Boise attorney Rebecca Rainey struggled to use the word "happy" when describing her client's feelings in the wake of a settlement with North Idaho College following a claim of rape and inaction by the college.
"Happy?" asked Rainey. "Let's say that my client is optimistic for her future."
It's an improvement from the living hell Rainey's client endured back in November 2013 when, as a 17-year-old freshman at North Idaho College, she reported being gang raped at an off-campus party. Through scores of internal NIC notes and emails, we learned college officials leading all the way up the college's organization chart to the Vice President of Student Services were made aware soon after the alleged event. Instead of addressing the reported rape or launching a formal Title IX investigation, the college instead focused on the young woman's behavior, which, by her own admission was "spiraling."
"The way the administration handled my case altered my life dramatically," the young woman told Boise Weekly in September of this year.
Those actions led to the young woman filing a lawsuit against NIC, claiming the college had violated federal Title IX requirements when officials "ignored the situation entirely," "refused to investigate or take corrective action" and conducted "willful, knowing and intentional discrimination."
The college turned to its insurer, Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, to launch mediation with the young woman, who left NIC after completing her freshman year in 2014. Attorneys for the alleged victim and NIC never met face-to-face. Instead, a mediator shuttled from one room to another, exchanging messages about the strengths or weaknesses of the case and what each of the parties might think would be appropriate settlement terms.
"Otherwise, it would have been standard operating procedure in a case like this for the other party to demand my client's medical records for the last five years, and then they would have asked about every reason she ever talked to a mental health professional," said Rainey. "That's a horrifying prospect to anybody, particularly a 20-year-old girl. The very process of litigation is victim-blaming all over again."
Ultimately, NIC and the alleged victim agreed to a $75,000 cash settlement, and the college agreed to write a letter on behalf of the former student should she decide to apply to another college or university. Rainey said the letter should bypass future inquiries about what happened at NIC.
"I'm relieved that it's over," the young woman said, following the settlement. "It was really difficult to cope with the lawsuit."
In confirming the end of the lawsuit, an official statement from NIC said the settlement with the former student was procured "to limit the costs and distraction associated with lengthy litigation."
"I assure you that those words are standard language that go into every settlement agreement ever reached," said Rainey.
What isn't standard is to publicly name a young woman who reports being raped. Yet, in its Dec. 1 announcement that it had settled the matter, NIC used the woman's name three times in a statement only five sentences long.
"They haven't done anything illegal, but I think a more deft hand would have been appropriate," said Rainey, saying naming a victim continues to be a barrier for victims to come forward.
Meanwhile, Rainey said her client's biggest wish was "to be heard."
"And now she thinks she was," said Rainey.
As for the young woman, she has since moved on, focusing her energy on a new project examining homelessness in the Pacific Northwest.
"I'm ready to start over," she said. "North Idaho College has some work to do. People are watching."