By: Jules Galway (Loyola Sophomore), Shreeya Pattekar (Loyola Sophomore), Logan Laurie (Loyola Junior), and Monica Reyes (Loyola Senior)
ROGERS PARK – A total of 10 women will be sharing their stories in the courtroom for an ongoing lawsuit with allegations against Loyola University Chicago’s handling of sexual misconduct cases.
This lawsuit started with Madeleine Kane, a former Loyola student, who shared her experience of reporting her sexual assault to Loyola which subsequently gained heavy online traction.
After a four-month-long investigation in 2020, Loyola’s Office of Equity and Compliance told Plaintiff Kane there was insufficient evidence to deem her alleged assailant guilty of sexual assault. In April 2021, Kane told the Loyola Phoenix she was assaulted again and chose not to report it to Loyola due to their initial handling of her first case.
While word had spread about Kane and other women affected by sexual assault, protests occurred on campus in the Fall of 2021 where students called for stricter handling of sexual misconduct cases.
However, as Loyola students were not aware of a significant policy change, an Instagram account with the username @showyourface_luc took root. Students who were victims of sexual misconduct could submit evidence or their stories and the anonymous account owner would post these reports online.
Now, in 2023, a total of nine women will join Kane in this case and are being represented in court by Ashley Pileika and Elizabeth Fegan.
Breaking Down the Case
The lawsuit argues the university’s administration was negligible and provided “inadequate support throughout the process.” According to the lawsuit, the university also allowed Kane’s alleged assailant to skip interviews related to an initial complaint, further delaying the trial.
Another woman in this lawsuit, Plaintiff Marissa Sepulveda, reported her 2019 sexual assault to university officials. Sepulveda, who was a Loyola freshman at the time, told NBC that the university, “discouraged” her from going to the police due to the instance being an assault instead of a rape, which she said would be more difficult to prove in court.
Shortly after, Sepulveda said she was raped in a university bathroom, prompting Loyola to open a separate investigation. She said the university told her the perpetrator was responsible for four different instances of misconduct, however, they would still allow him to graduate. Consequently, Sepulveda decided to leave Loyola before graduating.
The university claims its policies are federally mandated with respect to the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act. Loyola also says the institution accepts formal complaints submitted through the university’s “Grievance Process,” intended to “thoroughly, fairly, and impartially assess the available evidence and implement an appropriate response.”
In an interview with Attorney Pileika, she said the university had not respected these policies in regard to her clients.
“These cases should be handled to uphold the legal guidelines provided by Title IX,” Pileika said to RogersEdge Reporter. “With all of our clients and to varying extents, Loyola has failed to fulfill reporting requirements pursuant to Title IX and the Illinois Preventing Sexual Violence in Higher Education Act. Furthermore, Loyola University has failed to keep students safe by allowing repeat perpetrators to continue to stay on campus and assault additional victims.”
Upon receiving such reports, including acts of sexual assault, stalking, intimate partner violence, and other forms of sexual and gender discrimination, the university’s Title IX office determines accountability by assessing the quality and quantity of evidence.
According to the lawsuit, this standard was violated. It considers whether Title IX provides too much authority to the university when deciding disciplinary action and conducting reviews without reporting to the police, even if the university finds the alleged assailant guilty.
How are Students Responding?
Recently, RogersEdge Reporters went to the campus and decided to ask Loyola students how they feel about the school’s handling of misconduct. These students were adamant Loyola is not doing enough to inform their students about what is happening around campus.
“I don’t see anyone coming forward or any attention from the school, it’s all the students that are bringing attention,” Loyola junior Blaithin Murnin (21) said. “I don’t know information that has been published or brought to the students’ attention besides telling women to protect themselves. Why are the women responsible for [keeping themselves safe]?”
According to the students, Loyola needs to take more responsibility and action when a victim comes forth with a report of sexual misconduct. Recently on social media, students decided their voices are better heard by their peers rather than by the university.
“Campus resources have failed time and time again to hold people accountable for instances of sexual assault,” Loyola sophomore, Sophia Martin (19), said. “It’s obvious why students are turning to social media to spread awareness and report their assailants.”
Some students are even distraught over the attention Loyola is giving this scenario due to the gender ratio at Loyola being roughly 68 percent female. In the United States, roughly 1 in 6 women have been victims of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime and 1 in 33 men have this experience as well, according to RAINN.
Murnin continued, saying, “I think it’s overall disappointing and frustrating that even today with all the media publicity and attention that is being drawn to it and that Loyola is so obviously aware of it. It’s disappointing considering that our students are majority women.”
A Controversial History of Handling Misconduct
While Loyola’s controversy surrounding its handling of sexual misconduct has become well-known due to this case, there have been documented instances of mishandling in the past.
According to Title IX for All, in one reported case, the Office of the Dean of Students lost a student’s sexual misconduct complaint. Shortly after, the school granted a no-contact order to make up for it and no further investigation was held as the report was not found.
Alleged victims of sexual misconduct have not been the only ones who have been unhappy with Loyola’s handling of these allegations.
In a lawsuit filed in 2020, a male student was suspended for alleged sexual assault and sued the university for sex discrimination and for breach of contract as well as financial harm under state law. The student believes that the school handled his case unfairly, and was biased against him because he was male while his accuser was female.
While the accusation against the university was dismissed, the student body’s suspicion of the school’s investigative system remains.
Recently, there has been concern over the amount of disciplinary action being taken compared to the number of reports received. According to NBC investigators, since 2020, seven cases have been reported to the police despite there being 176 anonymous and public reports in 2020 and 2021 and disciplinary action taken against 12 students.
Pileika commented on the driving force for these 10 women coming forward, saying that taking legal action against a university is a strenuous process that can be scary to do.
“I believe the driving force is power in numbers,” Pileika said. “It is very intimidating for an individual to come forward against a large and powerful organization like a University. The more survivors who come forward to pave the path, the easier it is for additional survivors to speak up.”
Loyola’s policy surrounding sexual misconduct advises that if you experience sexual assault, you can call Campus Safety at (773)-508-SAFE or can choose to make an anonymous report with their complaint form. Alternative resources are the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800)-656-4673 or going to your local police department and filing a report directly.
*RogersEdge Reporter reached out to Loyola University’s Communication Office for comment and did not receive a reply.