Blog : Sexual Violence

Former Boss of Larry Nassar, William Strampel, Charged

Larry Nassar’s former boss at Michigan State University used his power to sexually assault, harass, and solicit nude photos from female students, according to a criminal complaint.

William Strampel, the former dean of MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, has been charged with one felony count of misconduct in office and a misdemeanor count of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct for his own actions as dean from 2002 to 2018, according to court documents.

The 70-year-old also faces two misdemeanor charges of willful neglect of duty related to his failure to properly oversee Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who admitted to sexually abusing young girls for decades, court documents state.

The criminal complaint details statements from four female students who described disturbing instances of Strampel’s abuse of power as dean. According to the document, Strampel asked for nude photos and sexual favors, he groped women’s buttocks at official events, and demeaned the way they dressed.

The charges came as part of Michigan special prosecutor William Forsyth’s investigation into how Nassar, the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor, was able to abuse more than 200 young girls and women over more than two decades.

The complaint also states that Strampel improperly allowed Nassar to continue treating patients before a Title IX investigation into his sexual misconduct was complete. In addition, Strampel failed to enforce protocols set up to prevent future issues with Nassar, such as requiring him to wear gloves during examinations, the complaint states.
MSU moved in early February to revoke Strampel’s tenure. He stepped down from the dean position in December, citing health problems.

Access the full report here.

 

Michigan State’s Unclear Title IX Program

Misinformation has led to a disconnect at Michigan State university regarding key concepts of Their Title IX programs.

Recent Title IX reports conducted by Hush Blackwell have shown MSU is lagging to create strong awareness of campus sexual assault education and prevention. Many students at the university are uninformed of their rights and available resources if they are, or have been, sexually assaulted. mLive’s Brian McVicar writes:

“Michigan State has some work ahead of it,” said Julie Miceli, a partner at Husch Blackwell who focuses on higher education. “It has certainly made some improvements. The staff that are engaged in this work did not find any of our findings … to be of surprise.”

The report is Husch Blackwell’s second examination of MSU’s policies and programs surrounding Title IX, the federal gender anti-discrimination law that covers how educational institutions receiving federal funds must respond to reports of sexual assault.

It focused on the effectiveness of sexual assault education and prevention programs, support services and resources offered on campus, and outreach efforts tied to those programs. Researchers spoke with students, faculty and staff about their awareness and knowledge of the programs.

On Tuesday afternoon, Interim President John Engler told MSU’s Faculty Senate that he’s working to address the findings.

“We’re not only trying to fix resources that are necessary, because in some cases there are resources that aren’t there, but we’re also trying to fix how we communicate and educate and inform,” he said.

In its report, Husch Blackwell says that many participants in campus discussion groups were “unaware of, or misinformed about, key concepts relating to MSU’s Title IX program.” Student participants, for example, were familiar with the definition of sexual consent, but were “unaware of resources available to survivors of sexual misconduct and to those accused of sexual misconduct.”

At another point, the report says: “Overall, a majority of discussion group participants seem to be lacking even basic awareness about other Title IX-related support services and resources provided by MSU.”

Miceli, of Husch Blackwell, said perception and awareness of university programs is important.

“Their perception I think is actually very relevant to that question about effectiveness,” she said. ‘If they are unaware of the policy, if they are unaware of the expectations of the university with respect to their own conduct and the process by which policy violations could be looked at, the training in particular would not be effective.”

Engler said the university expects to make several changes “very quickly” based upon the Hush Blackwell report, though he did not detail specifics.

Read the full article here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law hope Michigan State University and other universities across the country are able to expedite the improvement of their Title IX programs and procedures.

Fraternities and Gangs, What’s the Difference?

Fraternities and Gangs are “both blamed for predisposing their members to violent acts, but they’ve sparked radically different public-policy responses.”

Fraternities can be dangerous places due to the abuse of alcohol, hazing, and sexual/non-sexual violence. Members of gangs are often associated with similar circumstances, and, when prosecuted, are held responsible for violent acts and misconduct. However, most fraternities have access to legal blankets, composed of rich families, lawyers, and lack of proper legislation, that shield them from legal responsibility. Ibram X. Kendi of The Atlantic writes:

Consider this series of contrasts: toughness toward savage gang boys versus softness toward immature frat men. Worries about destroying the lives of drunk 20-year-olds accused of violence versus hardly caring about destroying the lives of high 16-year-olds accused of violence. Attacking gangs wielding the faces of their victims versus attacking and defacing the victims of fraternities. Defending death sentences for violent gang boys versus defending the life of privileged denial for violent frat men.

This double standard is both racist and elitist. After all, the stereotypical gang boy is poor and non-white. The stereotypical frat man is elite and white. And the double standard is sexist, as well. A blinding toxicity of masculinity prevents some Americans from truly caring about the typical victim of sexual assault on college campuses in the way they care about the victim of urban violence.

 

Three out of four major police departments already had new gang intelligence units (GIUs) by 1993. “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets,” President Bill Clinton said as he signed the multi-billion dollar Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in American history, the next year.

Fraternities and sexual violence have taken over our colleges. And yet, has Congress ever seriously considered steering billions to thwart sexual violence, to clean up the toxic masculinity poisoning fraternities and campus life?

America is stuck at the intersection of racism, sexism, and elitism as gangs and fraternities batter American bodies. How Americans carry on treating the violent and impoverished 16-year-old Latino gang member versus how Americans carry on treating the violent and affluent 21-year-old white fraternity brother—the split screen—should show us all about the self-destructive essence of American bigotry.

Read the full essay here.

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law, a team of lawyers experienced in defending victims and families affected by fraternity hazing deaths and injury, agree that fraternities must be held accountable for their misconduct.

 

Attorney: MSU’s Handling of Title IX Investigation in Nassar Case ‘Appalling’

Photo: The Athletic

A lawyer within Michigan State’s general counsel office is under fire for her role in the Larry Nassar case, particularly for the way she and the university handled a Title IX investigation.

According to court transcripts from last week’s scheduling conference in district court, attorney David Mittleman, whose firm represents more than 70 plaintiffs in the civil litigation pending against Michigan State, registered his dismay in the handling of the Title IX investigation following Amanda Thomashow’s complaint.

One experienced litigator with Title IX expertise, who is not involved in the case, raised doubts that the production of two separate reports in a Title IX investigation would satisfy the aforementioned requirements.

“That doesn’t strike me as equitable when you provide the victim and complainant with some information, but the school with other information,” attorney Monica Beck told The Athletic last week. “That strikes me as not being equitable.”

Read more on The Athletic.

Click here for more posts on Title IX.

Client Testimonial Of Parent of Elementary Sexual Assault Survivor:

When my seven-year-old son was sexually assaulted about 20 times on school property by a classmate, I reported to the school what was happening. I also filed a police report, secured a restraining order, and filed a report with social services. The school not only refused to protect my son from the perpetrator, they wanted me to send him back to the same classroom so they could hire “extra eyeballs to observe and document their interactions,” essentially asking my traumatized son to act as bait so they could catch the student in the act.

Their combined actions and lack of actions further traumatized my son and absolutely violated Title IX law. He was forced to change schools six weeks before the end of the school year and subsequently developed PTSD. My husband and I incurred tens of thousands of dollars in expenses over the next 12 months related to therapists, doctors and time off from work.

I soon became aware of three other families in the same school district with eerily similar situations – one at the middle school level and two at the high school level. There was student-on-student sexual harassment or abuse, school administration was aware but refused to do anything to protect the victims or ameliorate their situations and the victims were being further traumatized. This obviously was a systemic problem that needed fixing, and after filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, our family was offered mediation.

Typically, mediation functions only to remediate an individual student’s situation, but nothing less than a systemic fix was going to be satisfactory for me. Finding a law firm with the expertise needed to advise us in this type of case was nearly impossible because it’s a very specialized area of law. Local law firms with expertise in Title IX law refused to take our case because they deemed it not big enough to justify their time. Fortunately, Monica Beck and The Fierberg National Law Group not only became a lifeline for us during an exceptionally trying time in our lives, they were instrumental in achieving a spectacular outcome — all without a lawsuit.

The school district reimbursed us for a percentage of our documented out-of-pocket expenses, but more importantly, they agreed to train every principal in the school district and their bosses on how to respond appropriately to reports of sexual harassment and assault. They agreed to let Monica and me review the curriculum before they taught it, and I also got to meet with the district’s Title IX coordinator to impress upon him the important of his role in keeping students safe.

After 12 long months of fighting this battle to prevent other families from going through the torture of our experience, I couldn’t be happier with the end result. Thank you, Monica!

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.”

Read More

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.

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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.