HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Four women who say they were sexually assaulted while students at the University of Connecticut added a federal lawsuit Friday to an earlier civil rights complaint filed against the school.
The women are among seven students and recent graduates who last month asked the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to conduct a federal Title IX investigation of UConn. In both complaints, the women allege the school failed to protect them and responded to their sexual assault complaints with deliberate indifference or worse.
On Friday, they said they were re-victimized by President Susan Herbst’s response to their initial complaint. Herbst last week told the school’s Board of Trustees, “The suggestion that the University of Connecticut, as an institution, would somehow be indifferent to or dismissive of any report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.”
“President Herbst’s response made me feel invalidated all over again,” said Rose Richi, a junior who alleges in the lawsuit she was raped by a football player. “Our only motive is to get change, something she made clear was unnecessary. It was the most disappointing, invalidating and unreasonable response I’ve heard yet.”
The Associated Press does not normally report the names of those filing sexual assault complaints, but the women involved have asked that their names be used.
The lawsuit alleges discrimination based on gender and retaliation in violation of Title IX, which guarantees equal educational opportunities to students at schools that receive federal funds. It seeks unspecified monetary damages and changes in university policies.
University spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said the school will carefully assess the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
“We care deeply for the safety and welfare of all of our students,” she said. “The University does all in its power to appropriately investigate and handle such claims in a manner that is fully compliant with the law and grounded in both sensitivity and fairness.”
Neither Reitz nor the athletic department immediately responded to an email seeking details about the handling of the complaint against the football player.
According to the lawsuit, an officer said to Richi he did not believe her, and no criminal charges were brought. Police also failed to notify her that she had the right to bring the alleged perpetrator up on administrative charges, according to the lawsuit.
Several school officials are accused in the lawsuit of failing to perform their duties as mandatory reporters, in one case telling plaintiff Kylie Angell that an administrative complaint “was the usual response by victims, and that going to the police was a last resort in case the hearing did not bring about the results that Ms. Angell felt were necessary (such as the rapist being expelled from campus).”
Angell says she went to police herself after her attacker returned to campus and a female police officer told her, “Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening until the cows come home.”
The school has acknowledged it failed to notify a student that her alleged assailant’s expulsion had been overturned, but said that issue has since been addressed.
The leaders of the state legislature’s Higher Education and Public Safety committees announced Friday they would conduct informational hearings on Nov. 13 at the state Capitol into the sexual assault reporting policies at all public and private schools in Connecticut. Both the school and the plaintiffs in the lawsuit have said they will participate.
State lawmakers last year passed legislation requiring that schools implement protocols for responding to sexual assault complaints. Under the law, schools must create a plan for enforcing court-ordered protective and restraining orders, make campus disciplinary proceedings uniform and transparent, and provide students and employees with sexual assault awareness and prevention programming.
“We look forward to these hearings, to President Herbst’s testimony under oath and vigorously prosecuting our lawsuit,” attorney Gloria Allred said.
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