15 Survivors Settle Suit Over Baylor’s ‘Deliberately Indifferent Response’ to Sexual Assault

The lawsuit was first filed in 2016 after damning reports on the Baptist university's football program, which ultimately led to Ken Starr's resignation.

15 Survivors Settle Suit Over Baylor’s ‘Deliberately Indifferent Response’ to Sexual Assault
Then-Baylor University President Ken Starr cheers with students at a football game in 2012. Photo:Cooper Neill (Getty Images)

The federal lawsuit brought by 15 women in 2016 who accused Baylor University of a “deliberately indifferent response” to accusations of sexual assault and harassment has been settled, the Associated Press reported. It was the largest of the cases brought against the school following a massive scandal that brought down then-university president Ken Starr and football coach Art Briles, and led to the resignation of the school’s athletic director and Title IX coordinator.

The settlement was noted in the federal court docket in Waco, Texas (where Baylor is located) on Monday. The terms were not disclosed.

In 2017, Baylor settled another lawsuit about sexual assault on campus in which it was accused of creating a “hunting ground for sexual predators.” On top of that, there have been settlements with at least three women who didn’t file lawsuits as well as five Title IX discrimination lawsuits, according to the AP.

Among the survivors whose lawsuit was settled this week are a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by a Baylor football player at a Baylor-owned apartment complex. In the complaint she said multiple university officials, including a doctor, either misinformed or concealed her reporting options. Another woman said she was sexually assaulted by a neighbor at a house a few blocks from campus when she was a minor; the assailant then allegedly stalked her on campus until she withdrew from the university. Another woman said she was sexually harassed and assaulted by a fellow dorm worker for two years.

While the survivors’ stories in the lawsuit go back as far as the early 2000s, the Title IX violations didn’t become national news until 2015 when a Baylor football player, Sam Ukwuachu, was convicted of sexually assaulting a Baylor soccer player. His indictment the previous year had been kept under wraps, but his trial—and the resulting media coverage—raised questions about what Baylor knew and when.

After that, multiple survivors began reporting assaults by football players. Baylor hired law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate its response to handling sexual assault in September 2015, and it found that, under Starr, Baylor “failed to prioritize Title IX implementation,” the reporting and investigatory process for sex discrimination on campus. (Sex crimes fall under a Title IX office’s jurisdiction.)

The law firm’s investigation found that the school’s separate, internal disciplinary process for football players “improperly insulates [them] from appropriate disciplinary consequences.” The report also found that athletics leadership, in particular football leaders, “posed a risk to campus safety and the integrity of the University” regarding its inaction on sexual assaults.

Further, Pepper Hamilton found that the Baptist university’s stringent code of conduct scared students away from reporting assault. “Perceived judgmental responses by administrators based on a complainant’s alcohol or other drug use or prior consensual sexual activity also discouraged reporting or continued participation in the process,” the firm found.

The survivors accused university officials of dissuading and/or stifling their rights to report to police assaults by athletes that occurred on or near the school’s campus. “Baylor’s focus of media attention on football tried to misdirect attention from institutional failures of the Baylor administration. Our clients would have none of that,” Chad Dunn, one of the attorneys for the survivors, told the AP. “Their determination brought the focus on officials in the ivory tower and ‘the Baylor way.’”

Dunn said the lawsuit was about future students as much as the 15 plaintiffs: “Their bravery and strength has created legal precedents that empower others to gain relief from the injuries inflicted by their universities, while also securing safer education environments for future generations.”

Baylor also issued an apology, saying in a statement to the AP, “We are deeply sorry for anyone connected with the Baylor community who has been harmed by sexual violence. While we can never erase the reprehensible acts of the past, we pray that this agreement will allow these 15 survivors to move forward in a supportive manner.”

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