Eastern Michigan University “turned a blind eye” to the sexual assault of students by other students, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by 11 women who said they were victims.
The lawsuit in federal court targets the university, campus police and two fraternities. It states that the assaults were committed by four men between 2015 and 2020; one, Dustyn Durbin, is facing multiple criminal charges in Ypsilanti.
The lawsuit alleges that campus police deliberately failed to enter reports from victims into a computer system. The women allege that the university failed to properly train staff to investigate assaults and failed to follow federal law, which bars discrimination based on sex.
EMU in Ypsilanti is the latest school in Michigan accused of misconduct. Hundreds of women and girls said they were molested by Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who is in prison. The University of Michigan has acknowledged that another doctor, the late Robert Anderson, assaulted male athletes.
“Sexual assault, both reported and unreported, was so prevalent at EMU in large part because EMU’s officials turned a blind eye or were deliberately indifferent,” the lawsuit alleges.
It describes an event at Alpha Sigma Phi called “mystic circle,” in which one of the women sat in a dark room and told fraternity members about being sexually assaulted by Durbin. She testified against him in court last fall. His criminal case is pending.
President James Smith posted a letter to the community on the school’s website Tuesday, saying a Philadelphia law firm hired last fall still is reviewing the school’s policies, procedures and actions. He said the work will be made public.
“Our initial review of Title IX and Department of Public Safety records indicated that in no case did a complainant come forward who wished to proceed with a formal investigation by our Title IX or Public Safety office,” Smith said, referring to a federal anti-discrimination law.
“When a complainant came forward to University Police last summer, we immediately and proactively contacted the Ypsilanti Police Department, which has investigative jurisdiction because the incidents occurred off campus and in the city of Ypsilanti,” Smith said.
He said “there is no place for sexual violence in our campus community.”
The lawsuit states police are investigating more than 30 rapes in the area from 2015 through 2020.
The lawsuit seeks more than $75,000 for civil rights violations and other harms.