Alumna files federal Title IX complaint after leading high-profile protests
By Leah Potter - The GW Hatchet
An alumna and sexual assault survivor who led a public effort to expel her assailant last spring is taking her case to the federal government.
Aniqa Raihan, who graduated last May, filed a Title IX complaint with the Department of Education earlier this month alleging the University mishandled her sexual violence case. In the complaint, Raihan claims officials took an excessively long time to decide her case and alleges that, after it was decided, GW didn't adequately explain why her assailant recieved a punishment less than the one recommended by University policy.
In an eight-page complaint filed Sept. 10, a copy of which was obtained by The Hatchet, Raihan cites specific encounters with officials that left her feeling unsupported and policies that she claims were not followed.
When contacted Sunday afternoon, a University spokeswoman said officials did not have enough information to comment on the complaint.
Raihan writes in the complaint that officials "allowed my assailant to continue to walk the same halls and grounds of campus with me, creating a hostile educational environment."
"By failing to provide a prompt and equitable resolution, the University precluded me from enjoying the benefits of an education free from a hostile environment and should be held accountable for its failure to comply with federal law," she wrote in the complaint.
Raihan said she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance in Thurston Hall during the spring semester of her freshman year in 2014. She reported the incident last October and said in the complaint that it took officials 172 days to tell her the outcome of her case, almost three times as long as the Department of Education recommends. The Hatchet is not naming the assailant because his name was not cited in a public document.
She led a string of protests and petitions last spring after learning her assailant received a deferred suspension after being found responsible for sexual violence, a sanction less than the suggested punishment listed in the Student Code of Conduct.
She also petitioned to expel her assailant and terminate his employment as a student manager at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center, which the University said last April that it would not do.
After the protests, officials said they would conduct a review of Title IX procedures and last summer launched an external review of the Title IX office by outside legal experts.
Raihan said she decided to file a federal complaint after months of petitioning the University and meeting with administrators to change the outcome of her case, which she felt was unfair.
She began working on the complaint this summer with Shan Wu, a former federal prosecutor and current student defense attorney who specializes in Title IX cases, and Zoe Darou, paralegal for Wu's firm.
Raihan said the team felt pushed to file the complaint with the Department of Education now, after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos suggested major changes were needed to reform the current Title IX system, leaving survivors concerned about the future of Title IX enforcement.
"We were really worried that Title IX itself was going to get gutted, so that definitely lit a fire under our asses to get it in," she said, referring to the complaint. "As always, I'm angered by the administration and our administration here at GW and all of the adversaries that we're facing."
In the document, Raihan claims Peter Konwerski, vice provost and dean of student affairs, gave her a "wildly false" description of how a University hearing board determined her assailant was responsible and officials determined his punishment.
She said she wants to see cases of sexual misconduct handled only by the Title IX office – which she said should have the resources and staff needed to properly handle these cases – and not by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.
Raihan will soon be leaving the country for a stay in Israeli and Palestinian territories, but she said her involvement in survivor advocacy and pushing the University to improve its case process will not waver.
"It's not over," she said. "Even if I'm continents away in the Middle East, this is not over for GW, for Peter K and for Gabe Slifka," she said referring to the director of SRR.
Wu said Raihan's case is particularly important given the new campus sexual assault guidelines DeVos has proposed, which he said will reduce protections for survivors on college campuses.
"Her case raises important issues of how a campus determines safety in light of serial allegations made against the same individual," Wu said in an email.
Raihan alleges in the complaint that others had approached her saying they were sexually assaulted by the same individual.
Raihan's case could potentially open a second Education Department investigation of the University, Title IX experts said. A federal inquiry was launched in August after another individual filed a Title IX complaint against GW.
If the education department opens an investigation into Raihan's complaint, Title IX and legal experts said multiple investigations could push the University to conduct a broader review of its Title IX office procedures to reassure survivors that future cases will be handled in accordance with University policies.
Lauren Khouri, an associate attorney at the Correia & Puth law firm, with a focus in civil rights, said she hopes the institution would think about the overall structure of its Title IX office, instead of focusing on the individual complaints.
"There's not really a hard and fast rule on how the Department of Education would handle dual complaints," Khouri said. "I would say generally speaking as a Title IX advocate, we hope the Department of Education is looking holistically about the circumstances on a campus."
She said investigations often give a negative impression that can harm a university's reputation, but student complaints can ultimately lead to improvements for survivors by forcing a school to address issues that former students had encountered.
A complaint must be filed within 180 days of an incident of alleged discrimination or retaliation, according to the Department of Education's case processing manual. This complaint can be faxed, emailed or mailed and is then reviewed by officials from the department's civil rights office.
Experts said if the complaint is filed within the required timeframe and presents enough evidence on how a case was mishandled, then the complaint will most likely be accepted by OCR.
Alan Sash, a partner in the litigation department at McLaughlin & Stern who has worked on Title IX cases, said having multiple complaints pending at a university could put a strain on officials in the Title IX office because repeatedly responding to requests from OCR can be time consuming.
"I don't think that it's a good sign if a university has multiple complaints against it because it may imply that a systemic or institutional problem exists," Sash said in an email.
Liz Konneker and Cayla Harris contributed reporting.