Alumna files lawsuit against GW for allegedly mishandling sexual violence case

Media Credit: Connor Witschonke | Hatchet Photographer

Alumna Aniqa Raihan, with attorney Alex Zalkin, speaks at a press conference Friday, where she announced a lawsuit against the University alleging officials mishandled her sexual violence case.

Updated: April 27, 2018 at 5:18 p.m.

An alumna is suing the University for allegedly mishandling her sexual violence case by failing to fully investigate her complaint and creating a culture of “sexual hostility and violence.”

Aniqa Raihan, who graduated last year, filed a 15-page lawsuit in the D.C. District Court Friday claiming GW violated Title IX policies by remaining “indifferent” when she reported an incident of sexual violence to the University in 2016. In the complaint, Raihan seeks damages for emotional distress and deprivation of equal access to educational opportunities.

Raihan announced the lawsuit at a press conference Friday at the Westin Georgetown.

“GW’s deliberate indifference to plaintiff’s sexual assault exposed her to the risk of continued sexual harassment, which was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively barred her access to educational opportunities and benefits,” the lawsuit states.

Raihan launched a petition in April 2017 calling for the University to expel her alleged assailant, who was identified in the complaint as Mark Favorito, an alumnus who also graduated last academic year. Raihan organized the petition after she said the University found Favorito guilty of sexual violence but gave him a lesser sentence than what is recommended by the student code of conduct.

Favorito did not immediately return a request for comment.

The petition, which now has more than 2,500 signatures, ignited protests on campus, including an email campaign demanding that officials terminate Favorito’s employment at the Lerner Health and Wellness Center and a demonstration at his graduation ceremony.

“Mark Favorito sexually assaulted me, but GW failed me before and after,” Raihan said at the press conference. “I now know that GW has a long history of neglecting survivors, which created an environment where predators like Mark could get away with it, and a part of me knew that there was no point in reporting.”

Raihan also filed a federal Title IX complaint against the University in the fall alleging that GW mishandled her sexual violence case.

“I assumed that GW’s community and institutions and prestige would protect me, and the really shocking thing is that each year, over 1,000 new women go to GW believing that same thing and expecting that same protection,” she said.

The University is currently under federal Title IX investigation for possible mishandling of a sexual violence case. The complaint that sparked the investigation alleges that the University’s mishandling of a sexual violence case involved sex-based discrimination and retaliation for reporting an incident, violating federal Title IX guidelines. GW announced a review of the University’s Title IX procedures in July.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said GW has not yet been served with the complaint, but that the University is “committed to fully supporting survivors, providing an equitable process for those who are accused and treating appropriately those who are found responsible for engaging in sexual misconduct or sexual violence.” She declined to comment on the specifics of the case but said the University will defend itself in court.

“As we have stated previously in response to prior concerns Ms. Raihan has raised in the media, the University respectfully disagrees with her characterization of the administrative process and outcome in this situation,” Csellar said in an email.

Alex Zalkin, the attorney representing Raihan, said people should analyze the University’s actions – not its words – when determining how officials view cases of sexual misconduct.

“GW has a history of failing to respond adequately to reports of sexual misconduct,” he said. “GW needs to be held accountable and that is what Aniqa aims to accomplish by filing the lawsuit today.”

Lizzie Stricklin contributed reporting.

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