The federal education department is investigating LSU’s administrative handling of sexual assault cases after a victim filed a complaint against the university this summer.
The student, who says she was attacked in her dormitory in March by a former student, told the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights that the university discriminated against her based on her gender during its internal investigation of the incident.
LSU President F. King Alexander received a letter from the agency’s civil rights office in Dallas that said one of LSU’s female students lodged a complaint June 26 that the university failed to responsibly act when she told personnel she was sexually assaulted March 28.
She told federal officials that once LSU campus police arrested her alleged attacker during spring break, the university did not inform her of Title IX regulations, the Aug. 1 letter says. While she said the university did provide mental and physical health services, it did not offer academic assistance.
In an effort to find out if the university is complying with federal requirements that forbid discrimination based on gender, the civil rights office has decided to look into the complaint and similar cases involving LSU students, examining whether LSU’s conduct led other students to be “subjected to a sexually hostile environment,” the letter says.
LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said the university could not comment because the investigation is ongoing.
Universities’ response to sexual assaults on campus have increasingly been under scrutiny from the federal education agency in recent years, with advocates complaining that some schools aren’t properly responding to the accusations. In particular, questions have been raised about how schools investigate and adjudicate rape complaints that don’t go to the police, but instead are examined during internal administrative proceedings.
Racheal Hebert, head of the nonprofit group Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response, which serves East Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes, said that while she is glad there is a third party to keep universities accountable, she believes federal law has tied universities’ hands by forcing them to tackle sexual assault cases.
“We shouldn’t put it in the hand of the university because they aren’t equipped with enough information,” Hebert said. “We shouldn’t look to universities as the entities to get justice. That’s why we have a criminal judicial process.”
Hebert pointed to the fact that many school boards investigating sexual assault on college campuses are made up of faculty with no proper training.
As part of the federal examination, the civil rights office gave LSU 30 days to provide a slew of information from 2012 through 2015, including all documentation once the university was notified of the March assault, all correspondence between the LSU employees and the student who reported the assault, a summary of all investigations of discrimination based on sex and a written explanation of the university’s procedures to handle complaints of sexual assault.
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