SUNY Grad Was Forced To Prosecute Her Attacker

Feb 23, 2015 at 3:28 PM ET

Stony Brook University senior Sarah Tubbs alleges that she was sexually assaulted on Jan. 26 of last year after attending an on-campus party in Stony Brook, New York. But when she tried to seek discipline for her attacker, the school required her to cross-examine him at a university hearing, despite Tubbs being an undergraduate with no legal training. Tubbs says Stony Brook also forced her to create exhibits, write an opening statement and pursue witness testimony, as if it were a mock trial competition.

To add to Tubbs’ anxiety, no police or security officers were present at the five-hour hearing, which took place last May. She was also forbidden from bringing her therapist.

In response, Tubbs, now 22, filed a lawsuit against the university and her alleged assailant late last month for being in violation of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender at federally financed schools. She is seeking monetary damages, as well as a federal court order abolishing the practice of requiring student-victims to “prosecute their own cases and to cross-examine and be cross-examined by their assailants”—a process that Tubbs says took 60 hours of preparation.

This December, just short of a year after Tubbs’ alleged rape, all SUNY campuses adopted more comprehensive sexual assault policies at the behest of Governor Andrew Cuomo. The changes created a uniform definition of consent (which excludes silence and a lack of resistance), established a bill of rights for victims and required training for campus officers and authorities. The practice of forcing students to prosecute their attackers, however, was not addressed in the policy changes.

“I don’t think it’s the rape that makes the person a victim,” Tubbs says. “I think it’s the systemic failure that makes someone from a survivor to a victim. …I can honestly say I won’t stop fighting until those systems change.”