Articles Posted in Sexual Assault

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

Most women would prefer to do a multitude of things rather than go to the gynecologist, but periodic check-ups are necessary to ensure good health. Finding a gynecologist with whom you are comfortable is the best way to make these visits at least slightly more tolerable. Fortunately, the majority of gynecologists in the United States have the best interests of their patients in mind at all times. But there are exceptions. Case in point—52 women have come forward alleging sexual abuse at the hands of former University of Southern California (USC) staff gynecologist, Dr. George Tyndall.

According to LAPD reports, Tyndall, now 72, abused patients—most of them USC students—for a 26-year period…basically his entire career. Despite numerous complaints and accusations during that time, Tyndall remained employed at USC until a 2016 incident, after which he was asked to resign, and given a severance package.

According to the abuse allegations, Tyndall groped women’s breasts, and penetrated their vaginas and anuses for “no legitimate medical purpose,” other than “to satisfy his own prurient sexual desires.” He also made lewd remarks about his patients’ sex lives and bodies. A MA sexual abuse victims attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been sexually harassed, raped, or assaulted.

Position of Power

One of those patients, now a nurse practitioner, said that Tyndall used his position of power to take advantage of his patients. He knew that certain actions could be perceived as medically necessary, and he used that knowledge to exploit women.

At a recent press conference, LAPD officials encouraged Tyndall’s victims to come forward to the authorities. “We are empathetic and ready to listen,” said Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala.

“In mid-May, news broke of allegations brought forth by faculty and students within the University of Southern California against Dr. George Tyndall — a gynecologist there at USC whose behaviors and practices appear to go beyond the norms of the medical profession and gynecological examinations,” said Girmala. “As the LAPD works with the University of Southern California, its board, staff, faculty, and very importantly, student community — both past and present — we wanted to personally outreach to those who may have been impacted and believe they may have been the victim of criminal conduct by Dr. Tyndall.”

Was USC Negligent?

In addition to the criminal investigation into Tyndall’s actions, numerous lawsuits have been filed against USC claiming that the university failed to respond to dozens of complaints made over a period of more than two decades. The lawsuits allege that USC allowed Tyndall to have “unfettered sexual access to the young female USC students in his care.” His abuse was overlooked by USC staff until 2016, when a nurse reported Tyndall to the school’s rape crisis center. Continue reading

The woman, a student at MSU, was 18 at the time of the alleged rape. She filed a lawsuit, claiming  that the men gang-raped her, and that the university’s counseling center discouraged her from coming forward with the allegations.

According to the lawsuit, the rape occurred a week after Michigan State lost to Duke in the 2015 Final Four. The woman, who is currently a student at MSU, says she was at an East Lansing bar when one of the three men bought her a drink. Shortly thereafter, she was invited to a party by one of the basketball players, who also claimed that her roommate would be there.

As soon as she arrived at the “party”, in an off-campus apartment, the woman realized her roommate wasn’t there and began “feeling discombobulated” and “thought she might have been drugged.” According to the lawsuit, one of the players threw her down on a bed and raped her, and the other two men soon began taking turns. A few hours later, she woke up and called a taxi. A Boston sexual assault attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of rape or any other type of sexual assault.

School Counselors Discouraged Victim From Reporting the Rape

The woman says she immediately reported the rape to MSU’s Counseling Center. Although the counseling staffer was initially supportive, “the counselor’s demeanor completely changed,” once the victim revealed that the three men involved were basketball players. Another staffer entered the conversation, informing the woman that reporting the rape may not be in her interest.

In response to the allegations about discouraging the plaintiff to come forward, staff at MSU’s counseling center said that “we have had many other students in the same situation who have reported, and it has been very traumatic for them.” The plaintiff also claims that staff said they had received several reports of cases involving “guys with big names” and that it would be in her best interest to “just get yourself better.” They also told her, “if you pursue this, you are going to be swimming with some really big fish.”

This is not the first time MSU has been pegged for a lack or transparency with regard to sexual assault cases. In fact, the school has been overseen by the Department of Education since 2014 due to mishandled sexual assault cases involving football and basketball players. A MA sexual assault lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been the victim of rape or any other type of sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) is an annual campaign that raises public awareness about sexual assault and how to prevent it, especially as it pertains to college campuses. According to statistics, one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, and 43 percent of college women say they have experienced violent dating behaviors. And Massachusetts is no exception. In 2014, a total of 283 rapes at colleges were reported in MA, but only seven percent of those were ever reported to the schools. Continue reading

Jacob Moore, an 18-year old gymnast, is the first man to accuse gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse. Nassar was the team physician for USA Gymnastics for about 20 years.

One day after practice in April 2016, Moore went to Nassar’s office to receive treatment for an injured shoulder. According to Moore, after Nassar advised him that acupuncture would be the most effective treatment, the doctor pulled down Moore’s pants and began administering acupuncture to his genital area. A MA personal injury lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse.

Not surprisingly, the unorthodox “shoulder treatment” did not relieve Moore’s shoulder pain. It did, however, leave him feeling “quite uncomfortable.”

“I left his basement thinking that did not help at all,” Moore said. “It’s frustrating when you have an injury and thinking you’re gonna get legitimate medical treatment, and you’re not getting that, for sure.”

And there was another person in the treatment room with Moore and Nassar during the incident – a young female gymnast. As he performed the disturbing treatment, Nassar asked the woman if she had ever seen a man’s body part before.

Moore made the decision to make his story public after nearly 200 girls – his own sister among them – came forward and testified against Nassar. Last week, the University of Michigan student joined a civil federal suit against the disgraced doctor.

“I was inspired by my sister and everyone else in this community to come out and help bring change to what allowed this to happen,” said Moore. “I don’t want (other victims) to be scared to come out because of stigma that guys can’t be sexually abused or taken advantage of.”

Nassar Sentenced to Decades in Prison

Earlier this year, Nassar admitted that he used his position of authority as a doctor to abuse his victims, and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct. In addition to those charges, he was sentenced on multiple charges of child pornography.

According to the civil lawsuit against Nassar, “There is no known medical connection between shoulder pain which can be treated through acupuncture in the area of a male’s genitalia. Plaintiff Jacob Moore believes the conduct of Dr. Nassar was sexual assault, battery, abuse, molestation and harassment performed by Defendant Nassar for Defendant Nassar’s sexual pleasure and gratification.”

USA Gymnastics terminated Nassar in 2015 after receiving several complaints about the doctor. But he continued treating Michigan State University patients until further allegations were made public a few months later. In November 2016, Nassar was placed under arrest.

How Was the Abuse Allowed to Go On for So Long?

According to the lawsuit, USA Gymnastics failed to inform the public – or even other gymnasts – about the allegations against Nassar after the organization dismissed him in 2015. As a result, Moore and other victims continued to suffer abuse for nearly a year after Nassar’s dismissal. A Boston personal injury lawyer can help you recover damages if you’ve been the victim of sexual abuse. Continue reading

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