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A troubling lawsuit

| Monday, November 2, 2015

With all the buzz around campus this weekend surrounding Halloween and Irish football, it might have been easy to miss some pretty huge news. A student filed a lawsuit against Notre Dame on Friday for alleged sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

To be honest and open before starting this column, I luckily have little to no first-hand experience with sexual violence of any kind.

From this outsider perspective, it seems the University has been making generally solid strides with regards to sexual violence. It appears the administration is offering help and support to victims, and the student body seems to be standing behind victims in a much healthier and positive way.

This is why the recently filed sexual assault lawsuit was so troubling to me. In the suit, a male student claims a University employee forced him into a sexual relationship with her daughter. Then, when the student tried to end the relationship, the employee convinced him he needed counseling and medication. The plaintiff also accused the employee of engaging in similar actions with football and men’s basketball student-athletes.

Another troubling aspect in this story is that the employee allegedly made “racially charged comments about his sexual prowess” toward the African-American male victim.

Now, I am not sure if these allegations are true, and it will probably take months to determine the validity of such accusations in St. Joseph County Circuit Court.

What seems clear in this mess is that the student was not satisfied with the reaction by the Notre Dame administration to fix the situation for him and for other students on campus, prompting him to file a lawsuit. The suit alleges that University administrators knew about the misconduct and, citing Title VI and Title IX, had a responsibility to intervene for the student’s wellbeing, according to an Observer staff report Friday.

The University has said in a statement that the allegations are “unfounded, as are gratuitous and unfounded references to ‘student-athletes’ — an allegation that is nothing more than a cynical attempt to attract publicity.”

Again, I cannot verify the truth of such allegations, but what troubles me is not so much the allegations themselves as much as the response to it. The University’s statement, in my opinion, is a classic case of victim-blaming. Imagine if something like this had been carried out against a young woman on campus — the University rightly would have pulled out all the stops to help her in any way possible.

The University’s reaction to this case has been severely lacking up to this point. I have heard nothing about this from the school itself, and nobody really seems to care.  The administration in general seems to act only out of obligation rather than out of any sense of justice for the victims in sexual assault cases on campus, and currently that obligation does not appear to extend equally to male students.

I don’t want to assume the accuser is lying or that the defendants are guilty. Nevertheless, I think it’s safe to say a strong positive response from the University in support of the rights of the accuser and an acknowledgment that men as well as women can be the victims of sexual violence needs to come soon. Maybe I’m simply being naïve, but nobody should have to fear sexual misconduct at Notre Dame, regardless of gender.

Contact Hunter McDaniel at hmcdani1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Nathan

    I take more issue with your point about the university victim blaming. It’s not victim blaming to challenge the truthfulness of a statement. Victim blaming refers to when something unfortunate happens and the recipient of that bad experience is blamed (generally it’s claimed that they did something that caused it or made them deserve it). It would be victim blaming if the university somehow claimed that the horrible situation the young man described were somehow his fault, but they seem to be denying that it ever happened to begin with. Additionally, while the university’s reaction may indeed have been different were the alleged victim a woman, it would still not be victim blaming if it were not.

    As for the case itself, too little is known based on this information in my opinion. I say sit back and wait to see what they find in court.