Niagara University student says she was sexually assaulted by member of school’s swim team

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LEWISTON, N.Y. (WIVB) – A sophomore student at Niagara University was sexually assaulted by a member of the men’s swim team in a Fall 2018 incident, a lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit, which was initially filed in federal court earlier this year, was amended Thursday to include the new allegation. The female student is not identified. Neither is the swim team member. The lawsuit does note, however, that the man is still a member of the swim team.

The woman joins three others as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which was filed in September. The other three women are all either current or former members of Niagara’s women’s swim or dive teams. They claim that they were “subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment and bullying by members of the men’s swim team”.

“Had the university taken appropriate action when complaints about sexual harassment and other abuse was first made in 2015, (20)16, (20)17, she may not have had the same issues that she did with this young man,” said Cheryl Meyers Buth, an attorney who represents the alleged sexual assault victim.

The lawsuit claims that following the assault, the victim received a threatening phone message from a man she believed to be the person who assaulted her. She then met with Niagara’s Title IX Coordinator Ryan Thompson, who “influenced her not to” file a formal complaint, she said.

The complaint also says Dean of Students Jason Jakubowski “failed to acknowledge that she was the victim of a sexual assault”.

Thomas Burns, Associate Vice President for Public, External, and Government Relations at Niagara, said the school is not able to comment on specific student conduct issues.

However, in part of a statement, he said: “More generally, under New York law, the university must seek consent from any reporting individual to move forward with an investigation, and in most instances are restricted from doing so without the reporting individual’s permission.

“The university has zero tolerance for the type of misconduct alleged and does not discourage any student from reporting or pursuing an internal or external complaint and investigation.”

Just weeks after the lawsuit was first filed, swim team head coach Ben Nigro left the program. Niagara officials wouldn’t say whether he resigned or was fired.

The university is not able to comment on specific student conduct issues because federal law restricts our ability to do so.

More generally, under New York law, the university must seek consent from any reporting individual to move forward with an investigation, and in most instances are restricted from doing so without the reporting individual’s permission. In all instances, the university provides reporting individuals with information regarding supports, resources, interim measures, and reporting options, including the option of speaking with law enforcement, with assistance and support from the university and external partners and community agencies.

The university has zero tolerance for the type of misconduct alleged and does not discourage any student from reporting or from pursuing an internal or external complaint and investigation. In fact, every member of our campus community is encouraged to report any violation of university policies and applicable law, including Title IX, local, state or federal laws.

Niagara has a comprehensive program designed to receive and address any complaints or concerns brought forward, with myriad student support services available to ensure that students’ academic, residential, and extracurricular experiences continue without disruption, to provide equal access to educational opportunities and programs, and to protect and support the students involved.

Regarding the amended complaint, we do not comment on pending litigation, but note that allegations in legal pleadings are allegations, not necessarily facts. We will address the allegations in our legal filings.

Niagara University Statement

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