Students at 4 universities file federal complaints for alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases

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Students from four universities filed federal complaints against their campuses Wednesday for the alleged mishandling of sexual assault cases, joining those from dozens of other campuses, including UC Berkeley.

Current and former students from UC Santa Barbara, the University of Michigan, the University of Toledo and Valparaiso University Law School allege that their schools violated federal law by allowing assailants to stay in classes alongside survivors and by discouraging students from reporting their assaults. They filed their complaints with the help of End Rape on Campus, an organization co-founded by UC Berkeley senior Sofie Karasek, who joined 30 other current and former students in filing complaints against UC Berkeley in February.

“We had firsthand experience writing our narratives, editing them, looking up case law,” Karasek said. “All these different things we had done ourselves against our universities. So now we’re helping other people.”

The alleged violations pertain to Title IX, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination that interferes with educational activities, and the Clery Act, which mandates the disclosure of crime on campuses that participate in federal financial aid programs.

UC Santa Barbara alumna Myra Crimmel described a confusing process that resulted when she reported her assault. After her alleged assailant hired an attorney, she said, multiple meetings regarding her case were canceled, and she continued to see him in classes after the assault. Ultimately, she said, he left campus but was able to return upon her graduation.

Crimmel said she decided to file the complaint after researching similar experiences and getting in contact with Karasek.

“I just went online and just searched schools and judicial violations, and I was like, ‘Whoa, this happened to other people too,’ ” Crimmel said.

According to the University of Toledo complaint, an alleged rapist was permitted to remain on campus after appealing his one-year suspension. The survivor did not have an opportunity to appeal, which violates the Clery Act, according to the complaint.

“The University of Toledo fully investigates all reports of sexual misconduct and offers survivors resources on campus,” a University of Toledo statement said. “Specifically regarding the sexual misconduct campus policy, an additional review is completed by the UT Office of Inclusion in compliance with Title IX.”

UCSB also said in a statement that the campus provides extensive resources to survivors and noted that it is participating in a recently formed UC task force aimed at preventing sexual assault.

According to Crimmel, survivors on her campus received insufficient support for the depression and post-traumatic stress disorders they suffered after being assaulted. Other stories detailed in the complaints include that of a University of Michigan student who was fired from a campus job after reporting a threat of rape and subsequent intimidation.

Similar problems came to light in the federal complaints filed against UC Berkeley this February and in May of last year. Since then, a state auditor’s report found some campus staff were insufficiently trained to handle sexual assault cases. A total of 76 colleges and universities, including UC Berkeley and UCLA, are under Title IX investigations by the U.S. Department of Education.

To address sexual violence and harassment on campus, UC Berkeley launched a search for a confidential advocate to advise survivors and created a website that consolidates information about preventing and reporting sexual misconduct.

End Rape on Campus began last August, according to Danielle Dirks, an assistant professor at Occidental College and co-founder of the organization. Since then, it has helped students at colleges across the country file federal complaints.

Dirks noted that, in light of many survivors accusing their schools of not complying with federal regulations, colleges and universities should be taking more active steps to address sexual violence.

“These students shouldn’t have to be putting themselves in the line of fire and filing complaints to get justice from their schools,” she said.

Contact Melissa Wen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @melissalwen.