Hewlett v. Utah State University
This is a civil rights and negligence case on behalf of Victoria Hewlett, a former Utah State University (USU) student who, at age 19, was raped and beaten at a fraternity party by a USU student with a known history of sexual violence and harassment. Both USU and the fraternity knew about the perpetrator’s history of sexual aggression before Victoria was raped–including the sexual assault and harassment of other USU students–but they failed to take appropriate action to address the problem.
Before Victoria’s rape, USU and the fraternity had received reports that the perpetrator had raped another USU student; had been verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive to other female students; and had been involved in multiple physical altercations with male students. Had USU or the fraternity taken appropriate action to address the prior reports of abuse, and the well-known risks of sexual violence and alcohol abuse at USU’s fraternities, Victoria would not have been raped. In addition, if USU had offered to provide Victoria with the academic and psychological support she needed–and to which she was entitled by law–after reporting her rape to USU, Victoria would not have dropped out of USU and had her college education completely derailed.
Victoria’s rape is emblematic of USU’s systemic failure to properly address sexual violence against its students. The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating USU’s response to students’ reports of sexual violence during a three-year period that includes the time Victoria was raped.
In November, 2016, Eisenberg, Gilchrest & Cutt and Scalley Reading Bates Hansen & Rasmussen filed a federal lawsuit alleging a Title IX claim against USU and negligence claims against the national fraternity and its local chapter. Public Justice joined the case as co-counsel in 2018.
Victoria reached a settlment with the university in June 2018. Pursuant to the settlement, the university paid $250,000; made substantial changes to the way it monitors, trains and educates members of fraternities and sororities, including adding a position for a full-time Fraternity and Sorority Life Coordinator; requires sexual harassment prevention training for all students; and provides trauma-informed training to employees likely to receive reports of sexual assaults.
The case is proceeding against the fraternity defendants.