October 23, 2013 01:37PM
By Pat Eaton-Robb
HARTFORD — Seven women who say they were victims of sexual assaults while students at the University of Connecticut filed a federal discrimination complaint Monday against the school.
Nationally known women’s-rights attorney Gloria Allred says the complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights asserts the school failed to do enough in response to the women’s allegations, treating them with deliberate indifference or worse.
Kylie Angell, a nurse who graduated from the school in May, 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.
“The officer told me, ‘Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening until the cows come home,’” Angell said. “Shocked, I left feeling confused, violated, traumatized and vulnerable.”
Angell was one of four complainants who appeared at a news conference to go public with their stories. The Associated Press does not generally report the names of alleged victims in sexual assault cases.
Four current students and three recent graduates are asking for an investigation under the federal Title IX law, which protects students from sexual discrimination in any education program that receives federal aid.
UConn issued a statement saying that while the women’s cases remain confidential, the school felt each was handled appropriately. It said it would welcome any new information. It also said that in the interest of transparency, if would detail how each case was handled if the women agree to waive their rights to privacy.
“Our students should reasonably expect protection and due process,” the school said. “They deserve the best response in the nation, and we’re committed to ensuring that right.”
No criminal charges have been brought in any of the cases. Senior Erica Daniels said she was drugged and raped by a co-worker on campus. She said she did not report her rape immediately, and was told by the school’s Office of Community Standards that not enough information existed to take any action.
“I don’t understand why my statement about what happened is not enough for a hearing,” she said. “How many women are raped and witnesses are present?”
Junior Rose Richi said she initially didn’t feel comfortable reporting her sexual assault because her attacker was a male athlete and there is an “overwhelming privilege of athletes on this campus.” She said when she did report the crime, the investigating officer told her he did not believe her.
Allred said the school is required to investigate, potentially hold hearings, listen to witnesses and notify both sides of their findings. She would not say if she plans to file lawsuits on the women’s behalf, but said she is working with a Connecticut lawyer on their cases.
The civil rights complaint, if upheld, could lead to sanctions including the loss of federal funds.
Carolyn Luby, the lead complainant, said they want much more than that.
“Federal sanctions would be the tip of the iceberg of what we would want,” she said. “We would want cultural change, policy change, administrative change.”
Luby said the school still has not responded to the death and rape threats she received after writing an open letter to President Susan Herbst in April about the culture on campus. The letter, which in part criticized the school’s new logo as menacing, was held up to ridicule on the Internet and on conservative talk radio.
Luby said police told her to deal with the threats by wearing a hat on campus so she would not be recognized.
Speaking to reporters on campus Monday, UConn President Susan Herbst said she had not seen the complaint, but pointed out that both she and the school’s police chief are women.
“I feel like this campus is very safe for women,” she said.