By PAT EATON-ROBB Associated Press
STORRS, Conn. (AP) _ The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to investigate the civil rights complaint filed by seven women who allege the University of Connecticut responded to sexual assaults on campus with deliberate indifference or worse.
University President Susan Herbst received a letter Monday from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights informing her it was opening an investigation based on a complaint filed in October by nationally known women’s-rights attorney Gloria Allred on behalf of the UConn students and recent graduates.
Four of the women have subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against the school.
Richard Orr, the university’s general counsel, said the federal review was expected.
“We look forward to working with their staff as they examine the policies and practices that UConn employs to prevent sexual assault and discrimination, to educate our community on these important issues, and to provide victims with the resources they need,” he said in a statement.
In both complaints, the women say the school failed to protect them and exposed them to a sexually hostile environment.
Kylie Angell, a nurse who graduated from the school in May, has said UConn initially expelled her attacker, but later readmitted him, without informing her of that decision. She said when he later accosted her in a dining hall, she went to campus police, where an 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.”
No criminal charges have been brought in any of the cases and the school has said it believes each was handled appropriately.
Herbst was criticized after telling the school’s board of trustees in October that, “The suggestion that the University of Connecticut as an institution would be indifferent to or dismissive of any report of sexual assault is astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.”
The school later said Herbst was responding to the broad allegation of indifference, not responding the specific allegations.
The school also defended its policies and practices at a legislative hearing in November; outlining numerous resources it has available to victims of sexual harassment and assault.
“In their investigation OCR will be able to carefully scrutinize both the policies and the practices of UConn regarding rape and sexual assault victims and we will be very interested in the results,” Allred said Monday.
The civil rights complaint, if upheld, could lead to sanctions including the loss of federal funds.
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