Elizabeth Doe, the plaintiff in a lawsuit recently filed against Baylor University in Texas, says she wanted to attend the college "primarily because of its strong emphasis on Christian faith and learning as well as its dedication to serving those in need." Three years into her education, she was violently gang-raped by two football players, according to the suit—then completely disregarded by the college's administration, who allegedly routinely failed to discipline football players while fostering "the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate education program."
In the span four years, the lawsuit claims, there were "at least 52 acts of rape, including five gang rapes, by not less than 31 different football players."
In April 2013, Elizabeth Doe attended a party with fellow members of the "Baylor Bruin" program, a group of attractive female students who were tasked with escorting football recruits and their families to events on official visits to the school. According to the suit, the Bruin program was part of a complex recruiting effort instituted by coach Charles Arthur "Art" Briles, who had arrived on campus in 2008. Prior to Briles' arrival, Baylor football was one of the worst programs in the state; under his guidance, the suit notes, the program flourished, and thanks to his recruiting, the Baylor team came to contain the "most feared group of football players in the nation."
The sudden success of the football team came "at the expense of many young women on campus," the suit alleges: Coaching staff reportedly implemented a "show 'em a good time policy," which allowed the football team to engage in "unrestricted behavior with no consequences." Under this policy, and Briles' leadership, "the culture of Baylor football and rape became synonymous," the suit states—of the 52 acts of rape, "the majority were the product of off-campus parties hosted by Briles' football players."
Doe became intoxicated at one such party (which was hosted by an athlete who was indicted last year for raping a woman in his apartment in a separate incident) and was escorted home by then-freshman football players Tre'Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman.
They allegedly assaulted her until they were interrupted by her roommate's boyfriend, who said that he "could hear what sounded like wrestling and a fist hitting someone," the complaint reads. "The next thing that he heard was a loud bang and a slapping noise accompanied by hearing a woman's voice loudly saying 'no.'" The young man demanded to see Doe, and when the two football players emerged from her room, he found her "partially unclothed on the floor." She also had a bruise on her cheek and a bite mark on her neck.
The culture of Baylor football and rape became synonymous.
Before the police arrived, the suit continues, another member of the Baylor Bruin hostess program arrived and "told Doe that she needed to tell the police that she had 'consensual sex with one white male' in an apparent effort to protect the Baylor athletes."
Doe didn't comply with the Bruin's instructions, and told the police what happened, though the Bruin allegedly "remained on the scene… interfering with Ms. Doe's recitation of events." Doe's roommate and roommate's boyfriend told police that she had been raped, the suit states. Despite this—and despite the fact that Waco, Texas, police notified campus police of the allegations—Baylor University reportedly took no action. Though one of her alleged rapists, Chatman, transferred schools (likely because Doe was "the second woman to implicate him in a rape"), Armstead remained on campus and faced no disciplinary action until after Doe had finished her education at Baylor. Doe lived in fear of him, the suit says, and would suffer from panic attacks when she ran into him on campus.
As a result, according to the suit, "her academics, her educational opportunities, and her emotional well-being suffered."
Doe's case is, it seems, far from exceptional. In the past five years, only two football players have been dismissed from the university, the suit notes. Chatman is allegedly an example of this fact: After he was accused of raping a female student athletic trainer prior to Doe, the suit states, the school reportedly agreed to pay for the victim's education in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement and moved her to work with a women's sports team.
Cases like this one demonstrate just how important it is that the next Secretary of Education be on board to fight tooth and nail for student survivors.
Doe's attorney, John Clune, said in a statement that while he appreciated the school's efforts in tackling its sexual assault problem—which has included the 2016 dismissal of football coach Art Briles and the departure of school President Ken Starr—he had no choice but to file this suit. "As hard as the events at Baylor have been for people to hear," he said, "what went on there was much worse than has been reported."
Dana Bolger is the co-founder of Know Your IX, a nonprofit organization aiming to empower students to end gender-based violence and discrimination. "The incidents described in the suit are horrific," she tells Broadly. "And they're entirely of a piece with Baylor's long track record of failing victims of rape and sexual assault."
"Cases like this one," she continues, "demonstrate just how important it is that the next Secretary of Education be on board to fight tooth and nail for student survivors' right to get an education free from violence."
Earlier this month, Trump nominee Betsy DeVos raised some red flags for advocates when she refused to commit to upholding the Title IX guidance as it relates to sexual assault on campus during her Senate confirmation hearing. "At her nomination hearing, [DeVos] said it would be 'premature' to commit to protecting the rights of student victims," Bolger says. "That's frankly unacceptable. And students won't stand for it."
What's more alarming for advocates is the fact that Devos' family foundation has donated in the past to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an organization that has sought to get the Title IX guidance, which protects victims of sexual violence on college campuses, overturned. "[DeVos] thinks sexual assault is wrong, but she refuses to admit that it's an issue on college campuses," Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, told Teen Vogue. "We can debate how to solve this problem, but the numbers are very clear in showing that colleges have not figured out how to deal with rape culture."
Bolger says survivors' rights are enshrined in decades of law, and those rights aren't going anywhere. "But without the guidance—which has been so clarifying for schools—institutions may become confused about what their legal obligations are, and survivors may not know what their legal rights are. If you don't know your rights, it's impossible to stand up for them."
"It's on the Education Department to help schools understand how to comply with the law and to step in when they fail to do so," she continues. "If the Department doesn't stand up for these longstanding rights, survivors will suffer for it."