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Wesleyan University student alleges rape, sues fraternity, members, other student

Posted at 1:54 PM, Mar 16, 2014

(CNN) — A Wesleyan University student who says she was raped in front of onlookers at a “wildly out of control” campus fraternity party has filed a lawsuit against Xi Chapter of Psi Upsilon, 11 of its members and the alleged assailant, according to court documents.

Cabri Chamberlin, then a freshman, said she was raped by another student last May at the Xi Chapter of Psi Upsilon fraternity house in Middletown, Connecticut, at a pledge “strip show,” says the suit, which was filed Tuesday in a Connecticut federal court.

CNN does not usually identify victims of sexual assault but has done so in this case because the woman wanted to make her name public.

“I’m proceeding in this case with my real name instead of ‘Jane Doe’ because as the victim of a heinous violent crime I’ve done nothing wrong and have nothing to be ashamed of,” Chamberlin said in a statement provided by her lawyer. “I can’t even describe the pain of being raped, or how much it alters a life, and no other person should ever be forced to have that experience. I hope my experience and lawsuit will create changes that protect others.”

At the party, the lawsuit says, many “underage and extremely intoxicated” young people danced with naked pledges and “spilled alcohol throughout the area.”

Chamberlin, who has taken a leave from her studies, said she became extremely uncomfortable, put on her jacket and attempted to leave when a male student picked her up from behind and raped her in the presence of “numerous others,” according to the lawsuit.

Wesleyan public safety officers then took her to a nearby hospital, where a diagnosis of sexual assault was documented, the lawsuit says.

“Psi Upsilon Fraternity takes all reports of risk management violations, especially those with regard to sexual assault, very seriously,” Tom Fox, executive director of Psi Upsilon Fraternity, said on the fraternity’s website. “We are currently investigating the incident and gathering further information.”

After an internal investigation, the university expelled the alleged perpetrator and imposed “sanctions against the fraternity and members,” according to a statement by Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth.

The student named in the lawsuit, who has not been charged criminally, did not return calls seeking comment.

Middletown police confirmed that they responded to a sexual assault complaint from the Psi Upsilon Fraternity house on May 4, 2013, spokeswoman Lt. Heather Desmond said. The investigation is ongoing, and no charges have been filed, she said.

Desmond said police were having difficulty finding witnesses and urged anyone who attended the party from May 3 into May 4 and may have witnessed anything to call police.

The lawsuit says the fraternity contractually demands self-governance from Wesleyan, relinquishing the public safety and housing services the university generally provides to students.

The fraternity allegedly failed to adequately provide its own security, and the defendants failed to train themselves in safety and risk management issues, including sexual abuse prevention, hazing and the misuse of alcohol, according to the lawsuit.

Chamberlin’s lawyer, Douglas Fierberg, said that because the fraternity sets itself apart from the university, officers from the university’s Department of Public Safety can enter the fraternity only in “exigent circumstances” or when specifically asked to come in.

“This lawsuit seeks to hold this fraternity responsible for its gross mismanagement which it does under the guise of self-management,” Fierberg told CNN. “Fraternity self-management has historically proven itself to be flawed and dangerous. Women have been raped because of this mismanagement. People have died because of this mismanagement. And this victim will hold the fraternity responsible for its tradition of dangerous mismanagement.”

Wesleyan University would not comment on the fraternity’s arrangement with the Department of Public Safety, but Roth’s statement acknowledged that the university’s fraternities have “some autonomy.”

“All have seen increased scrutiny over the past few years,” Roth said of fraternities. “We intend to focus our attention on improving the safety of these spaces.”

Wesleyan University was not named in the lawsuit.

“On behalf of the university community, I want to express our horror at this shameful assault,” Roth said in the statement. “Sexual violence will never be tolerated on our campus. Sexual violence on college campuses is a national problem, and it’s important to raise awareness about this issue. At Wesleyan we are committed to caring for survivors, vigorously pursuing perpetrators, and creating a positive campus climate in which sexual violence and misconduct have no place.”

Chamberlin has taken a leave of absence from the university since the attack and is receiving “intensive counseling, trying to pull her life together,” her lawyer said.

Chamberlin is seeking $10 million in damages, the lawsuit says.

In 2012, a Wesleyan student sued the university and another fraternity, which Wesleyan no longer recognizes as a student organization, after she said she was raped in its frat house two years before. The fraternity had garnered the on-campus reputation as the “Rape Factory,” according to the lawsuit. Her assailant pleaded guilty to assault and unlawful restraint, court papers said.

The case was settled in court-ordered mediation in August 2013.

CNN’s Haimy Assefa contributed to this report.