Last Monday, five female Howard University students filed suit against the university in the United States Court for the District of Columbia, claiming that the school did not do enough to protect them from sexual abuse by one of its employees.
The employee, librarian George Bright-Abu, was arrested earlier this year after Rukayatu Bello and Mercedes Woodson, both HU students, filed a police report alleging sexual misconduct. In a July trial, Bright-Abu was found guilty of one count of simple assault and two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse. He was sentenced to sixty days in prison and probation.
In a statement released by the five students’ attorneys last week, they say Bright-Abu “sexually assaulted two full-time students during the 2010-2011 academic year. This included unwanted touching, flirting, fondling and degrading propositions of a sexual nature.” Bright-Abu was the work-study supervisor of all five plaintiffs in the federal case filed last week.
The lawsuit details months of unwanted sexual harassment and abuse by Bright-Abu, which Howard allegedly did nothing to stop. Woodson told MyFoxDC that after she reported an incident in November 2010, university administrators did not take action. “Basically, it seemed as though they weren’t really concerned and wanted me to overlook it,” Woodson told the station. In addition to Bello and Woodson, three other Howard students have come forward in this new lawsuit, alleging that Bright-Abu abused them and the university did nothing to stop him.
“Howard University created a hostile and abusive working environment for all plaintiffs by continuing to employ Bright-Abu after being made aware of his ongoing physical and verbal sexual assault,” Christal Edwards, one of the attorneys, told WJLA. After several months of university inaction, the lawsuit alleges, Bello and Woodson finally filed a police report.
Steve Bullock, another of the plantiffs’ attorneys, emphasized to the Washington Post that Bright-Abu’s position of authority makes the lawsuit particularly important:
There has been a culture at Howard where Mr. Bright-Abu was known as a flirt in the library with the students, and his superiors didn’t do anything. These were students who used work-study as part of their financial aid, and here was a supervisor taking advantage of the situation. Regardless of Howard’s legacy, we can’t sweep this kind of thing under the rug.
In a statement to MyFoxDC, a Howard spokesperson said, “When the University administration became aware of the allegations, we reported the case to the Metropolitan Police Department. The individual was subsequently charged and terminated from the university. We take the safety of our students very seriously.”