College Sexual Assault and Florida Tort Law

College is a transitional time when high school kids begin to become young adults. Both parents and students alike count on the college campus to be a safe area for the learning and overall growth that happens in these years. Sadly, the threat of college sexual assault hangs over young women during their university years (while we will refer primarily to female victims in this post, we note that young men can be victims too, and deserve the same safe campuses as women do). It is a problem that worries our Panama City sexual assault attorney, and we are committed to holding all responsible parties accountable for the environment that allows such assaults to occur.

Sexual Assault on Campus in Florida and Nationwide

President Obama recently spoke about the epidemic of sexual assaults on our nation's college campuses, prompting WJHG to look at the issue locally. According to the White House, 1 in 5 college women say they have experienced some form of sexual assault at school. Across all age groups, it is estimated that 22 million women and 1.6 million men in the U.S. have been raped. Sexual assault is a much broader, and therefore more common, problem.

Despite these statistics, students at Florida's two state universities report feeling safe on campus. Florida State reports 13 sexual assault claims since 2010, and Florida A&M reports 4 cases in that period. The schools cite programs, beginning during orientation, that provide education and information as part of the reason for the lower-than-average incident rate. Notably, only 1 out of every 8 sexual assaults is reported. Victims reference shame and the fear of not being believed as reasons for failing to report assault. President Obama has given his task force 90 days to generate recommendations aimed at reducing the incidence of sexual assault at colleges and universities across the country.

The Availability of Tort Claims for Sexual Assault

Victims of a sexual assault and/or rape on a college campus have options. This includes the possibility of filing a civil lawsuit using tort law, the area of law that includes personal injury claims. A paper discussing civil tort cases brought by sexual assault victims is available through The National Resource Center on Violence Against Women. The authors note that there has been an increase in the number of civil tort claims brought by victims of sexual assault. They note a similar increase in the type of claims available.

Victims can bring claims against the actual assailant, but also against third-parties. As the paper explains, "Litigation against third parties concerns the responsibilities of those actors who fail to use reasonable care to protect against foreseeable sexual assault." Typically, third-party cases involve allegations that the defendant failed to take appropriate security precautions to prevent the assault, although other claims may exist. Potential defendants include colleges/universities and administrators. Although claims against state entities are always complicated by immunity issues, such issues do not tend to prevent claims against state schools.

The paper details a number of benefits and drawbacks to filing a tort claim against either a perpetrator or third-party. Challenges include a potential loss of privacy, a lengthy court process, and the possibility of victim-blaming. On the upside, directing the civil case can give the victim a sense of control (often lost in an assault), a financial judgment may provide access to counseling and other resources, and the case can result in changes that prevent future assaults, a benefit particularly applicable to cases against colleges and universities.

Our Message to Victims Considering Civil Claims

We encourage victims of rape and sexual assault to explore their options. This includes reading papers such as that referenced above. Although they focus on other states, meaning there may be differences in the precise laws and legal procedures, two additional resources (beyond the paper cited above) are “A Survivor's Guide to Filing a Civil Lawsuit” (Washington State) and “A Guide to Civil Actions for Survivors of Sexual Assault” (North Dakota).

Speaking to a knowledgeable attorney about the specific facts and potential claims can be very helpful. Attorney-client privilege protects such conversations. Panama City sexual assault attorney Wes Pittman offers a free consultation to prospective plaintiffs. In addition to fighting for your legal rights, we promise to treat you with the kindness and respect you deserve.

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