The elite Rhode Island School of Design has been ordered to pay $2.5 million to a former study-abroad student who was raped on her first night in Ireland after a federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, determined the school should have provided a lock on her bedroom door.
The woman, referred to as Jane Doe in court documents, was assigned a single room next to her perpetrator referred to as John Doe in a four-bedroom holiday house rented by the Burren College of Art when she arrived at the program on June 18, 2016. The house only had a lock on the exterior door, not on interior bedrooms. Students were told where the key to the outside door would be hidden, but at no time offered individual locks on their bedroom doors, according to the complaint.
The victim was part of a group of students who went out for drinks to celebrate the birthday of John Doe on their first night at the program. “Before midnight, Ms. Doe and John left together and John escorted Ms. Doe back to her room. Prior to leaving her room, John asked Ms. Doe if she would kiss him. Ms. Doe said she would kiss him on the cheek. John left and Ms. Doe closed the door to her room and got into bed, wearing all her clothing,” according to the court filing. Then, after sending several text messages to her friends at home, Jane Doe fell asleep only to wake to the smell of vomit and alcohol coming from a man on top of her. “Ms. Doe was unable to lock her bedroom, so the room remained unlocked while she slept. Later in the night, Ms. Doe awoke to the feeling of someone on top of her. Feeling paralyzed, she realized it was John and that she no longer had clothes on. John raped Ms. Doe, orally and by vaginal penetration.”
The victim reported the sexual assault to the Rhode Island School of Design immediately, filing a formal complaint against the assailant and requesting a no-contact restraining order. Her assailant was dismissed from the program, accepting all responsibility for the sexual assault. The victim then sued the school for failing to protect her by not providing a lock on her door. Before the Ireland rape, a student in the Rhode Island School of Design’s Rome program was also raped by a fellow student under similar circumstances, which the judge determined should have put the school on notice regarding the potential for such attacks.
U.S. District Court Chief Judge John J. McConnell ruled that the school had “failed to provide safe and secure housing that would have allowed the student to lock her bedroom door and prevent the perpetrator from gaining access to her room.” McConnell found that the school had breached its duty by failing to ensure that the students had keys to their rooms and that its negligence led to the attack in Ireland.
A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), which had originally sought to dismiss the case on the grounds that it happened in Ireland, expressed disappointment with the ruling, telling the Providence Journal, “We take allegations of sexual misconduct by or against our students very seriously, and we are dedicated to providing thorough, prompt and equitable responses to such allegations when brought forward.”
RISD was the cradle of art rock in the 1970s, spawning bands such as the Talking Heads, who met there as students. Other alumni include Gus Van Sant, Seth MacFarlane, and Shepard Fairey.