Is Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) trying to intimidate sexual assault victims?
One FAMU alum is asking that question and recently sent her concerns to a list of 40 Florida law makers. She calls for an investigation into FAMU’s attempts to expose a rape victim’s identity in public.
Takisha Richardson is a Florida A&M graduate and prominent civil rights attorney. She represents a former student who alleges she was raped three times in two years while attending FAMU and that the university failed to adequately investigate the claims, failed to protect her from exposure to the alleged rapists after each incident and failed to impose any significant consequences on the alleged rapists.
The alleged victim filed the suit, in September 2016, using only her initials, invoking what Richardson called “her right to anonymity as a rape victim under Florida law.”
Attorneys for FAMU are filing motions, trying to force the alleged victim to be identified against her wishes.
The federal judge has twice ruled against FAMU’s motions stating there is “absolutely no public interest in outing a rape victim in a Title IX case.”
After ruling against FAMU the second time, the judge wrote, “FAMU does not seem to acknowledge the severity, seriousness, sensitivity, or personal nature of rape allegations.”
Undeterred, FAMU’s attorneys filed a third motion on April 26 to expose the plaintiff’s identity. That motion is pending. The trial should begin soon.
Richardson said in an interview with Tallahassee Reports, “FAMU’s conduct in filing these (repeated) motions and appeals leads me to believe there isn’t empathy for providing the best necessary course of action for their students in the aftermath of being victimized on their campus.”
When asked why, in her opinion, FAMU is fighting so hard to identify the alleged victim, Richardson said, “It appears to be an attempt to intimidate and thwart other students from coming forward in these types of incidents.”
A press release prepared by Richardson and Michael Dolce, both of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll law firm, said, “The school’s legal machinations not only risk causing mental health harm to a rape victim but could also have a chilling effect on the willingness of future rape victims to report crimes.”
As a FAMU graduate, Richardson said she was “disappointed and disheartened” by their actions in this case.
This is the second time FAMU appears tone deaf on the topic of sexual assault recently. In April, FAMU was criticized by the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke. Burke visited FAMU to discuss combating campus sexual harassment and assault. The panel discussion was cut short when Burke began reading a commitment for a program she hoped to implement on FAMU’s campus.
According to the Famuan (FAMU’s student newspaper), a FAMU employee stopped Burke from reading the commitment aloud because the administration hadn’t reviewed it yet. The Famuan quoted Burke as saying, “FAMU has been so antagonistic. And, I don’t know what they are hiding.”
FAMUs attorney in the Title IX case, Hayes Hunt, of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania law firm, Cozen O’Conner, in an interview with Tallahassee Reports, was dismissive of Richardson’s concerns.
“The jury has a right to know the plaintiff’s name. It’s just due process in an American jury trial,” he said.
Evidently, just because a victim is assured confidentiality by FAMU when reporting a sexual assault crime, that victim should not expect the same confidentiality if the case becomes a civil lawsuit.
“It’s different than anonymity at the time of the incident than when a plaintiff is looking for a cash settlement,” Hunt said.
In a motion for the plaintiff to be referred to by her full name at trial, Hunt said, in short, that keeping her anonymity was unfair to FAMU because It implies that the plaintiff is a victim, because it implies the plaintiff was or is a minor (which she is not) and because all parties in the suit will endure negative public scrutiny, yet she is the only one allowed to use a pseudonym.
Richardson and Dolce’s letter to legislators calls for an investigation into FAMU’s attempts to expose a rape victim’s identity in public. It was sent to more than 40 members of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives. Recipients of the letter were chosen based upon their leadership positions involving oversight of the state public education system and prior efforts to combat sex crimes and support survivors.
The letter said, “[W]e ask that all efforts be made to ensure that any future rape victims can report the crimes they have suffered without fear that, one day, FAMU or other state institutions will take steps to strip them of their privacy and expose their status as survivors in public when they wish to maintain their confidentiality.”