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'I wasn't believed.' Women suing EMU over alleged sexual assaults speak out for first time

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Posted at 5:55 PM, May 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-25 14:13:56-04

(WXYZ) — For the first time, women who say they were violently raped on or near the campus of Eastern Michigan University are speaking out.

As of Monday, there are now 34 women who have joined the civil case against the university, EMU police, the Title IX department at EMU, two fraternities and sororities, and the list is growing.

Related: 'Enough is enough.' New lawsuit to be filed in Eastern Michigan sex assault case

Carolyn Clifford sat down with eight of the woman and listed as they each shared similar stories about their cries for help that, they say, went unanswered, and the justice they still hope to one day get.

"I was raped when I was 19 years old I was also a freshman at Eastern I had just started," one woman said.

It's hard enough to come to grips with being sexually assaulted, but it's another hurdle when the culture on campus tells you you have no voice and no one will believe you.

"When I first told of my assault, unfortunately, I wasn't believed," one victim said.

Related: EMU says it lacked 'sufficient knowledge' of sex assault claims of several students

"I read some of the details in this case, some of the things that I read were absolutely horrific, were you able to share your pain with anyone?" Clifford asked.

"Yeah, I did tell one of my closest friends," she said.

She also said she felt powerless to go to university officials and Ypsilanti police.

"In previous cases, he said she said doesn't really work out in the victim's favor," she said.

They have each joined a civil lawsuit that now has 34 women who all say they were sexually assaulted between 2015 and 2020.

Related: Lawsuit alleges Eastern Michigan University 'turned a blind eye' to sexual assaults

Some allegedly gang-raped, one allegedly held captive overnight. Another alleges she lost her virginity while being raped. In each lawsuit, they are all listed as Jane Does, and their words describe what's spelled out in their lawsuit.

They sat down with Clifford, one-by-one, each telling her they felt the university did not listen, that EMU police did not investigate and the Title IX department took no action to remove students who had been accused of rape before.

"I found out it had been going on for so long I just thought it was unbelievable," one victim said.

According to the lawsuit many of them confided in Melody Werner, who resigned from her Title IX coordinator position at EMU.

"I told her I was sexually assaulted and that I did not know what to do and she told me there was nothing they could do," another victim said.

"I went to Title IX at EMU and I spoke to Melody Warner," a third victim told us. "She told me that since it was my assailant's first offense there's nothing we can do and we just have to wait and see if he does it again."

EMU released a statement in response to the lawsuit. It says Werner has denied these accusations The school also stood by prior statements Werner made denying that she deterred a student from reporting a gang rape.

One former EMU student, Dustyn Durbin, who has now been charged criminally for raping 10 women at EMU, had done it before.

Many of the alleged rapes occurred at two EMU-sanctioned Fraternity houses. There are now more than a dozen criminal defendants charged with rape.

"It's because of the culture of the universities and for so long other universities have done the exact same thing and nothing has happened," a fifth victim said.

Their attorney Todd Flood says it took a mom pressing charges for her daughter, a boyfriend of one victim exposing the crimes on social media, and two women, both Ypsilanti police officers, following it on social media and exposing the alleged cover up.

"Women were being raped it was pronounced on emu's campus they found one and they heard about the others and they started getting leads," Flood said.

They began reaching out to victims

"They sounded like they truly cared about what happens to me and to the other girls and that they truly wanted to make a change and find justice for us," one victim said.

"What does justice look like?" Clifford asked.

"Justice looks like accountability for Eastern and those involved and men and women not being afraid to speak up to authorities and the authorities who are there to help do their job," she responded.

"To your attacker, the person who sexually assaulted you, the person who changed your life you say what?" Clifford asked.

"You took a piece of me that I didn't know I have but I have it back now and nobody's going to take it away from me again," she responded.

EMU released an official statement. It reads in part, "Our response does not dispute or challenge any survivor's allegation that they suffered a sexual assault. It focuses on the important legal distinctions between what the plaintiffs' counsel claims are the University responsibilities in these cases and our actual responsibilities under federal law (Title IX)."

While there is no timetable for when this legal battle will be over, there are other defendants awaiting their day in court.

Every woman we spoke to said what they really want is real change so women can not only feel safe on EMU's campus but also know if a woman comes forward with a complaint they will be listened to and believed until proven otherwise.