U not liable for assault of student in Mexico

by Nicole Vulcan

The state Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the University is not liable for the rape of a female student who was attacked while on a Global Campus study abroad program during winter quarter 1997.
The student sued the University after she was raped by a taxi driver in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the home of the Cemanahuac Educational Community, just outside of Mexico City.
She contends the University did not properly warn her of the dangers of traveling alone. She also contends the University failed to secure housing close to the educational facility, provide adequate transportation and protect students from harm.
According to the court’s opinion, the University viewed itself as “statutorily immune from suit” and that “the University did not have a legal duty to warn the students about the criminal acts of third parties.” Though the Hennepin County District Court denied this judgment, the state Court of Appeals upheld it.
Mark Rotenberg, University general counsel, said the University cannot be sued for operating its academic programs according to its established protocol.
But attorneys for the victim said the Global Campus should be held accountable for the safety of students.
“(The Global Campus) didn’t do everything they could to protect her,” said Eric Hageman, who is partners with the victim’s attorney. “They placed her in a position where she had to travel alone.”
The student lived in a home a few miles from the school where she studied Spanish, forcing her to use public transportation to get to and from school.
After hailing a taxi from her house to meet friends, the driver of the cab told the woman to sit in the front seat because the back door was broken; she complied. On the way, the driver pulled the vehicle to the side of the road and raped her at knife point.
“The circumstances regarding women alone is highlighted (in the Global Campus orientation packet),” said Al Balkcum, director of the Global Campus. “They are advised: Do not be out alone at night, do not hail taxi cabs, and never take a cab if you are asked to sit in the front seat.”
One student who studied in Cuernavaca at the time of the attack said the University’s warnings were so explicit that some students stopped taking them seriously. “I think that the University used too many scare tactics,” said the student, who wished to remain unidentified. “They sat us in a room and told us how bad it was down there. They scared us so much that when we went down there, we saw the University’s tactics as scare tactics and relaxed.”