Law firm ad targets BU students who have sexual assault complaints

(Unsplash)

By Amy Pollard
BU News Service

A Seattle-based law firm with offices in Cambridge and Newton is urging BU students to contact them if they feel they may have experienced a sexual assault by a doctor at the BU Student Health Center.

In a web post published by the firm Hagens Berman, a doctor, who is not identified, has been accused of performing a pelvic exam “unnecessarily.” A  student, who is also unnamed, described the experience as “violent and unexpected.”

There are no additional details about the incident on the web page.  It is unclear when the incident is alleged to have taken place or whether the doctor currently works at the health center. Most of the rest of the post outlines the firm’s experience representing victims of sexual assaults and invites students who feel they may have been abused to confidentially contact the legal team.

“We are not aware of any such concerns at this time, and we encourage students to let us know of any concerns so we can look into them,” said Colin Riley, the executive director of the Boston University Media Relations Office, after speaking with the Student Health Services director.

Hagens Berman declined to comment for this story; the BU Student Health Center declined to comment directly.

The law firm’s post urges anyone who believes that they experienced harassment, assault or “any other unwanted or threatening behavior” from a doctor at the BU Student Health Center to contact its attorneys.

It’s unclear when the post was published, though it appears to be a relatively new addition to the firm’s website, as it was not present during the Internet Archive’s most recent screenshot of the site on September 24. The post has also appeared on Facebook as a sponsored ad, and the BU allegation does not appear in a searchable database of the firm’s past or present cases.

Hagens Berman bills itself as a “national class-action law firm.” It has represented more than 50 women in a suit against the University of Southern California’s former gynecologist George Tyndall, as well as nine women in a class action suit against Harvey Weinstein, according to its website.

Weinstein, a former film producer, has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women. The firm operates on a contingency fee basis, meaning the lawyers only charge the clients if they recover money.

Online advertisements are generally a permissible way for firms to solicit clients for a potential class action suit, as long as those ads target groups rather than individuals and don’t use threats or coercion, according to Martha Davis, a law professor at Northeastern University who specializes in legal ethics.

“There’s some targeting here through Facebook, but I don’t think it’s enough to raise concerns,” said Davis, referring to the Hagens Berman Facebook ad. “If they’re trying to put together a class action, [there] are provisions on notice to members of the class. But here, they haven’t established a class yet. They’re just trying to see if there’s a class there. So it sounds to me like what they’re doing is certainly within the legal ethics rules.”

The firm’s solicitation to BU students comes in an era of #MeToo that has seen powerful figures fall as survivors of sexual assault come forward seeking justice, some many years later. BU, which has been the subject of a federal Title IX investigation since 2013, has come under fire in recent years over its handling of sexual misconduct allegations.

In 2016, two students filed a lawsuit accusing a music professor – who still teaches at BU – of sexual harassment. Last year, BU moved to fire a geology professor after finding evidence that he sexually harassed a graduate student nearly two decades ago.

The university has taken some steps to address the issue. It appointed Deputy Title IX coordinators to various schools, colleges and administrative offices. It also required all students to take an online sexual assault prevention course and faculty have been required to complete online training as well.

“Boston University remains committed to a campus environment that is free from all forms of sexual misconduct,” Provost Jean Morrison wrote in a memo to faculty, staff and students last year. “We have made considerable progress in recent years toward increasing awareness of sexual misconduct, eliminating its occurrence on campus, diligently investigating all reports of sexual misconduct.”

But some have accused the school of being slow to act and failing to hold perpetrators accountable. A rape survivor wrote in an anonymous letter to The Daily Free Press in 2015: “I asked BU for justice, but I was victimized again … I was abandoned, like so many other women, by the institution that was supposed to protect me.”

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If you have any information to share regarding sexual misconduct at the Student Health Center or elsewhere on campus, please contact us through our secure messaging platform, Signal, at 703-763-9745.

If you or someone you know have experienced a sexual assault, you can call the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center hotline at 800-841-8371 for resources and support. The BU Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center also provides resources for survivors. 

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