BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – She said she was just trying to finish a science project the day it happened.
She’d needed extra supplies, she said, and she’d dropped a note in the Blazer Hall group chat to see if she could get some help. A star UAB football player responded to the message, she told CBS 42, offering to provide her with some of the supplies she needed. But shortly after she arrived to get the supplies, she said, he raped her.
In a federal lawsuit filed in July, the former University of Alabama at Birmingham student claims that she reported the rape to UAB officials, even speaking with three university police officers about the incident. The officers, the lawsuit alleges, did not investigate the claim or take the student’s statement. Instead, according to the lawsuit, an officer told the student “it happens” and walked her back to Blazer Hall, the dormitory where she’d reported having just been raped.
The 29-page suit claims that the university’s response to the incident, or rather, its lack of a response, violated Title IX, a provision of federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The university, the lawsuit alleges, acted with “deliberate indifference” when confronted with the student’s allegations.
In the wake of her attack, the student said, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges, even attempting suicide twice as a result. UAB’s “lack of response,” she said, made an already tragic situation even worse.
In a 22-page response to the former student’s lawsuit, the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees denied any wrongdoing in the case. The board acknowledged that officials received a report from a second student that the plaintiff in the lawsuit had been the victim of an alleged sexual assault. Police interviewed the student, the board said. The university complied with its own Title IX policies, the board said, but the investigation in the case “is still ongoing.”
The university’s response also laid out 55 separate defenses to the lawsuit, including that the former student “has suffered no damages” and that she had “unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventative or corrective opportunities” provided by the university “to avoid harm otherwise.”
“Plaintiff is not entitled to any relief because she has ‘unclean hands,’” the university’s board of trustees argued.
Becoming a Blazer
Jane Doe, as she’s listed in the lawsuit, was born in Birmingham but grew up in Montgomery. She attended LAMP, a magnet high school in the city, and her experience there influenced her decision to attend UAB.
“I selected UAB for its nursing program,” she said. “It was also a smaller setting with a diverse population which reminded me of LAMP where I attended high school.”
She said that before the assault, she’d loved school.
“I was a Dean scholar,” she said. “I was excelling.”
Assaulted on Campus
Then, she said, the assault happened. A place she’d felt safe – Blazer Hall – had become a crime scene that haunted her thoughts, she said.
“The UAB police were initially notified,” she told CBS 42. “At first a male officer arrived, followed by two female officers. They did not investigate the matter. The female officers merely told me that ‘it happens.’”
She was frustrated and distraught by the lack of response from UAB police and other university officials, she explained.
“If they had conducted an investigation then, the assailant would not have attempted a second assault on me, and he would not have assaulted another student at UAB,” she said.
Crime statistics compiled by the UAB police department to comply with federal law show that between 2018 and 2021, 22 rapes were reported to university police, 14 of which occurred in student housing. During the same period, the City of Birmingham said that individuals reported 32 rapes in the “UAB area.”
“I lost the joy in life”
Jane Doe said that the assault in Blazer Hall was a turning point. Every aspect of her life began to change.
“I lost my personality,” she said. “I lost the joy in life.”
Each day became a struggle for her, she said.
“I would wake up every day and didn’t want to live,” she said. After attempting suicide twice, she was able to finally begin receiving the mental health help she desperately needed.
The university response to Jane Doe’s lawsuit included a wide-ranging defense of officials’ actions. The university’s 55 stated defenses left no tools in the legal toolbox unused.
University officials acted in compliance with the law and with its Title IX policies at all times, the response said. Jane Doe is not entitled to damages, the board of trustees argued, because “she has failed to mitigate her damages.”
“Plaintiff’s Complaint is barred, in whole or in part, because the Defendant exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexual harassment or misconduct and because Plaintiff unreasonably failed to properly take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the Defendant or to avoid harm otherwise,” the response said.
The university’s legal response acknowledged that a sexual assault involving the plaintiff was reported but said the incident was alleged to have taken place before Jane Doe was a student.
“Defendant admits Jane Doe alleges a sexual assault occurred before Jane Doe began classes as a freshman student at UAB and before Jane Doe lived in Blazer Hall,” the university’s legal filing said. “Defendant denies any wrongdoing and the commission of any unlawful acts as alleged in the Complaint.”
On Nov. 10, 2021, the response said, UAB received a report from a student that Jane Doe had been the victim of a sexual assault.
“UAB Police completed an Incident Report,” the university’s response said.
Five days later, the university said, as part of what it called a follow-up investigation, police interviewed Jane Doe about the allegations. A Title IX investigation, the response said, is still ongoing.
The university response argued that Jane Doe is not entitled to the damages the lawsuit seeks.
“Plaintiff is not entitled to any relief because she has ‘unclean hands,’” the university argued in the filing. The response does not elaborate on that claim.
Jane Doe said that she’s ready to move on academically from her time at UAB.
She withdrew from UAB and is now attempting to transfer universities, but she said UAB is making the process more difficult, a claim the university denies.
“UAB refuses to release her transcript and demands she pay monies she does not owe – all in retaliation for Plaintiff vocalizing the assault about a star on the football team,” Jane Doe’s lawsuit said. “The transcript is necessary for Plaintiff to complete the transfer.”
In a statement, UAB Title IX Coordinator Kasey Robinson said that UAB “strongly disagrees with assertions in the lawsuit.”
“UAB is limited in what we can say at this time due to student privacy laws, the ongoing investigation and pending litigation,” Robinson’s statement continued. “Sexual violence has no place in our campus community; we take any allegation of sexual assault extremely seriously and provide critical support services to those affected while we thoroughly investigate through proper channels.”
Robinson said the university prioritizes “the physical and mental health and safety” of students and will continue to “follow appropriate processes outlined under our policies and procedures and federal law.”
The lawsuit, which was removed from state to federal court, is currently being heard by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nicholas A. Danella. According to court documents, both Jane Doe and university lawyers have agreed that discovery in the case will commence in time to be completed by May 2023.