$10M rape lawsuit against Virginia Wesleyan goes to trial

FILE - Virginia Wesleyan College (WAVY/Walter Hildebrand)

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A jury heard opening statements Wednesday in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Virginia Wesleyan College.

A former student is suing the college for negligence. In the lawsuit, she blames the university for creating an environment that made it easy for sexual assaults to take place on campus.

Lawyers for Virginia Wesleyan deny any wrongdoing. The said in court Wednesday the college provides a safe place for students to live and learn.

Lawyers for the victim, described as Jane Doe in lawsuit, say the school knew about similar sex assaults and the use of date rape drugs in 2009. Prosecutors say the college did nothing at the time to prevent it from happening in the future.

Attorneys on both sides showed up before 9 a.m. to Norfolk Circuit Court with stacks of boxes filled with evidence.

Stuart Plotnick, who is part of the legal team representing Jane Doe, said before court their defense, in part, focuses on proving beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the college tried sweeping their client’s sexual assault allegations under the rug.

According to the complaint, Jane Doe says she was lured to a party, drugged and sexually abused three days into her freshman year at the college in August 2012.

The on-campus party was hosted by a peer adviser, who prosecutors say was negligently hired by the college to acclimate freshman students to college life.

The alleged assault left Jane Doe “battered, bruised and bloodied,” according to the complaint.

The defense, representing the accused man known in the lawsuit as Robert Roe, say the sex was consensual. Roe has not been criminally charged for the sexually assault.

The defense also says Jane Doe had consensual sex 10 days after the alleged attack, which they say doesn’t line up with the injuries she claims to have suffered.

Jane Doe’s legal team says the attack has left her with physical, behavioral, emotional and psychological issues. They say she was sent to a facility in Arizona, where they diagnosed her with PTSD. The distress eventually forced her to drop out of school, they claim.

Mark Nanavati, representing Virginia Wesleyan, told the court the school “vehemently denies accusations” regarding a rape culture on campus.

Nanavati tried to weaken Jane Doe’s credibility in opening statements Wednesday. He says Jane Doe lied under oath to being a virgin before the alleged attack in order to receive more money from the college. Nanavati also told the court that medical records show Jane Doe injured herself even since she was 16 years old and she has a history of depression.

The defense calls it a “he said, she said” case that will likely be decided by the testimony of Jane Doe and Robert Roe.

The trial is expected to last seven days.

Lawyers said in court Wednesday they plan to call more than 30 witnesses, including Virginia Wesleyan students and top administrators at the time of the alleged attack.

Stay with WAVY.com as the proceedings move forward.

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