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Sexual Abuse Lawyers – Connecticut

Connecticut School, College, University and Fraternity Sexual Abuse Liability

Sexual abuse and rape is all too common in America’s colleges and universities.  According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 27% of college women have experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.  (Gross, Winslett, Roberts, & Gohm, 2006)  It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year. (Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. 2000)  Off-campus sexual victimization is much more common among college women than on-campus victimization. (Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. 2000)  Of victims of completed rape 33.7% were victimized on campus and 66.3% off campus.  (Fisher, B.S., Cullen, F.T., & Turner, M.G. 2000)

A Hartford Courant article entitled “Reports Of Sex Assault On College Campuses Climb As More Victims Come Forward” dated October 25, 2014 reported: “According to UConn’s Clery statistics, the 25 instances of ‘forcible’ sexual offenses reported included 18 incidents reported as rape and seven reported as ‘fondling.’  At Trinity College, the number of reported ‘forcible’ sexual offenses climbed from 8 in 2012 to 25 in 2013.  … At Wesleyan University, reports of sexual assault went from seven in 2011 to one in 2012, then up to 17 in 2013. The number is set to go higher still in 2014, with 23 reports recorded as of August 2014, a university report said. … Other colleges with slight increases in reports from 2012 to 2013, included the University of Hartford (from 2 to 5); the University of New Haven (from 3 to 4); Central Connecticut State University (from 2 to 5); Southern Connecticut State University (5 to 6) and Quinnipiac University (1 to 4).  Connecticut College’s number dropped from 12 in 2012 to nine in 2013, while Yale’s went down from 16 in 2012 to 12 in 2013, as did Eastern Connecticut State University’s figures, from 4 in 2012 to 3 in 2013.”

Despite the prevalence of the misconduct, again according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 40% of colleges and universities reported not investigating a single sexual assault in the previous five years. (U.S. Senate Subcommittee, 2014)  And, 30% of colleges and universities offered no training on sexual assault to students nor law enforcement officers. (U.S. Senate Subcommittee, 2014)   70% of colleges and universities did not have a protocol for working with local law enforcement. (U.S. Senate Subcommittee, 2014)

Fraternities may also have responsibility in this developing area of the law, particularly where service of alcohol or hosting of parties involving alcohol and drugs are involved.  Assault and battery and sexual assaults are the two most common types of claims presented against fraternities, according to statistics for 2010.  (The Atlantic, The Dark Power of Fraternities, March 2014)  The Fraternity Risk Management Trust (FRMT) and Willis are two known insurers of fraternities, but coverage may also exist under an offender’s parents’ homeowners’ insurance policy.

Several years ago, a lawsuit against Wesleyan University and a fraternity in Middletown, CT, was filed in federal district court arising out of 2010 rape, and sought $10 million in damages.  The case was reportedly resolved by settlement.  (The Atlantic, The Dark Power of Fraternities, March 2014)  The settlement amount was not disclosed.  Similarly, on July 18, 2014 the New York Times reported that “the University of Connecticut will pay $1.28 million to settle a lawsuit filed by five students who charged that the university had treated their claims of sexual assault and harassment with indifference”.   In their lawsuit the plaintiffs had alleged damages for discrimination based on gender and retaliation in violation of Title IX, which guarantees equal education opportunities to students regardless of gender, according to the Times.  According to the Hartford Courant, in March 2011, 16 Yale students alleged that a sexually hostile environment existed on campus and that the university had not responded adequately to the situation.  The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, was sparked by an incident in October 2010 when male fraternity pledges stood outside the university’s women’s center and chanted sexually aggressive obscenities. The Courant reports that the federal agency reached an agreement with Yale on the complaint in 2012.

In developing a lawsuit strategy arising out of campus assaults, one crucial issue is identifying a potential defendant with both adequate resources and liability exposure.  While the perpetrator of the assault, and sometimes the fraternity, may have insurance policy exclusions that bar coverage, negligence claims against the involved college or university may trigger insurance coverage or key into potentially liable parties with sufficient assets to satisfy any judgment rendered.  This is a complex area of the law with multiple potential causes of action that may apply to a given set of facts: vicarious liability, premises liability, assumption of a duty, negligence and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 are just some of the potentially applicable theories of liability under Connecticut law.

Significant legislation relating to these issues includes The Clery Act, a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crime.  Among other requirements, schools must publish an annual security report, maintain a public crime log, release crime statistics and issue timely alerts about crime.  Another more recent statute is the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act.  Enacted in March 2013 as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization, the SaVE Act is an amendment to the Clery Act.  It requires all institutions of higher learning to educate students, faculty, and staff on the prevention of rape, acquaintance rape, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Sexual assaults can also occur at much younger ages as well.  Staff, teachers and principals at private schools in Connecticut may have applicable duties to supervise, train, monitor and protect vulnerable students entrusted to their care.

Jackson O’Keefe, LLP, can assist you in navigating these complex legal and factual matters.  The firm has worked with insurers for many years in defending sexual abuse cases, and has prosecuted several cases against private schools more recently.  Having worked with insurers on these issues, the firm has the knowledge and experience to handle your case, with the added benefit of knowing what insurers view as significant, and how to best posture your case for a favorable resolution.  We also recognize the extremely difficult emotional problems our clients face as a result of abuse, and will work with you in a compassionate, empathetic approach, looking out for all of your interests, and working with you if needed to identify appropriate care providers.  Call us now at 860.278.4040 for help on your road to recovery.

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