Head of College That Blamed a Victim for Rape: We’d Never Blame a Victim for Rape

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute president responded to recent backlash.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Photo via iStock.com

After court documents revealed that its lawyers suggested a former student was partially to blame for getting raped while studying abroad in 2012, Worcester Polytechnic Institute responded to public backlash, stoked by the high-profile, lenient sentencing of a Stanford swimmer for rape.

In a letter to the WPI community, president Laurie Leshin defended the school and said that accusations of victim-blaming couldn’t be further from the truth.

“WPI has never and would never blame a victim for being raped,” Leshin wrote. “WPI strongly believes that the person responsible for this rape is the rapist. And he is in prison.”

While WPI cut ties with the insurance company whose lawyers suggested the student had engaged in “risky behavior” prior to her rape, the same lawyers are still handling the case. In fact, they filed a motion as recently as last month, arguing the student was partially to blame for the sexual assault because she consumed alcohol and followed her apartment building’s security guard up to the roof. William Rodriguez is now serving a 20-year sentence.


“When a lawsuit is filed, the university’s insurance carrier at the time of the incident takes responsibility for the case,” Leshin wrote. “Although we parted ways with that provider several years ago, they are litigating this case. Their legal approach and language have not been vetted or approved by the university.”

Perhaps the university should have vetted language like this:

Prior to the incident, Jane Doe knew that there were simple steps she could take to minimize or eliminate the risk of sexual assault, including not walking alone, not drinking to excess, and not going to unfamiliar or secluded places with people she did not know.

Or this:

So it was okay to, despite that fact that you felt it was weird and you were surprised that he got into the elevator with you, you felt it was okay to go to the roof, a dark secluded roof with a man you know nothing about, whose name you don’t even know, and you felt that was not risky behavior? Do you understand my question?

Or this, via the Globe, who obtained the court documents:

In a deposition, WPI attorneys asked Doe whether her parents had taught her not to get in the car with strangers or take candy from them and whether she thought it was a bad idea to follow the guard onto the roof, records show.

Maybe President Leshin should take a look at what those pesky lawyers have been saying.