A Howard student is suing the University for negligence and medical malpractice because she said she was raped and denied proper care at GW Hospital because she allegedly appeared intoxicated, according to documents filed in D.C. Superior Court.
The plaintiff, a 19-year-old sophomore, also filed suit against the District, Howard University Hospital and several local doctors. The complaint states she was given a date-rape drug at an off-campus party near Howard and was then denied a rape kit at several hospitals – including GW.
A rape kit is a collection of bodily fluids and samples taken after a possible sexual assault to help identify the perpetrator. It can include semen, blood and body tissue.
GW Hospital allegedly denied her treatment because doctors at Howard said she appeared intoxicated, according to court documents.
The Hatchet is withholding the female student’s name due to its policy of not naming individuals who have reported being victims of sexual crimes.
She is also suing the University and its hospital for negligent hiring.
The plaintiff is asking for compensatory damages, a court order to have her case properly investigated and revision of GW Hospital’s rape treatment policies.
“There is no legitimate reason why it was handled this way,” said Bruce Spiva, her attorney. “She has really been hurt by this and is reluctant to speak out publicly.”
David Garofalo, a spokesperson for the Medical Faculty Associates, said the allegations against Christopher Lang, a GW physician named in the lawsuit, are “without merit.”
In court documents, the University states that the defendants “at all times complied with the applicable standard of care and were in no way negligent.”
“When a young woman comes into a sexual assault center, she ought to be given a test for date-rape drugs,” Spiva said. “She ought not be denied or questioned as if she’d done something wrong.”
In the complaint, the alleged victim said that the defendants’ misconduct and failure to act may have allowed her assailant to remain free.
The complaint stated that during an off-campus house party in December 2006 the plaintiff was given a date-rape drug that rendered her semiconscious. One of the hosts then took her to a room where he allegedly anally penetrated her at around 3 a.m.
Immediately after the alleged assault, she sought medical assistance at Howard University Hospital, accompanied by two witnesses, according to the complaint.
Court documents also add that she appeared intoxicated and was therefore denied a rape kit and sent home. It also states she was drifting in and out of consciousness and vomiting.
The plaintiff returned to Howard University Hospital the next morning and was again denied a rape kit – at which point the Metropolitan Police Department was notified, according to the complaint. They also said they felt a rape kit was unnecessary, according to court documents.
“A sexual assault kit is for police to recover evidence,” said Sergeant Ronald Reid of the MPD Sex Assault Unit. “So if we don’t have reason to believe a crime happened we wouldn’t administer a rape kit.”
The plaintiff then drove to GW Hospital, where Lang examined her according to court documents. The complaint states he also denied her a rape kit because both the police and Howard’s hospital had already refused. Lang, who is listed as a defendant, did not return several calls from The Hatchet.
The complaint states “(the plaintiff) has been violated twice: first by an assailant who likely drugged and assaulted her, and then, by the defendants . which refused to take her seriously and which refused to provide her the reasonable care she was owed.”
“This is not really a customary case,” Spiva said. He compared it to the 2006 murder of New York Times reporter David E. Rosenbaum. He was also refused care at the hospital because he appeared intoxicated.
Gina Scaramella, a spokesperson for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, said a person cannot consent to a rape kit if they are intoxicated. She added the plaintiff should have been able to receive treatment the following morning. The only reason to deny a rape kit to a sober person is if several days had passed, she said.
“Only after (the designated time frame has passed) it is OK to deny a rape kit, or for someone with significant mental illness who comes in and asks for a kit repeatedly,” Scaramella said. “But that’s pretty rare.”
Spiva said he hopes to prevent this type of treatment in the future. “The complaint speaks for itself in terms of the outrageousness of what happened,” Spiva said. “We’re partially doing this so that nobody else gets treated this way.”
He added they hope to go to trial soon, and that the amount of potential damages will be determined by the jury.