HARTFORD (CN) – Four students sued the University of Connecticut, claiming it retaliated and treated them with indifference after they brought forward allegations of sexual assault.
The lawsuit comes two weeks after seven current and former University of Connecticut students filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights.
Carolyn Luby, Kylie Angell, Erica Daniels and Rosemary Richi sued the university in Federal Court.
Luby claims she was assaulted by strangers in Spain during her semester abroad, and suffered other indignities, including being drugged at a party on the UC campus.
Angell claims she was raped and managed to have the rapist expelled, only to see him return two weeks later through an appeals process of she was not informed.
Daniels claims she was drugged and raped off-campus.
Rich claims she was raped in a campus dorm by a football player whose roommate was in the room at the time.
All four women say they complained to authorities, some of whom were mandatory reporters.
Angell claims that when she reported her rape to police, the officer reprimanded her for not reporting the crime as soon as it happened.
The police officer – a woman – told her that “women have to just stop spreading their legs like peanut butter,” or rape is going to “keep on happening ’til the cows come home,” according to the lawsuit.
Angell claims the university’s Office of Community Standards held a hearing and found that her rapist was “guilty of at least four charges, including: possession of drugs, providing alcohol to a minor (that is, Ms. Angell), breaking and entering, and sexual misconduct.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
Her rapist was expelled and barred from the campus, Angell claims.
But two weeks later he was back, and sat down next to her in a cafeteria, and a “former mutual friend” ran up and shouted, “Your expulsion was appealed! You’re back! You’re back!” Angell says in the complaint.
She says she was “shocked and paralyzed by fear.”
“At no time had UConn informed Ms. Angell that the perpetrator had filed an appeal, let alone that it had reversed its expulsion decision and allowed him to return to UConn’s campus,” the complaint states.
The next day, Angell claims, she learned that Vice President of Student Affairs John Saddlemire had “accepted the appeal from the perpetrator and his attorney because he felt that expulsion was too severe a penalty.”
The complaint continues: “At one point in the meeting, Ms. Angell referred to what happened to her as ‘rape’ and ‘sexual assault.’ Mr. Saddlemire disregarded the substance of what Ms. Angell had said and instead challenged her rhetoric, saying, ‘We do not call it those terms at UConn, Ms. Angell. We call it ‘sexual misconduct.'”
Angell claims in the lawsuit that in the semester after she was raped, “anxiety prevented her from attending many classes, and she missed several examinations. As a result of the trauma she experienced, she had tremendous difficulty focusing on her education, and her grade point average dropped from 3.6 (in spring 2010) to 2.8 (in fall 2010).”
Angell is also a complainant in the Office of Civil Rights complaint.
UConn President Susan Herbst claims that the university complaint process has been changed.
“There are circumstances under which the university should notify a student that another student – who may have been suspended or expelled from campus – will be returning, if they are returning,” Herbst said at an Oct. 23 press conference.
“It is my understanding that this notification did not take place in a case that occurred three years ago, and it should have. This process was corrected.”
Herbst said at the same press conference that “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.”
After filing their lawsuit on Friday, the four plaintiffs said outside the courthouse that they felt re-victimized by Herbst’s comments.
It was those comments that “triggered for me all the trauma I had experienced at the university,” Angell said.
“The same sinking sense of betrayal I felt when reading her dismissive and demeaning address is one too familiar to me. Listening to my personal study labeled as ‘demonstrably untrue’ and ‘astonishingly misguided’ felt like I was re-experiencing the trauma incurred by the university’s failure to protect me all over again.”
The women claim in their lawsuit that Herbst’s comments “further the hostile educational environment to which the plaintiffs have been subjected in the aftermath of their initially internal and then public complaints about sexual assaults to which they had been subjected and the indifferent manner with which UConn treated them once it was on notice of their assaults.”
The four women seek an injunction ordering the UC to “revise its policies, procedures, and practices so that it is in compliance with Title IX,” plus damages for pain and suffering, and costs.
They are represented by Nina Pirrotti, with Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Richardson, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti, of New Haven, and by Gloria Allred of Los Angeles (at right in photo by Christine Stuart, CNS).
A university spokeswoman said in a statement Friday: “The university cannot discuss specific allegations publicly due to federal student privacy protections and the legal constraints of pending litigation, but will respond accordingly as part of the legal process in that venue.”
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