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University of Connecticut Sued for Mishandling of Sexual Assaults

University of Connecticut Sued for Mishandling of Sexual Assaults

College campuses should be safe zones for learning, exchanging ideas and interacting with intellectually driven, curious and engaged peers. Tragically, in the United States, this isn’t the case. One in five women can expect a sexual assault during her time in college, and as if that wasn’t enough, her case is likely to be severely mishandled by her college or university. Women have been hounded out of school, ignored by law enforcement and caught in lawsuits of their own when they resort to naming their rapists as they demand justice.

The U.S. educational system is in the grips of a rape crisis that only seems to be expanding, with new discoveries about the dynamics of college sexual assault making the picture worse by the week. Recently, a study showed that 9 of ten rapes on college campuses involved repeat offenders, often known to the college or university administration. Due to the bizarre and labyrinthine system of justice on college campuses paired with a reluctance to believe rape victims for fear of adding a rape to a college’s safety statistics, assailants may remain on campus despite their activities.

Now, a group of students at the University of Connecticut is calling on their administration to face the music and explain why their university hasn’t handled rape cases well, to the tune of unspecified damages for emotional suffering and a court order to force the university to mend its ways. UConn has an inadequate system in place for handling sexual assaults, which has exposed students to danger, including danger from multiple rapists who haven’t been expelled or put through any kind of campus judiciary proceedings.

The four women involved in the suit are basing their complaints upon Title IX, a landmark piece of legislation designed to address discrimination in education. They’re arguing that the mishandling of their rapes constituted a hostile environment as they experienced a form of dual victimization due to the fact that they were raped and then mistreated by the University when they filed complaints and attempted to seek justice.

It’s probable that UConn will attempt to settle the matter out of court to avoid a public suit and subsequent headlines, but the students have already made their point, and will likely continue to do so. Already, Connecticut’s legislature is holding a meeting to discuss a crackdown on sexual assault at college campuses, reflecting a growing national understanding that colleges and universities are ill-equipped, and perhaps unwilling, when it comes to addressing the issue.

Fighting rape on college campuses obviously requires much more than a single legislature or a single lawsuit could ever do. One important area of action is within the Department of Education, which has the power to cite and fine institutions that it feels are failing students. It could be issuing more aggressive warnings and fines for campuses with a serious rape problem or documented issues when it comes to handling rape cases. Such a move could spur colleges to independently form task forces to discuss ways to more effectively, safely and respectfully handle sexual assault cases and the safety of students.

Such programs need to include comprehensive rape prevention programs as well as protocols for handling accusations. Prevention at college campuses is often mistakenly focused on women, unfortunately, when it would be much more effective aimed at men, with discussions about consent, autonomy and sexual responsibility. Meanwhile, a commitment to taking accusations seriously and respecting the fact that they are not like other misconduct reports is critical to ensure that women have a safe space to come forward with reports and concerns.

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Photo credit: industrial arts.

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66 comments

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12:35AM PST on Nov 12, 2013

Karen H, Margaret G what you both say is so very true. Plus the fact as many have already stated, the idea that the police are not immediately called to deal with the situation is beyond bizarre along with what the author wrote:

"Recently, a study showed that 9 of ten rapes on college campuses involved repeat offenders, often known to the college or university administration. Due to the bizarre and labyrinthine system of justice on college campuses paired with a reluctance to believe rape victims for fear of adding a rape to a college’s safety statistics, assailants may remain on campus despite their activities."

The Dark Ages continues, unabated for many women. 'The Halls of Higher Learning'... what a joke. Some in the Administration have learned little or to be more accurate are totally unwilling to learn.

8:57PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

When a girl in our dorm was physically assaulted by her psycho boyfriend, we banded together to ensure the college handled the matter properly. The police were called, she got a restraining order, he was kicked out of school, and I believe he was prosecuted.
I guess the schools that don’t report (or under report) rape aren’t concerned that word will get out and students will consider other institutions of higher learning. If your son or daughter is planning to go to college, look at the school’s record for reporting assaults (sexual and otherwise). If it seems suspiciously low, do a little digging. Is something being covered up? What would happen if your child were attacked?
Why are college rapes covered up? Perpetrators are often athletes whose prowess on the field or court or wherever brings MONEY to the school. Money speaks louder than ethics and morals. The school figures, “We can encourage one girl to leave without repercussions, but if we lose our star player, we lose REVENUE.”

2:23PM PST on Nov 8, 2013

Help me understand why matters like this aren't taken to the police? Are college campuses sacrosanct? a law unto themselves?

1:58AM PST on Nov 8, 2013

Thanks for sharing

10:57PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

This shit pisses me off!

4:37PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

I dont understand why rape is handled different on a campus they should be handled by the city or county police and prosicuted but the district attorney

12:30PM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Just as with the military, there is an inherent conflict of interest involved in investigating wrongdoing on campus. No institution can police itself, which is why all major police departments have internal affairs departments that operate separately, and whom everyone eels on the force hates. Look at the FBI, which lacks such a separate entity. A finding of wrongdoing in an investigation against agents is as rare as hen's teeth.

8:10AM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Law enforcement should be handling this type of issue since it is very serious, not a college that would have biases as it pertains to its image thus compromising what little ability it has to be fair and objective in making sure the matter is investigated and the victim receives justice.

3:46AM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Rape is a crime and should be handled by police. Colleges are too likely to have conflicting motivations and cannot be trusted to handle rape cases.

1:15AM PST on Nov 7, 2013

Thanks for the article!

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