U.S. Civil Rights watchdog closes investigation against UConn

A federal complaint alleging that the University of Connecticut did not properly investigate a sexual assault complaint and that the school was a sexually hostile environment was dismissed late last month – closing the last in a group of complaints about how the school handled these cases.

In a Dec. 26 letter to UConn President Susan Herbst, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights wrote that it, “has determined that administratively closing this complaint on this basis is appropriate at this time.”

The federal watchdog agency did not conclude the complaint was without merit, but rather that “its ability to complete the investigation is substantially impaired by its inability to contact and receive information from a complainant that is reasonably accessible to him/her and that is necessary for its investigation.”

This case, and others, drew widespread attention in 2013 and 2014 to how the state’s flagship public university handled sexual assault or harassment cases when victims came forward. At that time, four students had filed both a lawsuit and a complaint with the federal watchdog alleging the university was unresponsive or insufficiently responsive when they came forward. Protests on campus and public hearings at the state Capitol followed.

The university settled the lawsuit for $1.3 million, and the original federal complaint was withdrawn on the same day, but a separate complaint also was filed that day. That’s the complaint that was closed last month.

Since then, the university has mandated training for all incoming freshman on how to come forward, resources have been made available to those who do, and students have been educated on the association of alcohol with these offenses. The health center on campus is also now able to conduct a rape kit when students report an assault instead of sending them to a nearby hospital.