Last winter, unbeknownst to many Nashvillians, Belmont University was caught in a silent uproar over an on-campus assault. Unreported in the media at the time, a second-year student was raped in December after an intruder gained access to her campus housing.
A year later, the victim has filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming Belmont's insufficient security measures contributed to the assault and that the school downplayed the violent incident in the aftermath.
The complaint, filed in Davidson County Circuit Court, targets Belmont University on behalf of Jane Doe, a moniker the filing says is necessary to “minimize further emotional trauma.”
According to the filing, the student was a resident of Bruin Hills, a Belmont-owned and -operated 88-unit development of two-bedroom apartments. The school billed the facility as a “gated community,” therefore creating the impression “Bruin Hills was a safe place to live,” the filing reads.
But the complaint alleges that sense of security was a sham, listing a litany of ways in which the school “failed to provide adequately for the security and safety of its students,” including “adequate door locks and other security features for its residential facilities,” “adequate security personnel to patrol and/or monitor its residential facilities,” and a failure to repair “the security gates to its residential facilities.” Regarding Bruin Hills specifically, the suit suggests the school “disabled and/or turned off the security gates because they were expensive to maintain.”
These alleged breeches in protocol had traumatic results, the suit says.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 2008, an intruder allegedly broke into the student's apartment and brutally raped her. Resident assistants and campus security didn't arrive “until several minutes after the assailant had fled the scene,” the complaint says.
According to Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron, no arrests have been made and the case is still considered open.
The student's complaint also targets the school's response to the incident. According to the filing, Belmont “sent e-mail announcements to its students intentionally misrepresenting the nature and extent of the incident so as to minimize the perception of harm and/or danger to its students.”
As a result of the attack, the student suffers from severe mental and emotional trauma, scars that require “anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medications and sleeping aids” for treatment.
“Belmont University owed a heightened duty of care to all of its students,” the filing says, going on to state the school “had a duty to provide safeguards and protections against such criminal activity for its student residents, many of whom Belmont University knew or should have known had never previously lived away from their parents and were not fully conscious of the dangers they faced.”
The student is seeking compensation and punitive damages for her injuries.
Jason Rogers, Belmont's vice president for administration and university counsel, released the following statement. “The safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority at Belmont University. We have been, and will continue to be, committed to that.”
Attorneys for the plaintiff, Philip N. Elbert, W. David Bridgers and Jonathan H. Wardle with Neal & Harwell, did not return calls by Tuesday evening.