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Lawsuit charges North Idaho College failed to protect student after gang-rape

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By Betsy Z. Russell

North Idaho College is being sued in federal court by a woman who says she was gang-raped as a 17-year-old freshman there in 2013, and despite reporting it promptly to the college, the college did nothing about it.

Instead, the young woman charges in the lawsuit, the college disciplined her when she began drinking and acting out after the attack, which occurred at an off-campus party.

College spokesman Tom Greene had no comment; he said the college doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Coeur d'Alene Police spokesman Jared Reneau said the department investigated the alleged rape and referred the case to the Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney's office, which declined to prosecute. The case then was closed.

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, says, “As a result of NIC’s deliberate indifference, the victim was forced to re-encounter her attackers in the dorm common areas and suffered serious psychological injuries resulting in increased abuse of drugs and alcohol that subjected her to increased monitoring and disciplinary actions by the school.”

Coeur d’Alene Police currently are investigating an unrelated sexual assault report at an NIC residence hall that occurred in August. When that case was reported, college Vice President Mark Browning said in an Aug. 29 statement, “According toNorth Idaho College policy and obligations under Title IX, we investigate all allegations of sexual assault.”

He said then that the college is “committed to the safety and security of our students,” and all its employees receive Title IX training to learn how to respond to and report incidents of violence. Two years ago, the college also launched a bystander intervention training program for employees and students designed to create a “culture intolerant of violence.”

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, charges that the college violated Title IX in the young woman’s case.

She was a freshman living in the dorms, according to the lawsuit, when she was at an off-campus party in November of 2013 and became intoxicated. As she “fell in and out of consciousness,” the lawsuit says, three men she recognized as fellow students and residents of her dorm sexually assaulted her.

She notified the dorm’s student resident assistant by text, with a full description of the incident, including that her body hurt and she felt “disgusted with herself.”

A day later, the resident assistant forwarded the text messages to her supervisor via email, according to the lawsuit, along with a detailed description of a conversation she’d had with the young woman about the incident. A day after that, the college’s resident life director forwarded the information to the vice president of student services and a campus counselor, “asking for advice and guidance regarding how to respond to the incident.”

A month later, the lawsuit says, the young woman came in late, distraught and intoxicated, telling her resident assistant she wanted to drink to forget what had happened.

On Jan. 27, the college required the young woman to “enter into a behavior contract to address her drinking issues,” the lawsuit states. It charges that she was subsequently tracked, monitored and disciplined.

NIC officials “did nothing to investigate the perpetrators of the gang rape, and instead ignored the situation entirely,” the lawsuit says, instead punishing the young woman and trying to convince her to move out of the dorms. The lawsuit charges that constituted “deliberate indifference to the requirements of Title IX.”

Title IX is the federal law that forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs that receive federal funds.

The young woman’s Boise attorney, Rebecca Rainey, wasn’t available for comment Tuesday.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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