The U.S. Department of Education is launching a federal investigation into the University of Connecticut’s sexual assault policies, in response to a formal complaint filed by a group of women who allege the school doesn’t properly respond to rape cases.
The group of current and former UConn students filed a complaint in October. They say that the school has displayed a “deliberate indifference” to issues of sexual assault, and hasn’t done enough to protect victims on campus. One complaintant says that even though the university found her rapist responsible for sexually assaulting her, he was allowed back on campus just two weeks later. When he began harassing her and she reported the incidences to campus police, an officer told her, “Women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter, or rape is going to keep happening until the cows come home.”
After the complaint was filed, UConn’s president dismissed the allegations as “astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.”
But lawmakers in the state weren’t quite so convinced. In November, they convened a hearing to review the sexual assault polices at all of the colleges and universities located in Connecticut. Prompted by the news out of UConn, legislators are expected to draft proposals to ensure that students receive adequate. sexual assault prevention and response services.
“One of the most basic responsibilities of our institutions of higher learning is to keep our young people safe,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) noted in the lead-up to that hearing. “If they have failed in that responsibility in any way, or if any victim of sexual assault has been treated with anything but the utmost respect, I will be outraged.”
In addition to any action that the Connecticut legislature decides to take, the Department of Education’s investigation will determine if UConn violated Title IX, the federal law that requires colleges to eliminate gender-based discrimination on campus. The civil rights investigation could take up to six months. Depending on what it uncovers, the university could face a fine — but student activists have pushed for harsher punishments, saying it’s too easy for higher education institutions to get away with their problematic policies.
On college campuses across the country, serial rapists are often able to evade punishment because school administrators are too lenient on sexual assault offenders. But persistent activism is pushing this issue forward. Over the past year, students joined forces to file a flood of federal complaints against their universities, as well as created resources to help other activists follow in their footsteps.