Citing privacy laws, UConn providing little information about sexual assaults
Storrs — Insisting that the University of Connecticut is a safe place and that allegations of rape are taken seriously, university officials Wednesday were unable to say if any of the 55 sexual assault complaints made to the school’s police department in the past five years have led to anyone being criminally charged.
Of the complaints made during the past two fiscal years to the university panel responsible for disciplining students academically, one in 10 complaints involving sexual misconduct or domestic violence resulted in someone being disciplined, university officials report. Of the 43 sexual assaults and 36 sexual advances/comments made between July 2011 and July 2013, no more than 12 people were suspended or expelled for any sexual misconduct or domestic violence accusation, they report.
Responding to seven students’ filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights this week, UConn officials, at a meeting of the Board of Trustees Wednesday, nudged the students to allow the university to release the records surrounding the investigation of their attacks. In their complaint, the women allege that UConn “shows deliberate indifference” when assaults are reported.
“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,” said UConn President Susan Herbst. “I am stunned that I even have to say it, or that any reasonable person would believe otherwise.”
Asked how frequently reported offenses lead to charges being filed, or how often a student accused of an assault on campus is disciplined academically, UConn’s police chief said it’s difficult to take action.
“Prosecution is very challenging,” said Barbara O’Connor, noting that the final decision on whether to file charges sits with the state’s attorney. She also said that it’s often difficult to take action because victims wait before they come forward. If alcohol is involved, she said, it can be difficult to nail down exactly what happened.
“This is an issue that happens behind closed doors. It’s not one we can police away. It’s one we have to educate away,” O’Connor said during a brief news conference after the trustees’ meeting.
Late Wednesday, a university spokeswoman said officials were still gathering information on the outcome of sexual assault complaints made to the police department.
The university has said this week that at least one mistake was made by officials three years ago. They failed to notify a woman who had accused another student of rape that her alleged assaulter would be returning to campus.
“It is my understanding that this notification did not take place in a case… and it should have. This process was corrected,” said Herbst.
Herbst seemed to be addressing a situation that recent UConn graduate Kylie Angell raised Monday in her complaint. Angell said that after her assailant was found guilty of sexual misconduct by the school panel responsible for academic discipline, she was surprised to run into him on campus two weeks later after being told he was expelled.
Angell said that when she complained, an officer told her, “Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep happening.” The police chief said that the officer in charge of that investigation told her that she does not remember saying that.
As to the other six cases, officials say one of the victims never even filed a complaint.
University officials said they would be willing to release information about what actions were taken in these seven incidents if students waive their privacy rights guaranteed by federal law.
“The university … cannot and will not discuss the specifics of any student’s case without their written approval. This does mean anyone is free to make any allegation they choose to, and we are extremely limited in what we can say in response,” said Herbst.
“It was very difficult this week to hear our UConn police officers painted as uncaring, insensitive and rude,” the president said. “They will continue to [do their jobs] with a high level of professionalism, no matter the name-calling.”
The response from UConn officials angered some of the students who attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s a cover-up behind these legal issues… It’s been brushed aside. I’ve met some very insensitive people on this campus who could care less,” said Jose Figueroa, a senior at UConn who said he also is a victim. “It makes me disgusted at my university.”
The university’s response also angered Gloria Allred, the attorney representing the seven UConn women.
Allred said the president’s “self-serving comments will not make the problems go away… The problem is that President Herbst does not want to acknowledge that there is a problem. She wants to make believe that all of these women that have filed complaints against UConn are malcontents that simply have it wrong. No, President Herbst, it is you that has it wrong. You cannot hide behind your gender.”
Herbst outlined in her prepared statements today that she is one of few women presidents at the research universities throughout the country, and that she has experience dealing with every issue that has been raised in the federal complaint.
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UConn Sexual Misconduct/Domestic Violence Statistics from fiscal 2011
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