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Lawsuit says alleged gang rapes were considered a "bonding" experience for football players

Plaintiff was a student athlete on the women's volleyball team from fall 2011 to spring 2013

CNN  — 

A former Baylor University student alleges she was “brutally gang raped” in 2012 by at least four and as many as eight Baylor football players, according to a lawsuit.

The gang rapes were alleged to be a “bonding” experience for the football players, and photographs and videos of semi-conscious girls were usually taken during the alleged assaults and circulated among the players, said the civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in a Texas federal court.

The plaintiff, a member of the women’s volleyball team from fall 2011 to spring 2013, alleges the rape happened after an off-campus party hosted by football players, the suit said. Players later harassed her, and university officials “misinformed” her and “actively concealed” her options to report the alleged assault after officials learned of it, the suit alleges.

The plaintiff’s attorney, Muhammad S. Aziz, told CNN his client did not report the alleged incident to the police because “the mindset at that time was the football players could do whatever they wanted.”

His client didn’t go the hospital, he said.

The Title IX claim accuses the private Christian school in Waco, Texas of fostering a violent sexual culture that enables sexual assaults, creating a hostile environment.

“Baylor’s failure to promptly and appropriately investigate and respond to the assaults allowed a condition to be created that substantially increased Plaintiff’s chances of being sexually assaulted, as well as others,” the suit said.

Baylor said in a statement that the university “has been in conversations with the victim’s legal counsel for many months in an attempt to reach an amicable resolution.”

“Baylor has since initiated and structurally completed 105 wide-ranging recommendations in response to issues of sexual violence within our campus community, in addition to making changes within the university and athletics leadership and investing significantly in student support services,” the statement said.

“The university’s response in no way changes Baylor’s position that any assault involving members of our campus community is reprehensible and inexcusable,” the statement said.

The lawsuit alleges that the university did not investigate the former student’s allegations.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. The law also covers sexual harassment and sexual violence. If schools learn of harassment that creates a hostile environment, they are required to take actions to eliminate it, prevent it from happening again and address its effects.

The suit claims the plaintiff told a counselor at the school, but the counselor did not mention Title IX nor the student’s rights and options to report the incident.

Texas Ranger Division probing allegations of mishandled sexual assault cases

Baylor University has been mired in a years-long scandal over sexual assault cases.

In March, the Texas Rangers, the state’s top cops, opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that the university mishandled sexual assault cases, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The probe followed mounting calls for the agency to intervene in a scandal at the school. At the time, the university pledged “full cooperation” with the investigation.

The allegations have led to several lawsuits and prison sentences for athletes convicted of sexual assaults. Last year, Baylor dumped then-University President Ken Starr after an independent report showed a “fundamental failure” to respond to student sex assault allegations, including those involving players.

Starr maintained that once he became aware of any allegations of violence, he immediately launched an investigation.

Art Briles, the head coach who transformed Baylor’s football program into a power house, was fired by the university, and defended his reputation.

“I did not cover up sexual violence. I had no contact with anyone that claimed to be a victim of sexual or domestic assault,” he said, Bleacher Report reported.

Starr and Briles are not named as defendants in the suit.

The suit claims the football program’s “recruiting efforts used sex to sell the program.”

And Baylor “actively created and was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility and violence within its football program,” the suit said.

The 2016 independent review for Baylor, conducted by the Pepper Hamilton law firm, found the school’s “student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response” and “failed to consistently support complainants.”

The school also found problems within the athletic department, “including a failure to identify and respond to a pattern of sexual violence by a football player and to a report of dating violence.”

In January, a former student accused Baylor of creating a culture of sexual violence in which at least 31 players committed at least 52 acts of rape over four years.

Aziz said his client and other victims “really saw the Baylor role in what had happened” after the 2016 report.

“The Pepper Hamilton release was kind of the first moment that the plaintiffs realized there was a lot more involvement of Baylor in these events than they had known before that,” he told CNN.

Lawsuit claims

The former volleyball player claims the alleged rape took place on February 11, 2012 after she had become intoxicated at the party, and possibly drugged by a football player. At some point, a player put her in his vehicle and took her somewhere, the suit said.

“Plaintiff remembers lying on her back, unable to move and staring at glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling as the football players took turns raping her,” the suit alleges.

According to the suit, at one point, the former student recalled hearing someone yell, “Grab her phone! Delete my numbers and texts!”

One player told her she “wanted it,” the suit said.

The student told her mother in the Spring of 2012. That July, the woman’s mother met with an assistant football coach at a Waco deli, told him about the alleged assault and provided him with a list of players her daughter said were involved, without revealing her daughter’s name, the suit said.

The mother asked the coach for help but never heard from the coach again, the suit said.

Baylor players then “retaliated” against the former student after the assistant coach spoke to two players involved in the alleged rape, the suit said.

Claims of harassment

“Specifically, the football players created numerous fake telephone numbers and harassed both Plaintiff and her family members via text message,” the suit said.

The former student “was forced to face her assailants around campus, in the classroom and even during volleyball practice and training sessions, as the Baylor football team and women’s volleyball team shared training facilities,” the suit said.

In February 2013, one player allegedly sent the former student harassing text messages, the suit said. He and other players burglarized her apartment two months later. The student reported the burglary incident to police but no charges were filed, the suit said.

The harassing and threatening text messages continued after the former student filed the police report.

The student claimed she and her parents met with her head coach and a volleyball coaching staff member and told them about the allegations in April 2013.

At one point, the former student and her mother were told it was too late for criminal charges, but the suit never explains who told them.

After she withdrew from the university in the Spring of 2013, she told a football official about the alleged incident that autumn, the suit claims.

The suit alleges she was “manipulated into not pursing her rights.”

“Defendant’s failure to investigate the assault, conduct disciplinary hearings, or contact Plaintiff and offer any assistance … was clearly unreasonable,” the suit said.

“There has been lot of focus on the football program,” Aziz said. “I would like to at least investigate what was known outside the football program in the administration.”