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Security lapses at Eckerd College led to campus rape, lawsuit says

The claim filed by a former student cites problems with fencing and the training of guards.
Eckerd College, which has a fence around its perimeter, is being sued for allegedly failing to maintain adequate security.
Eckerd College, which has a fence around its perimeter, is being sued for allegedly failing to maintain adequate security. [ Google Maps ]
Published Dec. 24, 2020

A former student is suing Eckerd College claiming the St. Petersburg school’s failure to provide adequate security resulted in her being raped on campus.

According to the lawsuit, filed earlier this month in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, the attack took place in 2017 at the college’s NU complex, a set of 16 two-story suites. The former student was attending a party when a stranger who appeared to be drunk followed her into a bathroom and raped her. The man was escorted out of the residence by two students, the lawsuit says.

A police investigation found the man had jumped over a fence with his brother, who was a friend of an Eckerd student, to get on campus.

The claim alleges that Eckerd failed to maintain adequate security, with fencing issues in some places and inadequately trained security guards and security protocols for allowing nonstudents on campus. It also claims the college failed to communicate to students about these safety lapses, and that the college encouraged drinking and partying on campus.

Eckerd has not formally responded to the complaint. Eckerd spokeswoman Robbyn Hopewell said the college cannot comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit quotes former Eckerd president Donald Eastman, who retired in June, as saying he preferred parties to be on campus if they were happening anyway.

It also cites campus crime statistics. In 2017, according to the suit, nine people were raped on the Eckerd property and seven the year before. Ten people were forcibly fondled over those two years, the lawsuit said.

“Like any other school, Eckerd has a responsibility,” said Drake Buckman, the lawyer representing the former student. “It’s important to hold institutions like Eckerd accountable.”

The lawsuit states the former student, now 23, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and voluntary sterilization out of fear of pregnancy from future assault after the incident. She took action, Buckman said, so others wouldn’t have to endure the same.

The former student is named in the lawsuit, but the Tampa Bay Times is not identifying her because of the nature of the attack.

“There’s still hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Eckerd undergraduate women who can benefit from this,” Buckman said. “People go to college to have an experience that enlivens them and lifts them up. It shouldn’t be a dangerous place. You can’t protect against all dangers, but this was an obvious lapse in security.”

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