Student Sues Northeastern University For Mishandling of Sexual Assault Case

Northeastern Student Morgan Helfman, 21, recently sued the university for mishandling her 2013 rape case and failing to protect students from sexual assault. Helfman filed suit last month in Suffolk Superior Court for punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.Helfman alleged that she was raped by another student in her freshman dorm after he took her home from a Halloween party, at which alcohol was served despite the fact that the host was a residential assistant and many students were underage. Helfman claimed that the university inappropriately handled the incident and unjustly exonerated the alleged perpetrator.

Shortly after the incident occurred, Helfman handled her case through the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), which provides for an internal hearing. The lawsuit states that the OSCCR concluded that the suspect had not violated the student code of conduct, despite his admission of performing sexual acts on Helfman. The suspect continued to live in Helfman’s dorm and remained in one of her classes.

At a press conference, Helfman said the incident resulted in lasting trauma. While she was tempted to transfer schools, she decided to remain at Northeastern in order to advocate for reforming the school’s policies regarding rape and sexual assault. “I’m not ashamed by what happened,” she said. “If this can help other people come to terms with what happened and speak out, then it’s worth it.”

The lawsuit’s causes of action include negligence, violations of Title IX and the Massachusetts Equal Rights Act, breach of contract, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and misrepresentation of statistics by the school. Helfman seeks a jury trial.

In addition to mishandling Helfman’s case, the lawsuit argues Northeastern has engaged in deceptive misrepresentations concerning violent crime on campus. Specifically, the university has allegedly under-reported the number of sexual assaults that have occurred on campus in recent years. This allegation is based on data from a campus survey that found a significantly higher rate of sexual assault and rape compared to what was reported by Northeastern to the federal government.

She further claims that the university erroneously classified certain crimes as mere disciplinary violations, discouraged victims from reporting crimes, encouraged victims to take leaves of absence in lieu of addressing crimes, and pushed victims to transfer schools to avoid addressing crimes.

As defendants, the lawsuit lists Northeastern University and five administrators. These include the residence director of several Northeastern-leased properties, the associate dean for cultural, residential, and spiritual life, the associate director of OSCCR, the former director of OSCCR, and the vice president of student affairs.

In a statement, the college indicated it had not seen the complaint. A spokeswoman said that the safety of its students is Northeastern’s number-one priority.

Helfman is scheduled to graduate from Northeastern in December 2017 with degrees in political science and sociology. Her primary goal with the lawsuit is to ensure similar occurrences won’t happen to other Northeastern students.

Helfman told reporters:  “I want the school to be held responsible and know what they did was wrong.”

If you have been harmed by someone else’s misconduct, you may need the assistance of a sexual assault lawyer to seek compensation. At the Neumann Law Group, our Massachusetts attorneys provide trustworthy legal representation to victims all over the state. Contact us toll-free at 800-525-NEUMANN or use our online form to set up a free consultation.

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