College Argues Student Was Partly Responsible for Her Own Rape Because of 'Risky' Behavior

Plaintiffs say the argument is an attempt to harass and intimidate the victim.

ByABC News
June 8, 2016, 2:45 PM
The Worcester Polytechnic Institute building in Massachusetts, is pictured in an undated image from Google Maps.
The Worcester Polytechnic Institute building in Massachusetts, is pictured in an undated image from Google Maps.

— -- Lawyers for Worcester Polytechnic Institute have alleged that a student is partly responsible for her own rape while on a school-sponsored study abroad program in Puerto Rico in April 2012 because she ignored the training the school had given her and failed to use common sense to take reasonable steps to protect herself from harm, court documents show.

The victim — referred to in court papers as Jane Doe — and her parents filed a civil lawsuit alleging that the college failed to provide a safe environment for her. In response, lawyers for WPI said the victim herself acknowledged in a deposition that the behavior she engaged in while in Puerto Rico, specifically her excessive consumption of alcohol, was "risky behavior," according to court documents.

According to the WPI lawyers, the victim claims to have "consumed only one watermelon drink, but acknowledged it contained three to four shots of liquor" in the hours prior to the rape. However, her medical records from approximately five hours after the incident show a blood alcohol level in the "toxic" range, lawyers for WPI said in court documents.

The lawyers for the school argued that the victim, in an "extremely toxic state," put herself in a position where the risk of sexual assault was increased by agreeing to go to the secluded roof of her apartment building with "a man with whom she had never previously spoken, whose name she did not know, and whose behavior ... surprised her." The victim said herself that his behavior was "weird," according to court documents.

The victim, a third-year student at the time, was studying abroad in Puerto Rico in the spring semester of 2012 when she was raped by security guard William Rodriguez on the roof of the Ashford Imperial condominium in San Juan, where a portion of apartments were leased and controlled by WPI for the purpose of student housing, according to court documents. The students were accompanied by onsite WPI faculty advisers, several of whom were named in the lawsuit.

After a night out with friends, the victim returned to her apartment in the early hours of April 14, 2012, when she was "forcibly raped" by Rodriguez, whom she had recognized as a security guard when he buzzed her into the building that night, the plaintiff's complaint states. Lawyers for WPI claim that in her deposition, the victim acknowledged that while previously she had only exchanged casual greetings with Rodriguez, she agreed that night to accompany him to the roof of her building.

Rodriguez, a former state police officer, was convicted of aggravated rape unanimously by a Puerto Rico state jury in December 2012 and is currently serving a 20-year sentence. He was suspended from the police force following his 2011 arrest for selling ammunition to an undercover agent and was not licensed as a security guard at the time of the victim’s rape, lawyers for the victim and her family alleged in court documents.

But, defense attorneys say, Rodriguez had a certificate of good standing from the Puerto Rico police, indicating that he did not have a criminal record. They denied that Rodriguez was required to be licensed as a security guard under Puerto Rico law.

WPI lawyers also argue that the school relied on an outside vendor to oversee the security services at the condominium.

In response to the defendants' argument that the victim failed to protect herself and therefore contributed to her rape, the victim's legal team said the school's claim "is nothing more than an attempt to harass, intimidate and revictimize" her, according to court documents.

"No rational view of the evidence in this matter could support a finding that Ms. Doe failed to exercise reasonable care or subjected herself to an unreasonable risk of rape," the plaintiffs said in court documents.

The civil lawsuit accuses WPI of negligence, saying that the school and its employees failed to ensure proper background checks for security, and that personnel had a duty to inform, warn, caution and protect its students against known risks to their health, safety and well-being while "on property selected and controlled" by the school, according to court documents. It did not specify what damages the plaintiffs are seeking.

The victim has "suffered great pain and body of mind, significant deterioration of her mental and physical well-being," and "permanent emotional harm," court documents state.

Lawyers for WPI said the school isn't seeking to blame the victim for her own rape, but rather that she had failed to follow the school's training and the knowledge she had of the "risks presented to a young woman participating in a study abroad program in an unfamiliar place."

In court documents, lawyers for WPI said the victim signed a participant statement of agreement, "in which she agreed to abide by the WPI behavioral [policies], and attended four mandatory orientation programs, which the school requires all students attend "in order to provide them with the tools to make good decisions and manage their behavior, so as not to put themselves at risk."

The orientation seminars specifically deal with sexual assault and alcohol use and abuse, court documents state.

The victim was also provided with "Going Global" handbook, which "specifically advises students that the program sponsors cannot guarantee the safety of the participants, eliminate all risks or monitor and control all of their daily personal decisions and activities," according to court documents.

In an email sent to students and faculty Tuesday, WPI said it has "provided extensive support and care to the victim, who has since graduated, as well as to her family and other students" who were participating in the study abroad program. The school said that the idea that it was "blaming the victim for this rape" is in "direct conflict" with its values.

The school adds, “When a lawsuit is filed, the university’s insurance carrier at the time of the incident takes responsibility for the case. Although we parted ways with that provider several years ago, they are litigating this case. Their legal approach and language have not been vetted or approved by the university.”

"WPI has never and would never blame a victim for being raped," the school said. "WPI strongly believes that the person responsible for this rape is the rapist. And he is in prison."

The Victim Rights Law Center, a nonprofit that provides pro bono legal services to victims of rape and sexual assault, released a statement saying, "No one can contribute to their own rape."

"No person wants to be raped," said Colby Bruno, senior legal counsel for the Victim Rights Law Center. "Rape is a crime where the perpetrator has all the power and all the control. The focus should never be on what the victim did or did not do, it should always be on the person who actually committed the crime. Saying that a victim bears some responsibility for a rape is just a sad commentary on how much we need to learn about this crime. As a society, we have to stop blaming victims and start blaming the perpetrators who commit these horrific crimes."

Colby, a victim's attorney for more than 10 years, is not representing the victim in her lawsuit against WPI.

Attorneys for the victim did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.