Student Sues WKU University, Greek Life Organizations, and 17 Other Defendants Alleging Forced Drinking and Sexual Assault. A Western Kentucky University student filed a lawsuit against the university and several defendants, including Greek life organizations, alleging multiple counts of negligence and gross negligence from the school and the fraternities involved.
Forced drink and then Sexual assault
The allegations stem from a February 2021 fraternity party hosted by WKU fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon, where the student plaintiff says that she was “forced to take several shots” by a member of the fraternity with whom she had attended the event. This fraternity member later allegedly took advantage of the student’s inebriated state by bringing her to a dormitory and assaulting her despite her refusal.
University denies allegations
WKU released a statement in response to local news inquiries about the lawsuit:
“We prioritize the safety and well-being of our students above all else. The allegations made against WKU in this suit are untrue, and we will formally file our full response with more information in the coming days.”
The lawsuit claims that the Sigma Phi Epsilon community, among other fraternities, had a pattern of violating disciplinary measures against misuse of alcohol, and that the university was aware of the dangerous environment that this created.
The student said that following her report of the assault, the WKU Police Department further acted to minimize the incident and its investigation. However, the filing includes a statement from an ER nurse at a medical center nearby who said that such cases happen “almost weekly.” The plaintiff further alleges that this is an endemic issue, and she knows of at least three other victims of sexual assault from a member of SigEp.
“WKU allowed an environment rife with sex discrimination and hostility to flourish in its Greek life communities and failed to take reasonable actions to remedy it despite being on notice,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit also accuses the university of negligent infliction of emotional damage and negligent hire in the case of its general counsel and Title IX coordinator, its director of student life, and the assistant director of Greek life.
Furthermore, the university and Sigma Nu had a duty to protect the plaintiff, which it failed to do. Several fraternity members knew what was happening, apparently actually walking into the room during the assault, and yet did not act. These students are charged individually along with the school and fraternity for failing what the plaintiff claims were their obligation to prevent the assault or intervene after they knew it was happening.
Fraternity response to the allegations
The fraternity Sigma Phi Epsilon also released a statement through its chief communication officer:
“We are aware of a lawsuit recently filed that alleges assault by a former member of the Western Kentucky chapter in a campus residence hall. The chapter has been fully cooperative in the investigation of this situation. While we cannot comment on pending litigation, I can tell you that SigEp takes any allegation of sexual misconduct very seriously, as sexual assault has no place in the fraternity experience. Throughout their SigEp experience, our members are educated on prevention, safe social practices, bystander intervention, and accountability, because the safety of members and guests is our top priority.”
Assault Not an Isolated Incident on Campuses
This case is the latest in a long line of recent sexual assault allegations and lawsuits targeting universities with active or prominent Greek life on campus, accusing the institutions of shielding known hotbeds of predatory behavior.
In November 2021, the University of Southern California (USC) came into the national spotlight when several allegations surfaced of female students being drugged and sexually assaulted at fraternity parties. Six female students reported being drugged at a single party hosted by fraternity Sigma Nu in September of that year, with one woman alleging additional sexual assault as a result.
Altogether thirteen reports of sexual assault and fifteen reports of drugging were reported between September and November 2021, all linked to various fraternity events.
Like WKU, USC appeared to minimize the allegations and sought to keep whatever documentation it has about a pattern of sexual assault and sexual violence in conjunction with Greek life institutions under wraps. The school admitted that it delayed telling students about the allegations against Sigma Nu for nearly a month – during which time another female student reported a sexual assault at the frat.
Like most other schools with prominent greek life, the school brought in a lot of fundraising through alumni of the system, and alumni of Greek life largely tend to be scions of very wealthy and influential families – and go on to be wealthy and influential themselves. Most United States senators and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are former fraternity members.
Greek life organization assaults-the statistics
These organizations are hotbeds of campus sexual assault, harassment, violence, and sex discrimination. USC itself had reports of unwanted sexual contact through means of alcohol or drugs from almost one-third of its female students. Male fraternity members are three times more likely to rape women than non-fraternity members and are responsible for the majority of on-campus gang rapes.
Sorority women are 74% more likely to be assaulted versus other female classmates as a consequence of their tight affiliation with fraternities and the culture associated with Greek life.
“It creates a binary between men and women in which women are the prey, and as prey, women basically learn to view themselves as objects of sexual pleasure rather than independent human beings,” an ex-sorority senior at USC said. Sororities recruit first-year students as a way to promote the reputation of the sorority among the popular frats with the “quality” of its members’ looks. “This leads not only to rape culture but to women not considering themselves to be victims after a case of harassment or rape.”
This culture plays out in universities across the nation. As the ramifications of the #MeToo movement ripple out, we can expect more and more women to file similar lawsuits to finally seek justice for the wrongs being perpetrated on them by a misogynist environment fomented and cradled by the institution that hosts it. Now, juries and judges are more likely to find universities responsible for the experiences of their female students.
Sexual assault, Sexual harassment? Contact Us Today
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual violence, or sex discrimination, contact Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm today. An experienced attorney can help you secure justice from all of those involved in what happened to you – and help prevent it from happening to other women in your situation.
Shezad Malik is an Internal Medicine and Cardiology specialist, a Texas Medical Doctor (retired) and Defective Medical Device and Dangerous Drug Attorney. Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm has offices based in Fort Worth and Dallas and represents people who have suffered catastrophic and serious personal injuries including wrongful death, caused by the negligence or recklessness of others.