The XX Factor

Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Alleges George Washington University Violated Title IX 

George Washington University is the target of a potentially damning Title IX lawsuit.

In a federal lawsuit filed against George Washington University on Wednesday, a former student details years of alleged sexual harassment, stalking, and assault at the hands of a fellow student. The plaintiff, Ricca Prasad, claims that the university failed to properly address the situation in violation of Title IX.

Prasad alleges she began dating a student the court filing calls “VT” in February 2011, during her freshman year at GW in Washington, D.C. After nearly a year, during which she says she noted some violent tendencies and threatening behavior, she says she broke off the relationship. For the next three years, Prasad alleges, she endured death threats, physical and sexual assault, hundreds of unsolicited emails and messages on social media, and threatening phone calls from VT. Prasad says she made five official complaints to the GW Police Department, filed reports with proper university authorities, and sent evidence to administrators that her stalker had violated, time and again, the multiple “no contact agreements” the university had granted her. Until she got a legal restraining order in February, she alleges, the harassment continued.

Prasad’s suit alleges that GW committed several Title IX violations, breached the contracts it entered into in an attempt to stop the harassment, and treated her with negligence that caused severe emotional distress. After making one of several claims against VT, Prasad claims that when she asked to change her GW email address, the school’s IT department allegedly told her that it was against university policy to allow a student to change her address, and that she should simply filter VT’s emails into the trash folder. She did, and she says he created multiple new email addresses to get around it. VT also allegedly told her multiple times that he’d sexually assaulted her during their freshman year while she was unconscious.

But it took an alleged physical assault—wherein Prasad says VT pinned her against a railing over a highway and tackled her twice as she tried to escape—to get the university to schedule a disciplinary hearing, according to the suit. Prasad alleges that Gabriel Slifka, the head of GW’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, told her that GW’s standard policy was to suspend students for three years for physical assault—but in this case, he wouldn’t pursue so severe a punishment, based in part on the fact that Prasad and VT had dated in the past.

According to the suit, GW gave Prasad less than one week’s notice about the May 2013 hearing against VT, which was scheduled after the end of classes. Since she’d already bought a flight home for the summer, Prasad says, she couldn’t attend the hearing and had to give a statement by phone. Prasad says the school never notified Prasad of the hearing’s results in writing, despite their policy to do so, but she says she later found out that VT had been suspended for two years. VT’s lawyers sent Prasad a copy of a contract VT had signed with GW, which stipulated that VT would have to comply with the no-contact agreement for three more years in order to receive his degree. She alleges that he violated it within a month and continued his harassment. A year later, after she says she made repeated unanswered phone calls to the university, Prasad discovered that VT had been granted a degree anyway.

The lawsuit argues that GW violated Title IX by mishandling Prasad’s case, enabling a hostile environment that precluded her from getting an equal education: Her grades suffered, she studied remotely for an entire semester to avoid the harassment, and she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s worth noting, too, that Prasad says none of the university officials she encountered referred her to the school’s Title IX coordinator.

D.C.-based Talos Law and Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation, which are co-representing Prasad, have been in contact with GW’s general counsel since earlier this year. “The university does not comment on specific cases while they are pending, but it is important to note that complaints filed in court represent only one side of the story,” wrote Maralee Csellar, GW’s director of media relations, to me in an email. “And in cases involving current and former students, federal privacy laws prevent us from responding to allegations other than in court.”