indifferent” to her.
It says USM’s “conduct … was so pervasive that (she) was forced to endure a hostile education environment that interfered with her ability to learn and feel safe at school.”
“As a result of the conduct of all defendants, plaintiff suffered harm including but not limited to severe emotional distress that has required medical treatment; a withdrawal from University of Southern Maine; and a delay in the completion of her higher education,” the lawsuits says.
Besides monetary damages, the plaintiff is seeking legal fees, costs and interest.