Alleged sexual assault victim takes GW, Howard to trial

The University will defend itself in federal court next month against an alleged sexual assault victim who claims medical officials were negligent when she arrived in a GW Hospital emergency room more than six years ago.

A 19-year-old Howard University student filed a lawsuit against GW, GW Hospital, Howard University, Howard University Hospital and the District in August 2007, claiming they prevented her from receiving a medical examination for rape.

The woman said she suffered extreme physical and emotional pain from her experience, and is seeking compensatory damages because she was not able to collect evidence against her alleged offender.

The Hatchet does not publish names of possible sexual assault victims.

A key part of the woman’s defense is that the hospitals’ failure to give her an examination violated national standards of care, even though local rules at the time required police authorization to have one. But the judge may invalidate the woman’s argument before the case goes before a jury, according to documents filed by the plaintiff.

The woman said she was likely drugged and sexually assaulted at an off-campus house party in December 2006 when she was a sophomore at Howard University.

The woman asked for an examination at GW Hospital, which she claims had a written policy that required medical personnel to provide rape kits, according to court documents filed last week in advance of the trial. But she alleges staff would not give her an examination because Howard University Hospital had already refused to do so and a police detective had decided one was not warranted.

Steven Taubenkibel, a spokesman for the hospital, declined to comment on GW Hospital’s policies regarding rape kits. As of March, the hospital did not provide rape kits, which collect body fluids and other samples to help identify a perpetrator.

The woman is also suing Stephen Lang, the attending physician assigned to her, claiming he lacked experience or training in caring for sexual assault victims. She contends Lang and other hospital personnel “operated under the misconception” that the hospital did not provide rape kits.

The staff allegedly made the woman wait for hours, “during which time she feared for her physical health and safety,” according to the documents.

Lang claims the woman’s damages, if any, were the result of her own negligence.

GW contends any injuries she experienced were the result of actions over which it had no prior knowledge, authority or control, and employees “at all times complied with the applicable standard of care and in no way were negligent.”

After the off-campus party, she was “vomiting uncontrollably, could not walk unassisted, could not speak discernibly, and was going in and out of consciousness,” according to court documents.

Her friends brought her to Howard University Hospital, which hosted a sexual assault program at the time. But she claims doctors refused to treat her, telling her to go home and “sleep it off.”

The student later returned, reportedly suffering from rectal, leg and hip pain, and hospital officials contacted the Metropolitan Police Department. She said a detective told her she could not receive a rape kit because she did not know her alleged perpetrator’s name.

Her case also claims the detective interviewed her over the phone when MPD policy required officers to talk to possible victims in person.

Howard University Hospital refused again to give the woman an examination, citing a lack of police authorization. She then went to GW and asked for an examination.

“I was sick. I had been holding my bowels for hours because I was still in hopes of getting a sex kit,” the woman testified. “I was just overall in discomfort and pain.”

She waited for hours in the waiting room. After a GW nurse told her the hospital would not test her because she had already been denied at Howard, she broke down in tears and begged for treatment, according to a 2010 report by the Washington City Paper.

The woman had originally made a case against the city as well, but a judge dismissed the charges because city police were performing what was an official duty at the time when they denied her access to a rape kit.

Since 2009, federal guidelines have prohibited states from requiring sexual assault victims to “participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement” in order to receive a rape kit.

Forty-four D.C. college students received medical examinations for sexual assault from October 2012 to February 2013, according to the D.C. Office of Victim Services. Only one hospital in D.C. – the Washington Hospital Center – conducts the exams and offers rape kits.

Howard University, Howard University Hospital and two physicians who spoke with the woman and her friends that day claim the woman did not remember events from the off-campus party and relied “solely on information given to her by her two friends.”

“Her friends did not observe a sexual assault,” according to the documents, but they were unable to find her for a brief period of time. When the group came to Howard University Hospital, they “did not report any suspicion of sexual assault” and left without telling hospital staff.

Howard claims the woman demanded a rape kit so she could find out “if something happened,” and never alleged she had been assaulted.

“She was merely interested in using the kit to learn whether or not she had sexual relations the night before because she was too intoxicated to remember what happened,” according to the documents. “While speaking with the officers, she repeatedly changed her account of the prior night’s events and even expressed a willingness to lie in order to obtain a rape kit.”

A Howard doctor prescribed the woman drugs to prevent certain sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, but decided a test for signs of a date rape drug was “not warranted.” The woman received rectal and pelvic examinations later at GW Hospital, but doctors did not find signs of trauma consistent with sexual assault.

Howard maintains that its employees were “appropriately trained and experienced,” denying that they “acted in a manner that was fraudulent, outrageous, reckless or in willful disregard” for her rights and safety.

Bruce Spiva, an attorney representing the woman, declined a request to comment. University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard declined to comment, citing GW’s policy to not comment on pending litigation.

GW Hospital is mostly owned by the corporation Universal Health Services, while the University holds a 20 percent stake in the hospital.

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