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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Catholic U Doomed Rape Probe, Student Says

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Catholic University of America faces a federal complaint from a recent graduate who says she spent four years in torment at the school after reporting as a freshman that a football player raped her.

The alleged assault occurred just before winter break in 2012. Catholic University has not returned a request for comment on the Oct. 7 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

A California native, Erin Cavalier says she remembers drinking heavily at a campus party on Dec. 14 and then finding a man on top of her having sex.

The complaint does not name the male student. It says only that he played football at Catholic, and that the two had been minimally acquainted previously.

Cavalier, who played lacrosse, says someone found her crying and she reported having been raped.

At the hospital the next morning, according to the complaint, a measure of her blood alcohol level showed that she was still over the legal limit to drive.

This means she would have been nearly three times the legal limit eight hours earlier when the football player was having sex with her, says Cavalier, whose story the Washington Post profiled in a 2014 article on campus sex assaults.

"Throughout its investigation," the complaint says, "CUA dismissed the trauma Cavalier had experienced, blamed her for her rape, and denied her the just and dignified treatment to which she was entitled."

Catholic University allegedly began conducting interviews for Cavalier's case in early 2014. She says investigators told her "that despite her high blood alcohol level, 'career alcoholics' can develop a high tolerance for alcohol."

"They insinuated that the 19-year old Cavalier somehow had developed a natural resistance or tolerance to the intoxicating effects of alcohol," the complaint continues. "They also falsely stated to Cavalier that she had never previously urged that she was too incapacitated to consent and that her story was contradicted by other witnesses."

Aside from this allegation, most other lines in the complaint say Cavalier was 18 on the night of her drunken sexual encounter.

Cavalier says the linchpin for the school in closing her case was hearsay evidence that the football player used a condom during sex.

A police officer claimed to have seen a condom in Cavalier's trash can, according to the complaint, but no one preserved the prophylactic as evidence.

Cavalier says this officer expressed "disdain" for her from the very beginning.

The complaint quotes him as asking: "Do you want to see the SANE nurse because you believe you were sexually assaulted or do you just want to go because you think you could get pregnant?"

SANE is short for sexual assault nurse examiner.

Contrasting her ordeal with federal guidelines, which she says recommend a 60-day window for internal investigations, Cavalier says Catholic University "took 298 days — from the date of the rape on December 15, 2012, to October 9, 2013 — to hold a disciplinary hearing and wrongly conclude, for the second time, that Doe did not assault Cavalier."

"Although CUA took 292 days to hold a disciplinary hearing, it afforded Cavalier only a 48-hour notice of the hearing date," the complaint continues. "As a result, Cavalier's parents, who live in California, could not attend the hearing. Doe's parents attended the hearing."

Cavalier says her credibility suffered because the school forbade her from calling any witnesses not affiliated with the school from testifying. Testimony from the victim's advocate who accompanied Cavalier to the hospital, according to the complaint, would have supported the severity of Cavalier's intoxication.

In addition to clearing her alleged attacker, Cavalier says the school also failed to enforce the no-contact order meant to keep the two apard.

Violations of the no-contact order from the male student occurred once every two weeks in Year 1, twice a week in Year 2, and once a month in Years 3 and 4, according to the complaint.

Cavalier says the school did nothing to intervene when she reported "that her rapist continually confronted her both on and off campus."

Compounding the slight, according to the complaint, Catholic University housed the male student just 200 feet from Cavalier.

Seeking punitive damages and tuition reimbursement, Cavalier alleges negligence and violations of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sexual discrimination in education.

Cavalier graduated from Catholic University in spring 2016. She is represented by Kobie Flowers with Brown Goldstein & Levy.

A second report on Cavalier by the Washington Post includes a statement from Catholic University defending its handling of the case.

"The university is confident that it acted appropriately in investigating and resolving the issue that gave rise to the student's complaint," it said in 2014.

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