Case Western Reserve alum says school mishandled sexual assault case, after male student sued

Posted at 11:29 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-27 09:23:25-04

“Dear Case Western Reserve,” Emma Bardwell penned in her open letter describing the time she says she was sexually assaulted. "Initially he asked me if I wanted to have sex and I had said 'no,'” Bardwell told News 5.

It was the spring of her junior year and Bardwell said after a night out, she and her date came back to her apartment and went to bed. "I woke up with him on top of me," Bardwell said.

And when Bardwell said she pushed him off, "That's when he pushes me up against the wall and grabs my neck."

Bardwell wrote about the bruises, bite marks and trauma she suffered that night.

"He got off the bed and lifted the mattress and used it to slam me against the wall," said Bardwell.

Soon after the incident, school let out for summer. Bardwell said she spent the next few months trying to process what happened. "You are so locked into this whole idea of what you did wrong to be raped that it takes a very long time to let go of that," she said.

So that fall she decided to file a formal complaint with the school. Under Title IX, federally funded schools are required to provide prompt and equitable resolution of student and employee complaints.

What is Title IX? 
Signed into law in 1972 by President Nixon, Title IX is a provision of the Education Amendments of 1972. 

It prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational programs or activities and applies to any entity that receives federal financial assistance. 

Contacting a Title IX office is not equivalent to contacting law enforcement after a sexual assault. Title IX coordinators are not responsible for reporting any information to law enforcement, but instead handle cases internally at higher education institutions. To report a sexual assault as a crime, a victim will have to separately contact police and file a police report. 

For Bardwell's case that meant a six and a half hour hearing, ending with the male student getting kicked out.

“I felt this overwhelming wave of relief that I could finally walk through the university center and not see him," Bardwell said.

But a month later that would all change.

"They called me that morning and told me that there was a lawsuit," said Bardwell.

In that lawsuit, the male student referred to as ‘John Doe’ accuses the school of due process, policy violations, and that he was discriminated against because he is a male.

"That could be the reverse gender discrimination by saying we need to make an example out of a male in order to appease the public or student groups," explained Friedman & Nemecek attorney Eric Long.

Long does not represent the John Doe in this case, but has handled similar cases. He also says a civil suit citing Title IX, ironically, is often the last opportunity for these men to clear their names.

"For example a med student, and you've already gone $100,000 in debt in undergrad and you are a second or third year med student, that can all be taken away from you with very little due process," said Long.

Since 2011, 150 of these lawsuits have been filed against universities and colleges.

"These accused certainly have a right to make sure that that process was fair. And that is what the lawsuits are getting at," said Long.

Many, Long said, are settled before they even reach the judge.

"There was a lot of her telling me, 'you want to put this behind you,' and, 'it is in your best interest that we settle this case,'" recalled Bardwell.

The settlement allowed the male student to return to campus that semester. 

"It just created this overwhelmingly sense of defeat, because each step of the way it is emotionally difficult and tasking to go through the whole thing," said Bardwell.