Baylor campus science building (copy)

Baylor University is battling lawsuits from women who say their sexual assault complaints were mishandled.

Attorneys for Baylor University are defending their questioning of female plaintiffs who sued the school over its handling of their sexual assault allegations, disputing a plaintiff’s attorney’s claims last week that the lengthy deposition process has further traumatized the women.

“Baylor has treated plaintiffs with respect and will continue to do so,” Baylor attorneys Lisa A. Brown, Holly G. McIntush and Julie A. Springer said in a filing this week in response to Waco attorney Jim Dunnam’s allegations.

Dunnam reported in his motion that one former student was asked what kind of shorts she was wearing before the assault. Another was questioned about a psychological assessment performed before she donated a kidney to a stranger. Others were asked how deeply they were penetrated during the assault.

Other questions concerned the sexual assaults committed by one’s imprisoned stepfather and about lists one Jane Doe exchanged with girlfriends about boys they thought were cute.

“Despite continued empty claims of praying and care for these young women, current Baylor leadership is directly responsible for this ongoing abuse being hurled upon these young women by Baylor’s lawyers,” Dunnam said last week. “This case is about decades of institutional discrimination against women at Baylor, conduct the board has admitted.

“This just shows the conduct continues. These brave girls have taken a stand for hundreds of Baylor rape survivors and continue to expose Baylor’s horrific conduct. Re-victimizing them will not silence them. Baylor evidently believes all 15 of these young women somehow asked to be raped. Regardless of this position, the level of detail in which Baylor is forcing them to relive these events is uncalled for and shameful,” Dunnam said.

The university’s attorneys this week said they were only trying to collect information pertinent to the case.

“Baylor certainly does not desire to make the litigation experience unpleasant for any plaintiff, and it has conducted the depositions as sensitively as possible,” the filing states. “However, Baylor respectfully disagrees that it is responsible for sexual assaults committed by third-party students, and it has a right and responsibility to learn the circumstances behind plaintiffs’ allegations.”

The lawyers assert that “whether and how the alleged assaults occurred” and whether they were reported to Baylor are at the heart of the 15 plaintiffs’ cases. They argue that in relation to plaintiffs’ alleged damages, they are permitted to explore mitigating and aggravating factors, “such as Jane Doe 1’s admission that childhood sexual abuse affected here grades at Baylor.”

“Because some plaintiffs never pursued complaints with Baylor or the police, these depositions are Baylor’s first opportunity to learn what allegedly happened,” according to Baylor’s motion. “In other instances, some plaintiffs presented complaints to outside law enforcement, but criminal charges were rejected.”

Dunnam said Tuesday that of the eight women deposed so far, two reported assaults to Baylor police, one went to both Baylor and Waco police and one went to Waco police. The others reported to Baylor Judicial Affairs or to Baylor’s Title IX Office, Dunnam said, adding that the question about “penetration” was asked of a woman who had reported the assault to both Waco and Baylor PD.

“The inappropriateness of the questions speak for themselves,” Dunnam said Tuesday.

Dunnam alleged last week that the detail of the questions was forcing the women to relive the assaults and labeled it “uncalled for and shameful.” He also alleged that the women were being forced to endure 10 to 12 hours of depositions plus breaks.

The Baylor attorneys rejected that claim, saying no plaintiff “has endured more than seven hours of questioning as permitted by Rule 30.”

In a ruling this week on discovery matters in the lawsuits, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman cautioned the parties to “avoid speculating about opposing counsel’s motivations” and confine their motions to the relief they are requesting from the court. The judge specifically noted Dunnam’s two-page response regarding “what is ongoing in discovery outside of motions.”

“The court is aware of the highly sensitive nature of discovery in a case concerning sexual assault,” Pitman wrote. “It is critical that depositions are conducted with decency. The court will entertain requests for relief if that is not the case.

“However, the court will not permit the parties to use court filings to deliver material to the news media that is irrelevant to the immediate issue before the court. If either party files briefing in the future that is not directly responsive to the motion pending or otherwise relevant to the requested relief, the court will take appropriate measures,” the judge said.

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Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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