Howard University failed to respond quickly and equitably to sexual assault reports from female students, a federal lawsuit alleges.
The suit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, centers on incidents that occurred from 2014 to 2016 at the private university in Northwest Washington.
The plaintiffs, identified as Jane Does 1 through 5, accused the university of “discriminatory and retaliatory response to multiple complaints of sexual assault and harassment.”
Jane Doe 1 alleged she was raped by another student in her dorm in February 2016. She reported the incident to a Howard official and eventually tweeted her frustration with how the matter was handled, the suit said. That led her to connect with Jane Doe 2, who told Doe 1 that she had been raped by the same person in 2015, according to the suit, an incident she had reported to the university.
No arrests have been made in either case.
Howard spokeswoman Crystal Brown said the university does not comment on pending litigation. She also cited privacy concerns.
“Sexual assault is a critical issue on campuses across higher education,” Brown said in an email. “Howard University takes very seriously all allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and gender-based discrimination occurring on the University’s campus or involving the University’s students.”
The news site BuzzFeed reported on the suit Wednesday night.
In March 2016, protests occurred on Howard’s campus as students accused the administration of failing to take prompt action on sexual assault reports. The university said at the time that it took immediate steps in response to an allegation that was drawing widespread attention.
Also in the suit, Jane Doe 3 alleged that she struggled to get counseling after she reported a sexual assault to a confidant and then to police and Howard officials.
After unsuccessful attempts to get help, according to the suit, the woman spoke with a Howard counselor and said she wanted private sessions because she was having trouble “processing” her attack.
“She also mentioned that she was extremely depressed, having a hard time getting out of bed to attend her school and work responsibilities, and was suicidal,” the suit states.
Still, the woman had difficulty getting prompt information, the suit said. She finally received a response about group counseling, which she couldn’t attend, the suit said. It accused Howard of “deliberate indifference” to Jane Doe 3’s situation.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.