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Minnesota student claiming she was raped on study abroad in Cuba gets $137,500 settlement

MINNEAPOLIS - A University of Minnesota undergraduate studying in Cuba in 2014 said she was raped by a local interpreter who offered to help with her research.

The university last year agreed to pay $137,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by the student, Natalie Carlson, who said the group’s chaperone failed to supervise them and mistreated Carlson after the assault.

The U, which admitted no wrongdoing, recently released the settlement agreement in response to a records request.

Carlson’s attorney, Natalie Feidt, received 40 percent of the U’s payment.

The Pioneer Press typically does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Carlson agreed to be named for this report.

According to that complaint, SPAN’s Cuba affiliate, Centro de Estudios Martianos, hired a man named Marcel Benet to interpret for the group of six female and two male students. Benet offered to help Carlson find local residents to interview.

They spent hours walking through neighborhoods before ending up at the home where Benet lived with his mother.

Carlson planned to interview Benet about his living conditions. Instead, he trapped her in his bedroom and raped her several times, she said.

Carlson returned to her hotel room, where her roommate found her crying and informed Melisa Riviere, a U lecturer who was supervising the students.

The next day, Riviere told Carlson she should have known better than to go with Benet, the complaint states. Riviere said that Carlson should have been more aware of cultural differences and that at least the interpreter “was a gentleman and walked (her) home after,” Carlson wrote.

Carlson later was forced to ride to a local police station in the same taxi as Benet in order to report the assault.

She ultimately declined to press charges because she was told she’d have to stay in Cuba until the case was resolved.

The study-abroad program fired the interpreter for what it deemed “consensual” sex with a student, Carlson said.

Back in Minneapolis, Carlson complained to the U about her assault and Riviere’s response. Several months later, in April 2015, the U opted not to punish Riviere, Carlson said.

Riviere continued to serve as Carlson’s adviser for the research project. Despite being able to graduate in spring 2015, Carlson said she missed classes and suffered from a long list of medical problems because of the assault.

Carlson’s lawsuit accused the U, SPAN and Riviere of failing to prepare and supervise the students.