Articles Posted in Sexual Assault

While rideshare apps provide quick and easy ways for people to get from place to place in and around Boston, there are unfortunately several risks and dangers that can arise for people when using these services. With the rise in popularity of rideshare apps Lyft and Uber, the number of sexual assaults reported by passengers in Massachusetts continues to rise. If you or a loved one has been sexually assaulted while using Lyft, Uber or another rideshare service, consider hiring an experienced, compassionate Altman & Altman attorney to provide you with the empathetic, quality representation that you deserve.

Uber and Lyft Lawsuits

There have been several high profile lawsuits filed against both Lyft and Uber in recent years alleging that each company failed to put reasonable safety measures in place to protect patrons. In 2019, a group of more than 30 women sued Lyft for this reason. The same year, Uber released a safety report revealing that more than 6,000 incidents of sexual assault had been reported in 2017 and 2018. In cases like these, the courts have tried to determine whether the companies could have done more to prevent the attacks to determine if they are partially at fault for the attacks.  More extensive safety measures that the companies may have taken may include a more thorough background check. A more thorough background check  may reveal  prior sexual assault convictions for someone applying to work for the service. This information could be used to help prevent or ban a driver with a previous violent conviction from mistakenly being approved to be a driver for the rideshare app.

What Measures Are These Services Taking To Increase Safety?

In response to public outcry about these attacks, both Uber and Lyft have committed to increasing and improving their existing safety standards. Some examples of these increased safety standards to combat the risk of sexual assault include:

  • In-app emergency assistance
  • Continuous background monitoring on drivers – which resulted in the removal of over 20,000 Uber drivers within just a year of implementing the practice
  • Mandatory feedback for rides that had less than a 4 star rating
  • Enhanced background checks

Even with these additional safety measures, people continue to report incidents of assault while using the services of both of these companies. Continue reading

Many people would be shocked to discover the rate at which sexual assault occurs within nursing homes. There have been over 16,000 complaints of sexual assault at long-term care facilities since 2000. When we put our family members and loved ones in a Massachusetts nursing home, it is often because we believe they deserve a level of care and attention that we are unable to give them. Not only do we expect the professionals we trust with our loved ones to treat them with the care they deserve, we absolutely do not anticipate that they will be the victim of sexual assault. Sexual assault within nursing homes in not limited to staff either; it may also be propagated by other residents or visitors. The nursing home has a duty to protect your loved ones against sexual abuse, and our Boston nursing home lawyers will hold them liable if they did not take adequate measures to prevent against the abuse.

If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of nursing home sexual assault, you may be entitled to compensation. If you can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that your loved one was sexually abused while at a long-term care facility, you will be awarded damages. Importantly, this standard of proof is lower than that in a criminal trial, which opens up options for people who may not have sufficient proof to initiate criminal proceedings against an abuser. No matter who the abuser is, the nursing home may have to provide compensation. Our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys can help you uncover any relevant facts that will help your case.

There are any number of ways a nursing home may act negligently in protecting their residents from sexual assault. Here are a few examples in which nursing homes fall short:

  • Negligence in hiring staff. Nursing homes need to screen all applicants and check their criminal records to ensure they will not pose a risk to patients. Previous allegations of abuse or sexual assault ought to be taken seriously and be thoroughly investigated.
  • Negligence in investigating sexual assault complaints. If a nursing home has reason to know of a staff member sexually assaulting residents, they must adequately investigate the allegations and take steps to prevent the assault from happening again.
  • Negligence in protecting residents generally. If the nursing home is found to have fostered a culture that allows for this abuse, this almost certainly will give rise to a finding of negligence on their behalf.

Continue reading

Plaintiff Morgan Helfman brought a negligence action against Northeastern University when she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a classmate in 2013. She alleged that resident advisors knew she was heavily intoxicated and did nothing to protect her from harm.

To understand the decision, we must look to the facts of the specific case. The alleged assault occurred on October 31, 2013. Helfman, a freshman, was drinking in her dorm room and later attended a party where she drank more. She became intoxicated and was vomiting at the party. She later walked home with A.G.. During the walk, Helfman and A.G. kissed multiple times. The proctor at the front door let both students inside. They went to A.G.’s room where Helfman alleges that he initiated sex. Helfman later told her roommate that she would have stopped the encounter had she been sober. The university investigated the incident and did not find that A.G. committed a sexual assault. Helfman brought a negligence claim against Northeastern and several members of the administration. The court granted the school’s motion for summary judgment, after which Helfmam appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.

While the court held that in this case, Northeastern had no duty to protect Helfman, it rejected Northeastern’s argument that institutions of higher education have no duty to protect students who voluntarily drink alcohol. This argument would effectively shield them from blame whenever a student is harmed while under the influence of alcohol. The court instead found that universities have a special relationship with their students, prompting a heightened level of care: to take “reasonable measures” to protect students who are in “imminent danger.” The court also grappled with issues of balancing a student’s autonomy as a legal adult and the recognition that college students are often not fully adults and may need some level of protection at times. Continue reading

An airplane may seem like an unlikely place for sexual harassment or groping to occur. You are surrounded by people, flight attendants regularly patrol the aisle and it would seem difficult for a perpetrator to believe they could get away with such a blatant, criminal act. However, recent news shows this is unfortunately wishful thinking, and such activity does occur in our skies every year. If you or a loved one were sexually harassed or assaulted on a plane, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away to get started on your case.

According to the FBI, there were 38 cases of in-flight sexual assault between 2013 and 2014, which increased to 63 cases between 2016 and 2017, according to an advisory that was published by the FBI in 2018.

Most recently, a U.S. Army veteran reported that she was groped while relaxing during a late-night flight in which the cabin was darkened for the passengers to get some sleep. When she alerted a flight attendant, she was reportedly simply told to return to her seat. Another passenger had a similar experience, ABC News reported recently.

Those two passengers’ experiences are now the basis of a first of its kind class action lawsuit against Frontier Airlines, the airline company on which the assaults allegedly occurred. The suit claims that Frontier employees “fail[ed] to have and/or follow policies and procedures to prevent, report and respond to sexual assault of its passengers on its flights.”

Although the problem of in-flight sexual assault incidents – most commonly incidents of groping – is well established, the suit makes the case that airlines are not doing enough to prevent them from occurring or, at the least, not doing enough to train staff in the event that such an event occurs. The attorneys from this class action suit allege that airlines handle these cases in “piecemeal fashion,” meaning that there is no uniform way in which they are dealt with or trained for.

In this case, the U.S. Army veteran who was allegedly assaulted reported not being allowed to move away to a different seat further away from the person she just said assaulted her. Additionally, the flight attendant apparently failed to report the incident to their superiors or request law enforcement officials to be standing by to take a report of the occurrence and question the accuser and accused, nor did the airline attempt to question any potential witnesses about what occurred.

The veteran told the pilots of the occurrence, who did alert local law enforcement and TSA agents, and she ultimately contacted the FBI – but no charges were filed as a result. She said the incident “humiliated” her and that she “went to the people who I thought would make it alright and they didn’t.” Continue reading

With 19 women joining together in the most recent lawsuit against Lyft – which claims they were allegedly sexually assaulted while utilizing the service and were then were promptly ignored by the company after complaining – questions continue to arise about Lyft’s safety and the ability of the company to vet its drivers. If you or a loved one has been harmed or sexually assaulted while riding in a Lyft or other ride sharing service, contact an attorney from Altman & Altman LLP right away.

A reoccurring problem

The options made available by ride sharing services like Lyft and Uber have drastically altered the transportation landscape and given a convenient means of travel for those looking for a safe ride around towns and cities across the country. However, this most recent case is far from the first that has arisen which alleges ride-sharing customers being victimized by drivers.

In September, another 14 women banded together to file a similar lawsuit, which alleged that Lyft allowed sexual predators to become drivers, and then refused to cooperate with women after they had been attacked, or protected their own business interests over helping the victims attain justice.

Lyft responded by announcing it was enacting several organizational efforts to address the situation, including sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention training for drivers and a partnership with the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network – and they maintained that all drivers go through a criminal background check.

But the most recent lawsuit has advocates and the victims themselves crying foul that the steps have not done enough, and that the company’s response when these crimes occur has continued to be not in the interest of the victim, but of the company’s reputation. There have been approximately 200 women that have come forward between the ages of 20 and 40 who to report they were sexually assaulted while utilizing Lyft’s services.

Nobody should be victimized when placing their trust in a service like Lyft

Lyft and other ride sharing services have changed the game when it comes to going out, especially for those who are thinking ahead of time when they may be planning on drinking to a point where it wouldn’t be safe to drive themselves. This kind of forward thinking should be rewarded, as they are protecting others and themselves from possibly destructive behavior. Unfortunately, an abhorrent number of drivers working for Lyft have taken advantage of the position of trust they are placed in.

The response from Lyft must be uniform and strong. They must cooperate with any customer who has been victimized while utilizing their services and try to implement any other means to prevent such activity – whether it be through mandating the use of interior and exterior cameras on the vehicle or by improving their screening process to prevent predators from becoming drivers in the first place. Continue reading

The story of an Arizona woman who gave birth to a baby boy despite being in the midst of a more than decade-long vegetative state made headlines around the world and shocked all who heard the story – not just about how such a thing was physically possible, but how such a deplored act could occur in a facility where the woman was supposed to be cared for. It shows how even in places where we hope our loved ones will remain safe, predators may still be roaming the halls looking for an easy victim.

Elder abuse and other vulnerable victims

While the Arizona story rightfully grabbed headlines due to its bizarre and sickening details, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that similar acts of abuse actually happen relatively frequently throughout the nursing homes and palliative care centers across our country. All such crimes have a similar backdrop – facilities with little oversight, vulnerable clients and potentially dangerous caregivers who feel emboldened by those first two factors.

The National Council on Aging estimates that as many as 1 out of every 10 senior citizens is abused in some way – whether it is physical, mental, sexual abuse or abuse in the form of being manipulated through targeted schemes to take their money. The Arizona case showed a clear example of a caregiver taking advantage of a helpless individual for their own sexual satisfaction, and such horrible activities unfortunately do happen each year in care facilities around the country.

Despite the estimation that nearly five million senior citizens are victimized each year, only 1 out of every 14 victims is likely to report. This could be because they are unable to report the crime due to dementia or memory loss causing them to forget the abuse happened, or perhaps they are scared of speaking up for fear of being ignored and facing retribution from their abuser.

However, as this case clearly showed, the elderly are not the only ones at risk of being exploited. Those in a coma, those in vegetative state and even those who are simply incapacitated while staying in a hospital due to chronic conditions are all at risk of being abused by caregivers, many of whom might be the very people charged with taking care of them.

Any abuse of helpless victims is inexcusable

A perpetrator for the Arizona sexual abuse case has thankfully been captured through DNA evidence. It is not known at this time if the family of the victim will seek retribution against Hacienda Health Care, the facility where she was held for more than 10 years during her vegetative state, but it would certainly not be a case without merit.

Caregiving facilities have a dire responsibility to ensure the safety of their clients, especially those who do not have the ability to take care of themselves and rely on their caregivers. For a caregiver to not only ignore their responsibilities and oaths to provide care, but to actively take advantage of the vulnerable people they are charged with helping, is a sick violation of humanity that must be accounted for utilizing the full extent of the law. Continue reading

David Sweatt, a top neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, has been accused of drugging and raping a student last year. Despite the allegations against him, Sweatt remained in his position at the university until recently, 11 months after his accuser reported the abuse to school officials.

Sweatt was officially placed on leave in August, shortly after a tweet by another scientist. Following a blog post in which Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, praised the neuroscientist, a University of Washington climate scientist by the name of Sara Myhre tweeted something notably less endearing about Sweatt.

“Hello NIH Director,” she wrote. “Do you know that Dr. David Sweatt, the ‘gifted painter’ you are lauding here, has been accused of drugging and raping a student?”

The next day, Myhre tweeted that “Sweatt is a serial rapist. There are multiple women victims.”

Incident Reported to Vanderbilt in 2017

In 2017, an anonymous Oregon Health & Scent University (OHSU) student alleged that she was assaulted by Sweatt at a 2015 scientific conference. Although Vanderbilt was alerted to the incident, the school’s Title IX office says the anonymous student “did not wish to be identified to Vanderbilt’s Equal Opportunity Affirmative Action and Disability Services (EAD) office or to make a report.” Further, the office claims that after exhausting all options, Vanderbilt simply “did not have sufficient basis for conducting an investigation.”

But Myhre’s tweet changed everything.

In addition to her public comments on twitter, Myhre reported having been contacted by two other women who were both able to confirm, separately, the “extent and nature of the allegations” against Sweatt. Shortly after Myhre’s tweets, an official investigation was launched by the university’s EAD.

“Vanderbilt takes reports of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, very seriously,” wrote the university in a recent statement. “We have a robust process for investigating sexual misconduct reports and do not tolerate any sexual misconduct on our campus. Our process protects the well-being and safety of our community members and respects the rights of everyone involved.”

“Potential Safety Threat”

When Sweatt’s alleged victim alerted officials at her school last year, OHSU warned Vanderbilt of the “potential safety threat” posed by Sweatt. Yet the chair of Vanderbilt’s Department of Pharmacology remained on campus for another 11 months.A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment.

When Sweatt was finally placed on leave in early August, Larry Marnett, Vanderbilt’s medical school dean of basic sciences, released an email to inform colleagues.

“I want to make you aware that as of today David Sweatt, Chair of Pharmacology, is on leave,” Marnett wrote,

“Providing a safe and welcoming environment is a priority, and we take seriously any complaints of misconduct,” wrote another Vanderbilt spokesperson. A Boston injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment.

Sweatt’s bio was removed from the school’s website last week.

Sweatt has denied any wrongdoing.

“Beginning in August, and set in motion by people with a destructive, political agenda that is not tethered to reality, Dr. Sweatt has been targeted by anonymous, irresponsible and unfounded allegations,” wrote the neuroscientist’s attorney, Andrew Miltenberg. “He has always conducted himself, both professionally and in his private life, in a respectful, thoughtful and consensual manner.” Continue reading

Last week, the University of Southern California (USC) said it would agree to a $215 million settlement of a federal class-action lawsuit brought by current and former students. The large payout is expected to be the first of many stemming from the sexual misconduct of campus gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.

It is unknown how many students were abused by Tyndall, who practiced at the school for 27 years, but as many as 17,000 students may be eligible as members of the class-action lawsuit. According to a university lawyer, the settlement will provide $2,500 to students who were treated by Tyndall and up to $250,000 to students he abused. USC’s interim president Wanda Austin reported that, “Patients who are willing to provide further details about their experience could be eligible for additional compensation up to $250,000.”

In a letter addressed to the campus community, Austin wrote “we hope that we can help our community move collectively toward reconciliation,” through the settlement.

To date, there are more than 400 lawsuits filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. The $215 million settlement is likely just scratching the surface. In addition to the civil suits, Tyndall is also under criminal investigation. A Boston sexual abuse attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse or harassment.

Plaintiffs Not Satisfied

As substantial as the settlement may seem, many plaintiffs are unsatisfied. Some allege that USC allowed Tyndall to continue working at the school’s clinic after multiple reports of sexual misconduct, dating back to the early 1990s. Others are critical about how the class-action was handled, claiming it was used to block discovery, delaying sworn testimonies that may have uncovered even more pertinent—and disturbing—evidence. Still others are frustrated, and insulted, by the $250,000 cap. Consider the recent Michigan State settlement of $500 million in a similar case involving the school’s athletic trainer, Larry Nassar. That settlement, which was twice the USC settlement, was divided among only 332 women. As a result, it is likely that many plaintiffs in the USC class-action suit will pursue their own case, choosing to opt out of this recent settlement.

Don’t Suffer in Silence

These days, it seems there’s a new sex abuse scandal in the headlines every week. Fortunately, this onslaught of scandals isn’t because of an increase in sexual abuse, but a shift in how our society reacts to victims, and those who commit the abuse. Victim shaming and blaming, which used to prevent women (and men) from coming forward about sexual abuse, is going the way of the dinosaur. And the collective strength of victims to come forward en masse has helped many others come out of the shadows. All across the nation, people are saying, we will no longer stand for the sexual abuse and harassment of anyonewhether female or male, straight or gay, black or white, prominent figure or low-income worker. A MA injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of any type of abuse or harassment. Continue reading

Across the country, attorneys general are opening investigations into misconduct (and worse) at the hands of the Roman Catholic clergy. In fact, last week the attorney general for the state of New York issued subpoenas to every Catholic diocese in the state, eight in total. Such sweeping investigations into sexual abuse of children and allegations of church cover ups come in the wake of a shocking grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. The report announced the discovery of the abuse of more than 1,000 children by hundreds of Pennsylvania priests, and the steps the Church took to hide it.

Since the release of the explosive Pennsylvania report, attorneys general in New York, Nebraska, New Mexico, Missouri, and Illinois have announced they will open their own investigations. New Jersey has announced a criminal investigation. And abuse at the hand of Catholic clergy isn’t unique to the U.S. Allegations of clergy sexual abuse have reached global proportions—from Honduras and Chile to Ireland and Australia.

“The Pennsylvania grand jury report shined a light on incredibly disturbing and depraved acts by Catholic clergy, assisted by a culture of secrecy and cover-ups in the dioceses,” said New York’s attorney general, Barbara Underwood. “Victims in New York deserve to be heard as well — and we are going to do everything in our power to bring them the justice they deserve.”

Gurbir S. Grewal, New Jersey’s attorney general, has created a test force to investigate abuse and cover ups.

“I was deeply troubled to read the allegations contained in last month’s Pennsylvania grand jury report,” said Grewal. “We owe it to the people of New Jersey to find out whether the same thing happened here. If it did, we will take action against those responsible.” A Boston clergy sexual abuse attorney can help you determine how to proceed.

Will they Cooperate?

Thus far, church officials have been relatively compliant with subpoenas and requests to provide documentation. In fact, Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for New York’s Archdiocese, said that every NY diocese will cooperate.

“It is not a surprise to us that the attorney general would look to begin a civil investigation, and she will find the Archdiocese of New York, and the other seven dioceses in the state, ready and eager to work together with her in the investigation,” said Zwilling. A MA injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of clergy sexual abuse.

Statute of Limitations

In New York, victims of most forms of child sexual abuse only have until the age of 23 to file charges. When the case involves rape, there is no time limit, as long as the conduct didn’t occur prior to 2001. In MA, the statute of limitations is slightly more in favor of the victim—28 years after the incident occurred, or 28 years after age 16. A bill to change New York’s restrictive timeline—known as the Child Victims Act—has failed to pass for years. Last week, the bill was again presented. If passed, it would allow victims to file criminal charges until age 28 and to file civil suits until age 50.

“Little is known about clergy abuse of children in New York, because of the state’s antiquated and predator-friendly statute of limitations, and because the church has kept the evidence secret all these years,” said Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org.

“Finally we will learn the truth in New York.” Continue reading

A grand jury issued a report last week revealing that more than 300 priests sexually abused at least 1,000 children over a 70-year period, in Pennsylvania alone. Nearly as disturbing is the discovery that the abuse was covered up by bishops and many others in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Church, and that victims and law enforcement were “persuaded” to remain mum. According to the report, there are likely thousands of additional victims who are reticent to come forward, or who have died leaving no record of abuse.

The report includes detailed descriptions of abuse, including the rape of a young girl by a hospital chaplain after a tonsillectomy, a priest who impregnated a young girl and arranged for her abortion, a priest who tied up and whipped his victim with leather straps, and five sisters who were all abused, including the youngest who was 18 months old.

Pennsylvania Isn’t Alone

Boston is no stranger to sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. In 2002, decades of sexual abuse and cover ups were brought to light, resulting in the resignation of Boston’s Archbishop, settlements in the billions of dollars, and the addition of multiple prevention programs. But Boston and PA are far from the only places to be rocked by scandal in recent years; the former archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, recently resigned after being accused of sexual abuse against minors, and some of these cover-ups have gone as far as the Vatican. A MA injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse.

According to the report, some of the church officials who protected abusive priests were not only allowed to remain in office, they got promotions.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” wrote the grand jury in the report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” A Boston injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of clergy sexual abuse.

Several bishops are rejecting accusations that the church has been covering up sexual abuse.

“There was no cover-up going on,” said Bishop David A. Zubik of Pittsburgh. “I think that it’s important to be able to state that. We have over the course of the last 30 years, for sure, been transparent about everything that has in fact been transpiring.”

They Put the Church First

But the grand jury doesn’t see it that way, saying that the Catholic Church knew what it was doing by following the “playbook for concealing the truth.” For example, any documentation about incidents used language such as “inappropriate contact” for actions that more accurately described rape. And when priests were removed for misconduct, church officials were advised to say the priest was on “sick leave” or “suffering from exhaustion.” According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the church put itself first. “They protected their institution at all costs. As the grand jury found, the church showed a complete disdain for victims.” Continue reading

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