Student says college housed her next to abuser
John Yelland, KUTV
KUTV – Westminster College is accused of housing an 18-year-old deaf student within 100 feet of the man who sexually assaulted her, violating a stalking order and Title IX.
The lawsuit alleges that the college housed the female student, identified as Kennedy Flavin, next door to the male student, which violates a restraining order she has against him.
Flavin says the university placed more value on the privacy of the male student than her safety. Westminster allegedly refused to move either the male student or Flavin.
Flavin was in high school when her then-boyfriend sexually assaulted her, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit alleges that the male student raped Flavin, and that while in juvenile court he admitted guilt to sexual battery and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The male student was put on probation and ordered to not have any contact with Flavin, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit further accuses Westminster of discriminating against Flavin for being deaf.
The lawsuit states that Westminster created an environment “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive,” that Flavin had to leave her school of choice and the sport she loves.
Flavin graduated from high school in 2017 and was awarded a $19,000-per-year scholarship to attend and play lacrosse for Westminster.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Westminster spokeswoman Arikka Von, Westminster has not yet been served with the lawsuit.
Flavin was initially quite pleased with her experience at Westminster, as the school has the only Division II women’s lacrosse team in Utah, and her former high school coach was an assistant coach at the university. Together, the two worked to navigate Flavin’s deafness to help her succeed on the field.
However, Flavin became distraught when she learned that her ex-boyfriend had decided to attend Westminster instead of enlisting in the Marines.
Flavin worked with the juvenile-court to get a stalking injunction for her stalking order, which had by then expired. It stated that her ex-boyfriend must stay 100 feet away from Flavin and withdraw from any classes in which they were both enrolled.
The lawsuit states that Westminster assigned the man to a dormitory that was an “arm’s length” from Flavin’s building. Because of how the buildings were positioned, the lawsuit states that the male student could “quite literally look into his victim’s window.”
Despite Flavin’s complaints to the school, nothing was done, the lawsuit states. The reasoning for the inaction was that in order to reach the ex-boyfriend’s building door, one would need to walk down the sidewalk, around the corner and up to the door a distance they said is more than 100 feet and in line with the order.
Dale Boam, Flavin’s attorney, referred to this explanation as similar to when a child holds his finger within a centimeter of your face and says, “I’m not touching you.”
The lawsuit states that the university had concerns that moving the male student would violate his privacy and potentially reveal his status as a sex abuser.
“It’s an unreasonable response,” Boam said. “They are spending more time worrying about protecting his identity than to the danger to [Flavin].”
The male student then joined Westminster’s men’s lacrosse team, which meant he and Flavin would be using the same athletic facilities.
Both teams were scheduled to have their physicals at the same time. Flavin complained, and her physical was rescheduled to happen with the women’s basketball team, the lawsuit states, while the ex-boyfriend “was allowed to stay with his teammates.”
The two had another encounter at freshmen orientation, when Flavin realized at the end of the session that the man had been sitting behind her the whole time, the lawsuit states.
Flavin had continual run-ins with the male student, which the lawsuit says heightened her anxiety. According to the lawsuit, campus security has no way of communicating with deaf people, and as a result she felt unprotected.
Westminster told Flavin to contact Salt Lake City police if something bad happened, the lawsuit states. But according to Boam this could become an overblown response, or in the case of an emergency, it might take too long for authorities to arrive.
The lawsuit states that Flavin eventually stopped sleeping in her dorm room, and eventually left Westminster entirely. She later enrolled in another university. As a result of Flavin losing her scholarship, the lawsuit states that her father was forced to sell his house in order to pay for her education.
According to Boam, Westminster’s response was a result of the male student’s important role on the lacrosse team. The lawsuit states that Westminster referenced the male student’s importance to the team several times. Flavin’s attorney also believes this case falls in line with the #MeToo movement.
Boam says that because Flavin is deaf, she is more vulnerable.
“To be deaf is to always be in danger of someone trying to take advantage of you under the belief that you can’t do anything about it, you can’t tell anybody,” Boam said.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that “While the lawsuit doesn’t list an amount of money sought, Boam said the basis for the lawsuit is the scholarship funds Flavin lost when she left Westminster.”
According to the lawsuit, Westminster College violated Section 504, which is a federal law that protects against discrimination, in addition to Title IX. Any school that receives federal funding is required to comply with Title IX or risk losing funds.
The university has successfully defended itself against allegations of mishandling such matters before. The Salt Lake Tribune reports, “In 2017, following a three-year federal investigation, Westminster was cleared of allegations that it mishandled a sexual assault complaint and violated Title IX.”
This article was first published by fellow CNN affiliate KUTV. It is used here with permission.