Attorney of university student allegedly abused by ex-boyfriend says university should be held liable under discrimination law

By John Sammon | Dec 1, 2018

ST. LOUIS — The attorney for a student athlete suing St. Louis University (SLU) for alleged abuse inflicted on her by a fellow student said schools must live up to anti-harassment laws.

“Schools must not only have policies, procedures and protocols in place to comply with the law, it is important they follow them,” Morry S. Cole, an attorney with the St. Louis law firm Gray, Ritter & Graham, told the St. Louis Record.

Cole is representing the student athlete over alleged abuse inflicted on her by a fellow student, Colton Bonk, whom she formerly dated.

The Jesuit-based University has been accused of failing to intervene.

Bonk was 19 at the time of the alleged abuse, and after pleading guilty in July, is serving a 120-day incarceration at the Boonville Correctional Center.

Cole asked that the woman’s identity remain confidential.

“It took a lot of courage for her to come forward,” he said.

The abuse allegedly happened over a period of months in 2016 and 2017 resulting in beatings, rape and sodomy in the girl’s dorm room. According to a St. Louis Post Dispatch article, the woman—who was then 20—told police that Bonk had also choked her, bitten her face and ripped out some of her hair.

Cole claimed the university had failed to act following early complaints about Bonk, violating Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law that says no person will be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity seeking federal financial assistance.

Cole said the university should have restricted access and provided security to athlete rooms or apartments and on-campus housing, enforced its visitation restrictions and prevented Bonk from contact with the plaintiff. SLU officials also allegedly failed to provide escort services so the plaintiff could move safely between classes and activities, Cole said.

According to a report in the Riverfront Times, college officials disputed claims that they sat idly by while the abuse took place, claiming the victim resisted their efforts to investigate and did not come forward with a complaint about Bonk until May 2017.

SLU officials did their own internal investigation of the matter and said offers to meet with the woman and provide support in 2016 received no response from the alleged victim.

“The University condemns any assault,” a statement from the University read. “We are disheartened the student included the University as a defendant in her lawsuit against Bonk. The serious allegation the University did nothing to protect her is simply not true.”

University officials said they would “vigorously” defend themselves in court.

The plaintiff’s attorney countered that the university should have been aware that Bonk was a threat earlier after a number of complaints were reported about him by a dorm resident in the fall of 2016.  

Cole said laws such as Title IX require compliance.

“Schools that receive federal funding are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of gender,” he said. “Title IX has been instrumental for decades in improving access to higher education, keeping students safe from harassing or demeaning behaviors and protecting students from harm.”

Cole said sexual harassment qualifies as discrimination under Title IX if it is severe, pervasive and offensive such that it bars a victim’s access to an educational benefit.

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