WPI Drops Its Victim-Blaming Legal Defense in Rape Suit
Worcester Polytechnic Institute has dropped its controversial, victim-blaming legal defense, and removed the two lawyers who employed it from a rape suit in Worcester Superior Court.
The private research university, with an enrollment just under 6,000, drew criticism last month after court documents showed its lawyers suggested a former student was partially to blame for getting raped while studying abroad in 2012. One lawyer asked the rape survivor if her parents had ever taught her “don’t take candy from strangers.”
“WPI has never and would never blame a victim for being raped,” president Laurie Leshin wrote in a letter to the WPI community, responding to the public outcry. “WPI strongly believes that the person responsible for this rape is the rapist. And he is in prison.”
In another email, Leshin said the school “never controlled the defense in this case.”
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 remained on the case until this week. In May, these lawyers filed a motion arguing the student was partially to blame for her sexual assault because she consumed alcohol and followed her apartment building’s security guard up to the roof.
William Rodriguez, the security guard, is now serving a 20-year sentence.
Attorney General Maura Healey called the school’s legal defense “outrageous,” and told the Globe this week that WPI “sent the wrong message on sexual assault.”