UConn One Of Many Institutions Accused Of Poor Response To Assault Allegations

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Jonathan Orleans

Last week, seven women filed a federal civil rights complaint claiming that University of Connecticut officials were indifferent to or dismissive of allegations that the women had been sexually assaulted on campus. The university's president fired back, calling the criticism "astonishingly misguided" and "demonstrably untrue."

But such claims are increasingly common. Across the country, a growing number of women have filed formal complaints alleging that certain high schools and colleges are providing inadequate response to reports of sexual assault and harassment. According to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR), some 29 complaints specifically related to sexual misconduct at the postsecondary level were filed between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013.

High-profile attorney Gloria Allred, of Allred, Maroko & Goldberg in Los Angeles, is representing the four current UConn students and three graduates. One of the current students, for example, when she reported an attack by a student-athlete, 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.

Allred is also responsible for filing at least six of this year's other complaints on behalf of victims of sexual assault and harassment. Among the colleges and universities cited are Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College, University of Southern California, University of California-Berkeley, Occidental College in California, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the past two years, other lawyers filed complaints against nearby Yale University, Wesleyan University and Amherst College. In some instances, individual victims have filed separate lawsuits against the universities as well. Many of the schools have also launched their own investigations.

Occidental College, just last month, entered into a civil settlement agreement with 10 students to avoid a lawsuit. Terms of the settlement were confidential. A total of 37 students are named in the complaint filed against the school with the Office of Civil Rights.

To date, only one investigation has resulted in a report issued by the U.S. Department of Education. In March 2011, the department had received a complaint that a sexually hostile environment existed at Yale University and school officials hadn't responded in a prompt or adequate manner. The Yale complaint was filed, in part, as a result of a well-publicized incident in October 2010 when fraternity pledges chanted sexually aggressive comments outside the university's Women's Center.

An agreement was struck between the government and Yale last year that requires a number of policy and procedural changes, including the creation of a Title IX coordinator and a committee to ensure students are aware of the grievance procedures and resources available to them. Additional training for staff members on dealing with victims was also part of the settlement.

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Neena Chaudhry, a senior counsel with the National Women's Law Center, said resolution in the Yale case is typical of how the complaints filed with the Office of Civil Rights tend to get resolved.

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