WACO, Texas (CN) — A Virginia woman claims in court that she was brutally gang-raped by two Baylor football players, but the university took no action and was deliberately indifferent to dozens of incidents of sexual harassment and assault within the football program.
Elizabeth Doe sued Baylor University in Waco, Texas, federal court on Friday. Doe said she chose to attend Baylor because of its strong emphasis on developing Christian faith and learning and its dedication to serving those in need. She hoped to pursue a degree in medicine and says she knew very little about the school’s football program.
The lawsuit describes how the Baylor football team under head coach Art Briles, who was hired in 2008, quickly changed from a perennial loser to one that dominated the Big 12 Southern Conference and became a national title contender.
Baylor’s sudden success saw alumni donations rise and its football players become “larger-than-life celebrities on campus,” the complaint states. Then-President and Chancellor Kenneth Starr reportedly proclaimed that Baylor was entering a “golden era.”
But while Baylor football players had tremendous success on the field, their off-the-field behavior became a problem.
“From 2009-2015, Baylor football players were responsible for numerous crimes involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program,” Doe’s lawsuit states.
The culture of sexual violence at Baylor was a result of the recruiting methods used by Briles and his staff, according to the complaint.
“In order to ensure that a last place team could recruit the players needed to win football games, recruiting efforts used sex to sell the program,” Doe claims.
Doe says Baylor football coaching staff used a so-called “show ‘em a good time” policy in their recruiting efforts, which meant that football players could engage in certain behavior with no consequences. Such alleged behavior included players arranging for women, alcohol and illegal drugs for parties when recruits were in town; taking underage recruits to bars and strip clubs; and paying for off-campus football parties.
According to the lawsuit, Baylor football coaches encouraged these recruiting practices. For example, Assistant Coach Kendall Briles allegedly told a potential recruit from a Dallas area high school, “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at Baylor and they LOVE football players.” (Emphasis in original.)
Football staff also arranged for women from the Baylor Bruins football “hostess” program to have sex with recruits on their official campus visits to help secure their commitment, Doe says. The Bruins program has an official policy of no sexual contact with recruits or players.
“Baylor had an unofficial policy of looking the other way when there was sexual intercourse between the Bruins and the football players,” Doe says. The complaint notes there is a well-documented connection between such hostess programs and sexual violence.
Doe also claims the university controlled the context of the rape and harassment. “Baylor paid for the off-campus housing, which was the location of most of the sexual assaults, by use of a housing stipend credited to the athletes’ accounts,” she says.
The lawsuit then goes into the striking details of the alleged culture of sexual violence at Baylor during Briles’ tenure.
“Under Briles, the culture of Baylor football and rape became synonymous. Based upon investigation, in the span of four years — 2011 through 2014 — plaintiff is aware of at least 52 acts of rape, including five gang rapes, by not less than 31 different football players under Briles,” the complaint states. “In the course of those 52 acts of rape, the majority were the product of off-campus parties hosted by Briles’ football players.”
The lawsuit continues, “At least two of the gang rapes were committed by ten or more different Baylor football players at one time. Some of the Baylor football players recorded the rapes on their phones and would later distribute the recordings to other teammates. After reporting their rapes by the football players to Baylor, some rape victims were encouraged by Baylor employees to leave school without further investigation. As a result of at least 52 acts of rape in five years by at least 31 football players, Baylor has dismissed exactly two of those football players from the university.”
The culture at Baylor allegedly caused its Title IX investigator, Gabrielle Lyons, to leave the university only months after she was hired. She says the Baylor Police Department advised her that she was not safe in doing her job. Lyons recently told the press, “The violence is what took me back. I was just appalled at the level of violence taking place so rampantly at the institution.”
Doe’s complaint says that the Baylor Board of Regents also acknowledged the culture of sexual violence. Regent J. Cary Gray reportedly said, “There was a cultural issue there that was putting winning football games above everything else, including our values.”
Baylor later hired the Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton for an internal audit of its Title IX compliance. The audit confirmed widespread rape and domestic violence within the university’s football program. It also found that Baylor had “sexually hostile” policies that led to the culture of sexual violence there.
Doe cites a myriad of such policies: little to no discipline for football players; interference with female students’ access to help; having a separate system of discipline for the football team; non-reporting of allegations of sexual violence and dating violence; diverting cases away from student conduct or criminal processes; not educating staff and students; accepting players with histories of violence toward women; and the “show ‘em a good time” recruiting policy.
Doe says she joined the Bruins in the fall of 2012 and hoped to develop close friendships in the program.
She was out with some other Bruins on the night of April 18, 2013, during Baylor’s annual Diadeloso party weekend, when one of them wanted to stop by the home of Shawn Oakman, who was a first-year transfer from Penn State University. Oakman was hosting a football party with some of his teammates, including freshman football players Tre’Von Armstead and Shamycheal Chatman.
The complaint claims that in the previous year during Diadeloso, three different women were gang-raped by members of the Baylor football team at a football party.
Doe became very intoxicated at Oakman’s party, she alleges, before Chatman and Armstead left the party with her and went back to her apartment.
According to the lawsuit, Doe’s roommate came home with her boyfriend later that night and found the front door to the apartment open. The roommate’s boyfriend then checked the apartment for any trouble and saw the door to Doe’s room was closed.
“The roommate’s boyfriend could hear what sounded like wrestling and a fist hitting someone. The next thing that he heard was a loud bang and a slapping noise accompanied by hearing a woman’s voice loudly saying ‘no.’ The roommate’s boyfriend then shouted from the other side of the door to determine if everything was okay,” the complaint states. “One of the men inside of the bedroom yelled out that she ‘was fine’ but the roommate’s boyfriend insisted further on seeing her come out of the room. Armstead and Chatman would soon emerge from the room with 6’7”, 311 pound Armstead attempting to stare down the roommate’s boyfriend. The young man looked into the dark room and saw Ms. Doe partially unclothed on the floor of the bedroom and said ‘she is not fine.’”
The roommate’s boyfriend called 911, but before police arrived a Baylor Bruin showed up at Doe’s apartment, according to the lawsuit.
“The Bruin was somehow already aware that a rape had been reported and was trying to get Ms. Doe to cover for the assailants,” the complaint states. “The Bruin told Ms. Doe that she needed to tell the police that she had ‘consensual sex with one white male’ in an apparent effort to protect the Baylor athletes.”
An investigation reportedly revealed that Chatman had called the Bruin and told her to go to Doe’s apartment and try to talk Doe into covering for him.
Even though Doe’s roommate and her boyfriend clearly reported the events as rape by Chatman and Armstead, Waco police never attempted to interview Armstead or Chatman, Doe claims. Waco police did tell Baylor police of what had been reported about the two football players.
“In response to learning that two of their football players had been reported for rape, Baylor took no action,” the lawsuit states.
Doe says she had been the second woman to implicate Chatman in a rape. Chatman then left Baylor and transferred to Sam Houston State University to play football.
The woman claims she faced a hostile environment at Baylor after she reported the rape because of the university’s policies.
“The result of Baylor’s continued sexually hostile and discriminatory policies combined with Ms. Doe being required to attend school with one of her rapists, created a highly hostile educational environment for Ms. Doe on a daily basis,” her lawsuit says. “Ms. Doe walked onto campus in daily fear of running into her rapist and in fact did just that on repeat occasions. Such run-ins would trigger panic attacks where Ms. Doe would hyperventilate, suffer from nausea, have light headedness and experience other emotional trauma.”
The complaint continues, “As a result of the rape and when Ms. Doe would get overwhelmed with anxiety, Ms. Doe would stay the night at her then-boyfriend’s residence. At some point, Ms. Doe learned that Armstead lived in that very same building. Ms. Doe could not escape him both on and off campus.”
Armstead was later found responsible for Doe’s rape, Doe says, and he was expelled in the spring of 2016. Despite this, “Baylor said nothing publicly about the rape and instead indicated that Armstead had been dismissed for ‘violation of team rules,’” her lawsuit states. Armstead has not been charged criminally.
According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, Oakman was indicted last summer on a sexual assault charge for an unrelated incident and will face trial later this year.
Chatman had been named as a suspect in a sexual assault police report, but was never charged, according to a Dallas Morning News report.
David E. Garland, Baylor’s interim president, said in a statement that “our hearts go out to any victims of sexual assault.”
“Any assault involving members of our campus community is reprehensible and inexcusable. Baylor University has taken unprecedented actions that have been well-documented in response to the issue of past and alleged sexual assaults involving our campus community,” Garland said. “We have made great progress in implementing 105 recommendations to strengthen the safety and security of all students and restore faith in the University, in addition to searching for a new president and the hiring of athletic director Mack Rhoades and head football coach Matt Rhule who reflect the highest levels of character and integrity. Baylor has made a strong commitment to a values-driven culture in accordance with our Christian mission.”
Doe seeks damages for claims of Title IX violations, negligence, pain and suffering, severe mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment of life as a result of being raped. She is represented by William Johnston in Waco and John Clune of Hutchinson Black and Cook in Boulder, Colo.