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Sexual Abuse in School, Colleges and Universities

Dozens of high-profile cases of sexual misconduct on college and university campuses have raised critical questions about the liability of an institution for the actions of those it supervises. Sexual abuse and assault in schools and universities can be perpetrated by a number of individuals including teachers, professors, medical professionals, administrators, coaches and other students. Schools and universities are entrusted with the care of children and young adults and owe a duty to provide a safe and secure environment for their students. An educational institution’s failure to ensure student safety may come as a result of negligent hiring or supervision, or the failure to take action upon learning or becoming aware of sexual misconduct.

Attention: New York and New Jersey Law Provides Additional Time for Sexual Abuse Survivors to Bring Action

Sexual Misconduct by Teachers, Administrators and Students

Universities and colleges across the country are facing litigation by former students for negligently supervising their staff and employees and willfully ignoring multiple complaints of sexual assault. Dartmouth College is being sued by seven women who claim that three professors committed assault and rape for over a decade. Dozens of victims have filed a lawsuit against Ohio State University after former physician and professor, Richard Strauss, sexually abused at least 177 male students amid widespread awareness among the University’s athletic staff about the doctor’s conduct. Approximately 650 former USC students have brought actions against the University for its role in the sexual abuse of hundreds of female students by the university’s full-time staff gynecologist over a thirty-year period. In that case too, students repeatedly filed complaints about the doctor’s behavior. Moreover, universities and colleges are not only liable for the actions of their faculty and staff, protecting students from sexual assault by other students is also within the scope of their legal duties. Statistics show that student-on-student sexual assault is a significant issue. Between 20% and 25% of women experience an attempted or completed rape during their college years.

Liability of Educational Institutions Under Title IX

Title IX, which is a federal law designed to ban discrimination on the basis of sex, also prohibits sexual assault, sexual harassment, and rape on college campuses. Title IX applies whether the abuse was committed by faculty, staff or another student. Any university that receives federal funds may be held liable when it is determined that the institution had knowledge of, and ignored, incidents of sexual assault in its programs and activities. Liability under Title IX may be found where the college or university exerted authority over the wrongdoer and the environment where the conduct occurred.

Standard of Liability for Sexual Assault

In one of the most high-profile cases of negligent supervision, hundreds of private lawsuits have been initiated by women who were sexually assaulted by Michigan State University (MSU) physician, Larry Nassar. The extent of MSU’s legal liability for sexual assaults is far-reaching; MSU is accused of dismissing repeated and consistent reports of abuse and going to great extents to protect Dr. Nassar. While MSU may have been on prior notice that Dr. Nassar was dangerous, a university may still be liable even without such knowledge of abusive behavior if they failed to respond effectively and immediately upon learning of the misconduct. Any failure by a university to take appropriate and reasonable care of its student body, for whom it is obligated to provide a safe and healthy environment, may be the basis of a lawsuit against the university whether the conduct is perpetrated by faculty, staff, administration, or a fellow student.

Levy Konigsberg LLP is a nationally recognized law firm that has handled all types of negligence cases for more than three decades. If you or a member of your family has been the victim of sexual misconduct at a school, college, or university, please contact our lawyers for a free consultation by calling (800) 315-3806 or submit an email inquiry.

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