Former student sues DU, saying school was 'deliberately indifferent' to her report of violent rape

Student: DU violated anti-sex descrimination law

DENVER - A former student is suing the University of Denver, saying DU failed to protect her against sexual discrimination by ruling that a male student was "not responsible" for sexual misconduct, despite his admissions that he handcuffed, strangled and bit the woman during what he called "rough consensual sex" last year.

In a federal lawsuit filed against DU Thursday, the 20-year-old woman says the university was "deliberately indifferent" to the "severe and pervasive sexual harassment in the form of a violent rape inflicted" on the student in her freshman year.

The lawsuit says the university's indifference to the attack violated Title IX, a federal gender equity law that prohibits sexual discrimination.

--Government investigates DU for possible Title IX violation--

In May, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights reported that DU was on a list of 55 colleges and universities nationwide under investigation for possible Title IX violations.

On Thursday, DU spokesman Will Jones said the university learned of the lawsuit from 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger. Jones said DU doesn't know if the woman who filed the lawsuit is the same person who filed the complaint that triggered the Office for Civil Right's investigation in May.

Jones said the unidentified person who complained to the Office for Civil Rights is "a member of the community that did not like the outcome of one of our investigations."

--DU takes sexual misconduct complaints 'seriously'--

"Anytime there is an allegation of sexual misconduct, the University of Denver takes it seriously," Jones said. "We investigate it thoroughly. We investigate it fairly because we have to treat both sides fairly."

The lawsuit describes a March 2013 incident that left the young woman battered, bruised and traumatized.

In describing the backdrop to the incident, the lawsuit states: "In the spring of 2013, the University community was dealing with repeated incidents regarding young men placing "date rape drugs" in the drinks of female students at local bars. The school had actual knowledge of these incidents from the Denver Police Department and the high levels of risk of sexual assault associated with them."

On March 15, 2013, the woman and a few girlfriends went to South Philly's Bar and Restaurant, which was hosting a fundraiser near the university. In the lawsuit, the woman recalled "an unknown patron handed her an alcohol drink which she consumed."

--Student handcuffed, strangled, bitten--

"[Her] next memory was waking up in a room she did not recognize with a man she did not know on top of her. The man was raping her on a bed and she was handcuffed with her hands behind her back," the lawsuit states.

She said the man was strangling her, pushing her down and angrily repeating "You're mine" and "I own you."

The woman said she repeatedly pleaded with him to stop.       

"After the assault, [the woman] was able to leave the room and found her way home to her own dorm in the early morning hours where she encountered a friend of hers in the hallway. Her friend asked her what was wrong and she burst into tears and told her friend that she had been raped," according to the lawsuit.

Her roommate immediately called Denver police.

After police arrived, one officer noted the woman was upset, shaking and "highly intoxicated," the lawsuit states. The officer reported deep red marks on the front of the woman's neck and markings on her wrists "consistent with being handcuff."

The woman was taken by ambulance to Denver Health Medical Examiner.

There a nurse also noted "hand print" injuries and bruising on the woman's neck along with "multiple abrasions" to her wrists and her back, bruising on both sides of her chest and abrasions to her right outer ankle, the lawsuit states.

A nurse conducted a sexual assault examination and the medical diagnosis issued at the emergency department was "sexual assault," the lawsuit states.

--Email: 'Sorry about last night'--

Later that day, the woman received an email from an unfamiliar sender with the subject line, "Sorry about last night."

"I just want to apologize," the email sender wrote. "I was a real mess and totally not myself. I still have some of your stuff if you want it."

The woman immediately reported the rape to the University Student Conduct Office.

"At no time thereafter did the University provide meaningful interim or final protection or accommodations to safeguard or assist her," the lawsuit states.

The university's Equal Opportunity Office investigated the complaint and soon identified the male suspect through his "Sorry about last night" email.

Citing evidence, a university investigation report stated that "perhaps most persuasive were the photos of the trauma you sustained…These factors demonstrate a lack of awareness as to what was occurring and thus an inability to provide effective consent," the lawsuit states. "The investigators also noted that [the woman] repeatedly pleaded with her assailant to stop."

The DU report said "there are significant markings around [the woman's] neck, shoulder blades and shoulders." However, the male student "is unable to explain the presence of this level of bruising," DU investigators wrote, according to the lawsuit.

When a DU investigator showed the male student photographs of the woman's injuries, "he admitted to handcuffing, strangling, biting, and pulling [the woman'] hair during what he described a rough consensual sex with this intoxicated woman whom he admitted that he knew from only a brief prior meeting," the lawsuit states.

The male student also told DU investigators he may have said something like, "I own you" to the woman, according to the lawsuit.

--DU investigation: Female student lacked capacity to 'give effective consent'--

Although a university hearing board "determined that is it possible that the [female student]  lacked the capacity to give effective consent in sexual activity, there is insufficient evidence that [male student] had the opportunity to observe her lack of such capacity," according to the lawsuit.

"Despite a finding that it was likely that [the woman] did not have the capacity to give consent, the University investigators remarkably went on to find that the offending student 'reasonably believed' the incident 'to be consensual activity' and ultimately found him 'not responsible' for sexual misconduct," the lawsuit asserts.

"Such a finding directly contradicts not only the University's investigation, but also the University’s own policy on sexual misconduct," the lawsuit states. The university’s policy requires a person to give "effective consent" to have sex with someone. DU's definition of "effective consent" requires that consent be expressed in "mutually understandable words or actions," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit says the devastated woman -- feeling "the University was not at all concerned for the safety of women no campus and that she herself was not safe there" -- finished the end of her freshman year and then left school.

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