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Woman sues Oregon State University over 1999 sexual assault

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PORTLAND, Ore. >> A woman who says she was raped while attending Oregon State University in 1999 seeks $7.5 million in a federal Title IX lawsuit against the school and its former football coach, Mike Riley.

The woman accuses the university and Riley of failing to address a sexually violent culture among the football team that contributed to her being attacked by a player’s cousin at an off-campus apartment.

Dennis Erickson had been Oregon State’s football coach for 10 months at the time of the alleged rape, but his name does not appear in the suit filed Monday in Eugene.

Riley led the team in 1998, when a different woman said she was raped by four men, one of whom was the player whose cousin is named as the attacker in the lawsuit.

Riley, now the coach at Nebraska, said in a statement Wednesday that he was not aware of the 1999 incident until this week and could not comment on the lawsuit.

“However, I am committed to a harassment-free culture in our football program and I am continually seeking ways to expand our student education program,” he said.

A university spokesman, Steve Clark, said the school denies the allegations: “We’re not responsible for her very unfortunate sexual assault,” he told The Oregonian.

The lawsuit says the October 1999 assault happened when a woman attended a party near the Corvallis campus and was given beer by a man visiting from Portland. She became woozy, and believes the beer contained a drug.

The man took her to an apartment building where some football players lived.

“When she first regained consciousness, she was in a bedroom with OSU football jerseys and team pictures on the walls,” the lawsuit states. “She was being sexually assaulted by the young man who had offered her the beer.”

The woman reported being raped to a sexual assault counselor at the university, but was dissuaded from contacting police, the lawsuit says. The sexual assault counselor said “a rape kit was worse than the assault itself,” and “these things are hard to prove,” the lawsuit states.

The counselor also allegedly told the woman she shouldn’t have been drinking.

The woman dropped out of school and now lives in the Portland area.

She decided to sue after details from the alleged 1998 gang rape were reported last year by The Oregonian. Her complaint accuses Oregon State of deliberate indifference to prior sexual violence.

“(She) did not discover until the winter of 2014 and early 2015 that OSU had actual knowledge of the risk of rape by student athletes and thus that it was foreseeable that female students would be raped in the future,” the lawsuit states.

The four men were arrested in the 1998 case, but prosecutors didn’t press charges because the woman decided not to participate in the case.

The woman in the 1998 case said she came forward to The Oregonian 16 years later because she remained haunted by the words of Riley, who had said his players made “a bad choice.” Riley told a reporter last year that he regretted using those words.

Erin Buzuvis, a professor at Western New England School of Law and founder of the Title IX Blog, said she expects the age of the incident to be an issue in the lawsuit, but said the statute of limitations could be extended because the woman wasn’t aware of the 1998 case — and a potential pattern — until now.

Another hurdle is that the woman’s allegation is not against a football player.

“If the argument is that because the football player had charges of rape against him, then somehow the university was on notice that his cousin might be dangerous — I don’t think that’s going to work,” she said.

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