Lawsuit alleging sexual assault during Virginia Military Institute’s nightly open house

LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — A prospective student claims in a lawsuit that a Virginia Military Institute cadet sexually assaulted her during a late-night open house in 2021.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg, says the woman, then a high school student interested in attending the nation’s oldest state-sponsored military college, was assigned a cadet host with whom she shared a room, so The Roanoke Times reported.

The woman, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, attended a two-day open house described on the VMI website as the best way for high school students to “experience firsthand how it is being a cadet,” along with her strong parental ties to the school, the lawsuit says. The assault allegedly occurred early on Sept. 18, 2021, and later that day, after leaving campus with her parents, the student expressed “extreme distress” that she had been sexually assaulted, the lawsuit says. The cadet was not identified by name or gender in the pleadings.

The following day, Doe’s father reported the incident to VMI police and the matter was referred to the school’s Title IX coordinator. In December, Superintendent Cedric Wins told Doe’s parents that their daughter’s claims had been deemed unfounded, but provided no further information, according to the lawsuit.

Doe accuses VMI and its Board of Visitors of violating Title IX, a federal law that prohibits sexual discrimination against public school students, prospective students and employees.

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“The environment in which Jane Doe resided was dangerous due to VMI’s deliberate indifference to campus safety and Title IX protections,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit accuses VMI of failing to maintain a safe campus as required by federal law and mishandling Doe’s complaint as part of the Title IX process. It also alleges that the student and her family were not advised of their legal rights and did not provide written statements regarding the results of the investigation.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the school to comply with all Title IX requirements, but does not seek a specific amount of damages. Doe chose not to apply to VMI and suffered economic and emotional harm as a result of the school’s “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” handling of her case, the lawsuit says.

A VMI spokeswoman declined to comment to the newspaper about the case, citing its policy not to discuss pending litigation. Tommy Strelka, a Roanoke attorney who filed the lawsuit, also declined to comment.

In 2021, a government approved report found that VMI has failed to address institutional racism and sexism and must be held accountable for making changes.

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