Blog : Sexual Violence

School Violence Law Represents Georgia High School Student Suspended After Reporting Her Sexual Assault

Title IX Complaint filed due to school district’s gross mishandling of sexual assault on a freshman student.gwinnett county public schools, slate, sexual assault, high school sexual assault

The assault our client endured, and the school administration’s reaction thereafter, is chronicled by Slate contributor Nora Caplan-Bricker, in a piece entitled, My School Punished Me.”

In the gripping article (below) Caplan-Bricker discusses the complaint itself while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the larger issue of sexual assault and Title IX mismanagement occurring all too frequently in K-12 schools across the nation.

Peachtree Ridge High School is a low-slung concrete building in Suwanee, Georgia, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta. School had just gotten out on Feb. 4, 2015, and a 16-year-old sophomore was waiting just inside the main entrance for her mother to pick her up, she says, when a male classmate approached and said he wanted to show her some video equipment. She says that she followed him into the school’s newsroom, just down the hall, where he allegedly coerced her into performing oral sex.

The next morning, the female student did something unusual for a sexual assault victim: She went straight to her first-period teacher and, in tears, reported the incident. (Since both parties are minors whose names have never appeared in the press, Slate is protecting their privacy and will refer to the alleged victim by her initials, T.M.) What followed was at least as disturbing as the event she detailed, according to a legal complaint that T.M.’s family submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Peachtree Ridge resource officer who first questioned T.M. set the tenor of the school’s investigation when he asked her to describe what she was wearing at the time of the assault, according to the complaint, which the family’s lawyers provided to Slate. The complaint says the officer also requested that she explain why she didn’t fight off her assailant: “Why didn’t you bite his penis and squeeze his balls?” he allegedly asked. (The resource officer did not respond to a request for comment, nor did other school administrators named in the complaint, or the two teachers to whom T.M. originally reported the incident.)

The complaint states that within days, T.M. and her parents were informed that she would be suspended, as would the boy, until the school could conduct a joint disciplinary hearing. There, she and the alleged perpetrator, or their legal representatives, would cross-examine each other. If T.M. couldn’t prove that what she’d experienced was assault, she would be disciplined along with the boy for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds, a violation of Peachtree’s rules.

“We begged and pleaded with the superintendent to hold the hearing for each one separately, so that it would be less traumatizing,” T.M.’s father told me. “We even considered not having her attend at all.” But not showing up would have resulted in an automatic finding of guilt. They weighed “the moral thing of what’s right—is it right to let that boy get away with it? Is it right to not try to hold the school accountable?” T.M.’s father says. “In the end, we decided, and [T.M.] decided, that she wanted to try to stand up for herself. Of course, that did no good whatsoever.”

“I really wish my school would have helped me instead of looking out for itself,” T.M. wrote to me in a statement. “The school took advantage of me, and that wasn’t fair. … The school should have pulled my attacker out of school and put him somewhere else, far away from me.”

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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Ooltewah High School Rape Victim

School Violence Law filed suit on behalf of the Ooltewah High School Rape Victim who was sodomized with a pool-cue by teammates.

The lawsuit, as reported by the Times Free Press, was filed in Federal court today, stating that district administrators and school employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, “and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete’s harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates.”

Our client’s (referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit) Title IX rights were violated, as the defendants knew violence and gender-based hazing was taking place and “created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to John.

The Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school’s former Athletic Director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley and former boy’s head basketball coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, were “reckless, grossly negligent and deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of the [victim].”

Attorneys for the victim, Douglas Fierberg and Monica Beck , along with co-counsel Eddie Schmidt, argue the Ooltewah High School Board failed to “exercise reasonable care to supervise and protect our client, and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Mongtomery’s negligent actions provided legal grounds to remove the board’s immunity.”

“Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence,” Monica Beck said in a written statement to the Times Free Press. “This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials.”

Fierberg Comments on DA’s Decision to Drop Two High-Profile Campus Rape Cases

Fulton County District Attorney will not bring charges against the assailants involved in campus rape cases at Morehouse College and Georgia Tech.

The three Morehouse basketball players accused of sexually assaulting a Spelman College student in March 2013 were arrested in April 2013 on various assault and rape charges, released on bond, and suspended from Morehouse while Howard’s office investigated. In the second case, Caleb Ackerman, the Georgia Tech student accused of raping an Agnes Scott College Student at his fraternity house in January 2014, was expelled from the university.

campus rape case, campus rape, campus rape cases, doug fierberg, douglas fierberg, the fierberg national law group, school violence law, campus rape attorney, campus rape lawyer
Howard (pictured above) will not bring charges in two high-profile campus rape cases. Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Tech case garnered national attention, in part, because Ackerman’s fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, drew public scrutiny after an email surfaced from one member instructing others how to lure “rapebait” by plying female guests with alcohol.

When the first victim came forward with her allegations of rape after drinking alcohol provided by Phi Kappa Tau members at their fraternity house, another Agnes Scott student followed suit, telling Georgia Tech police Ackerman had raped her in 2012 at an event held at the fraternity house. While the second women did not wish to pursue criminal charges against Ackerman, both women sued the fraternity, saying it “promoted a rampant culture of rape and misogyny.”

Attorney Douglas Fierberg, represented both women in the civil case against the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity that settled about a year ago for an undisclosed sum. Fierberg says Howard’s delay was unwarranted.

“We were able to bring a (civil) case forward, prove what needed to be proven and reach a resolution long before the state decided to move or not,” Fierberg said.

The long delay of Paul Howard’s decision – over two years – prompted complaints that both the accused and the victims were left in limbo.

“No prosecution makes no sense,” said Fierberg.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Cari Simon in Washington Post – “Biden and Obama Rewrite the Rulebook on College Sexual Assaults.”

Cari Simon’s representation of campus rape survivors featured in Washington Post article concerning the college sexual assault crisis in America.

In the wake of the Stanford University rape case, the focus on campus sexual misconduct has intensified.

Vice President Biden penned a gripping letter to the victim – “I am filled with furious anger, both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken.” The letter seemed to encapsulate the national outrage that erupted when the woman’s attacker was sentenced to just six months in county jail and simultaneously cast light on the rigorous effort of this administration to transform the way colleges and universities responded to allegations of sexual misconduct.

“The administration’s approach — through federal enforcement of civil rights protections and a campus-based advocacy campaign — was spurred in part by an emboldened group of survivors who have gone public with their complaints about their schools’ unresponsiveness. But it also reflects the activism of Biden and President Obama, who became alarmed at the idea of rape as a fixture of college life.” – The Washington Post

In 2001, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance that sexual harassment constituted a threat to students’ ability to pursue educational opportunities.

School Violence Law attorney Cari Simon, of The Fierberg National Law Group has represented dozens of campus-assault survivors. She tells The Washington Post, aspects of the guidance, like accommodations to shield victims from subsequent harassment and trauma, are critical to avoid them going into “a downward-spiral path”.

Cari recently garnered national attention with her representation of two Kansas State University sexual assault survivors, Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer. Weckhorst and Farmer were raped at university sanctioned fraternity houses, but due to Kansas State’s refusal to investigate sexual assaults occurring off-campus, must continue to share campus with their assailants. With the help of Cari Simon, the two women are suing Kansas State University, and on Friday, the Justice Department filed two separate amicus briefs on the students’ side, arguing their Title IX suits should go forward.

Schools are legally obligated to ensure sexual violence does not undermine students’ educations, and although the federal disciplinary guidance remains controversial, the campaign for bystander intervention that the White House launched in 2014, It’s On Us, has won widespread support by encouraging victims and bystanders alike to demand more accountability from schools.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Fraternity Hazing and Sexual Assault BBC Documentary Features The Fierberg National Law Group

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities, aired last week to audiences across Europe, garnering rave reviews.

The hour long BBC expose dives deeper into U.S. Fraternity life, narrowly debunking and greatly personifying fraternity stereotypes that exist within the minds of Europeans, and let’s be honest, (non-Greek) Americans alike.

In the midst of toga parties and binge drinking, Douglas Fierberg and Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law cast a sobering light onto the common practices of hazing and sexual assault that run rampant within fraternity culture.  While our client, Terrance Bennett, bravely chronicles his experience as a Tau Kappa Epsilon (“TKE”) pledge, recalling in horrifying detail the hazing practices that led him to be hospitalized for weeks and nearly cost him his life.

“The film highlighted two disturbing statistics: that frat member students were three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members, and that violent initiations, known as “hazing”, have been responsible for a staggering 22 deaths in just eight years. More sinister still is that American universities have been complicit in keeping such occurrences out of the courts, and out of the news, because they receive 75 per cent of donations from fraternity members.”The Telegraph

The family of Harrison Kowiak, a 19 year old co-ed who died trying to join a fraternity, also shares their son’s story in the documentary. A football accident, his family was told, initially, took Harrison’s life.  Though, after commissioning their own investigation, Harrison’s family discovered he’d been killed during a hazing ritual in which pledge’s are taken to a desolate field in the black of night and told to capture a sacred rock while being tackled from all sides by fraternity brothers dressed in dark clothing.

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities will air in the United States Fall 2016.

Click here to read more about the BBC documentary as told by the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian.

Cari Simon Discusses Sexual Assault Crisis at Baylor University with Dallas Morning News

After an investigation found that Baylor University miserably failed students who say they were raped, the school continues to hold back critical information.

Baylor University says it is ready to do right by the women who have been sexually assaulted, but has taken steps that appear designed to protect it from further scrutiny – campus police continue to withhold written reports of sexual assaults from the news-media and the number of botched sexual-assault cases remains unclear.baylor university, sexual assault

In an interview with The Dallas Morning News last week, Cari Simon, attorney with The Fierberg National Law Group, states that given Baylor’s reluctance to provide information to the public, it’s likely that “handing it to opposing counsel will not be a top priority.”

Additionally, Baylor has decided to opt out of acquiring the written report produced by the law firm hired by the university to investigate its failings. Chairman of the board of regents, Ronald Murff, one of several board members given oral presentations on the inquiry, tells The Dallas Morning News, “[we] did not take notes,stating a written record was not necessary as, “It’s going to be difficult to ever forget some of what we heard.”

“The sexual-assault crisis at the Waco University exploded two weeks ago, when the board of regents dismissed Ken Starr from the presidency and ousted Art Briles, the former head football coach. An eight-month investigation by the law firm Pepper Hamilton found that the school was “wholly inadequate” in its enforcement of Title IX.” “As Baylor’s regents dismissed Starr and Briles, they also released a 13-page written summary of Pepper Hamilton’s findings. The football team was deemed a danger to the school because athletic officials hid assault complaints from the university administration and players who were given second chances went on to hurt more women. School officials discouraged women from pursuing claims under Title IX, even retaliating against one who did.” -The Dallas Morning News

Two football players have been convicted of rape, including one who had been cleared by the school’s own inquiry. A third football player has been arrested. However, a detailed report from the school has yet to materialize.

Click here to read the entire article.

Senate Unanimously Passed Bill Extending Rights to Sexual Assault Survivors

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act shapes a federal model for sexual assault survivors’ basic rights.

Passed as a part of the Adam Walsh Reauthorization Act, a bill extending funding for programs registering sex offenders, the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act was introduced in February by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) after she met with a 24 year old sexual assault survivor, Amanda Nguyen, who was forced to return to the state of her assault every six months to prevent her rape-kit from being destroyed.

Survivors often face complex policies state-by-state that fail to inform them of their rights to access the results of their rape-kits. The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act outlines that a survivor has the right to not be charged for a forensic exam, the right to be notified 60 days prior to the destruction of a rape-kit and the right to have a rape-kit persevered throughout a state’s entire statue of limitations.

The bill will provide a financial incentive to states that provide clear information to survivors regarding its policies on the preservation of rape-kits. A work group created by the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services will also be established to follow up with efforts to continue examining the criminal justice system for survivors.

On the Senate floor on May 23rd, Senator Shaheen turned her address towards survivors, “You do have rights. We do care about you. And if you choose to come forward, we will be there for you. And we are going to ensure a justice system that treats you with dignity and fairness.”

The Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act is the first federal law to outline what basic services victims of sexual violence are entitled to – urge Congress to support the bill by signing the change.org petition here.

Title IX Lawyer Advocates for Campus Rape Victims at White House

Cari Simon, Title IX lawyer with School Violence Law and The Fierberg National Law Group among an elite group of women selected to attend the White House Summit on the United State of Women!

title ix attorney, title ix lawyer, sexual assault, sexual violence, rape, cari simon, the united state of womenConvened by the White House, the United State of Women Summit looks to rally women from all walks of life together to celebrate the progress/achievements made on behalf of women and girls and to discuss/set forth plans of action moving forward.

Set to take place the week of June 13th in Washington D.C., the Summit will feature speakers who will both educate and inspire attendees, while also focusing on the following topics:

Economic Empowerment: Discussing equal pay and paid leave, as well as childcare and diversity.
Health and Wellness: Looking at health coverage, preventative care, pregnancy and more.
Educational Opportunity: Covering education for girls and women, from early childhood to college.
Violence Against Women: How we can prevent it on campus and at home, in the US and abroad.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Supporting female entrepreneurs with access to capital and increasing markets.
Leadership and Civic Engagement: Furthering women’s roles in corporations, academia, the media and the public sector.

The United State of Women will be an important moment for both women and girls, domestically and internationally. Congratulations Cari!!

#StateofWomen

Title IX Attorney On Good Morning America To Discuss K-State Lawsuits

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, alongside their Title IX attorney, Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group, break their silence about K-State lawsuits in an interview with ABC News.

As School Violence Law touched on last week, attorney Cari Simon brought suit against Kansas State University on behalf of two women, claiming the school ignored their reports of being sexually assaulted.

The women filed separate federal suits against Kansas State University after university officials refused to investigate their reports of rape by fellow students because the incidents had occurred at off-campus fraternity houses.

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer told ABC’s Good Morning America in an interview Monday morning that they went public with their names because they feel they’ve done nothing wrong.

“If this is what we have to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to a single, one more person, if this is what it takes — then that is what we have to do. It was terrifying, I am always fearful they will come back. Fear is the main thing…. The only thing I hope to gain from this is that nobody has to have the same experience as us.” Weckhorst said of the assaults. “I felt worthless and I didn’t know how to do relieve that pain, there was no closure for it,” adds Farmer.

Both women reported the sexual assaults to police and went to hospitals where rape kits were taken. Farmer and Weckhorst also reported their assaults to two different faculty members.

“I went to the offices and they gave me a lot of back and forth, and I answered a lot of questions and they told me they couldn’t investigate cause it was off campus,” Farmer said.

Both lawsuits suits cite that “under Title IX, if a student files a complaint with the school, regardless of where the conduct occurred, the school must process the complaint in accordance with its established procedures.”

“What Kansas State seems to be ignoring is that the victims of sexual violence keep feeling the effects of the assault long after the sexual assault,” – Cari Simon

ABC News reports that the president of the student body has released a public statement in support of the two students saying they respect the bravery of the women in stepping forward and that “a change needs to be made in order for all K-State students to feel taken care of and supported in all aspects concerning campus safety.”

Kansas State University Will Not Investigate Rapes At Its Fraternities

Attorney Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group files Title IX lawsuits Against Kansas State University on behalf of two sexual assault victims.

kansas state university, title ix, sexual assault, sexual assault victims, rape, fraternity rape
Sara Weckhorst, left, and Tessa Farmer, juniors at Kansas State University, have filed lawsuits claiming the the university mishandled their accusations of rape.

The official press release reads as follows:

Kansas State University Will Not Investigate Rapes at its Fraternities

Two sexual assault victims file Title IX lawsuits as University takes no action

MANHATTAN, KANSAS – Two sexual assault victims filed federal lawsuits today alleging Kansas State University (“K-State”) violated their rights under Title IX by failing to investigate their reports of rape by K-State students. Despite the fact the assailants and victims are all students at K-State and the assaults happened at events hosted by University-recognized fraternities and at fraternity houses, K-State has refused to investigate because the rapes happened “off campus.”

As universities across the country grapple with the epidemic of sexual assault on campus and how best to respond to guarantee equal and safe access to education for all students, K-State has taken an unlawful approach:  “deliberate indifference,” according to the complaints.  The plaintiffs, represented by attorney Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group, bring action to vindicate their statutory rights to equal educational opportunities, rights which K-State violated and will continue to violate absent relief from federal court.

“Kansas State’s interpretation of its sexual assault policy deliberately turns its back on one of the most dangerous aspects of its campus life, conveniently writing fraternity rape out of its responsibility,” said attorney Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group who represents the two victims. According to the complaints, despite months of continued pleading from the victims and their families to investigate the rapes and remove the student-assailants from campus, the victims have been left to languish on campus in fear and under the constant risk of encountering the unpunished and perhaps emboldened assailants.

Sara, one of the plaintiffs, was raped by two K-State students during a fraternity event and again later at the fraternity house. Sara reported the assaults immediately. Over a dozen students witnessed the first assault, some taking photographs and shared on social media.  Tessa, the second plaintiff, was raped by an unknown K-State student at a K-State fraternity house, and she also reported the assault immediately. K-State refused to investigate either of the reports of rape because the assaults occurred off campus.

K-State is under federal Title IX investigation by the United States Department of Education because of its failed response the rapes of these two young women, and likely other fraternity rape victims.

“K-State is sending the message it will not hold rapists accountable as long as they lure their victims off campus. Until this practice is changed, the University is emboldening would-be rapists. Sara and Tessa are filing these lawsuits because they do not want this to happen to anyone else.” Ms. Simon said.

“K-State needs to put its students’ safety first,” said Dustin Van Dyk, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “K-State has knowledge of incidents of sexual assault at its fraternities far beyond those of Sara and Tessa, yet it does not warn victims of those dangers or take action when they report.”

About Cari Simon & The Fierberg National Law Group:

The Fierberg National Law Group represents victims of sexual violence throughout the entire college or high school disciplinary process and judicial hearings, and civil litigation ensuring that their Title IX rights are protected and that perpetrators are held responsible to the fullest extent of the law.  The national Title IX movement expertise of Cari Simon paired with the experience of Doug Fierberg in the field of school and fraternity violence make the duo uniquely effective advocates for people who have suffered rape or sexual assault in schools, universities, fraternities, and sororities.

To read coverage of the ongoing suit as reported by The New York Times click here.