ACLU Files Complaint Against Carnegie Mellon for Poor Response to Student Sexual Assault

December 19, 2013 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint today against Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh for failing to protect a student after concluding that her abusive ex-girlfriend violated its sexual assault policy.

The student, who wishes to remain anonymous, ended her abusive relationship following numerous incidents of sexual assault. Her ex-girlfriend, a fellow student, continued to harass and stalk her. The student sought intervention from the university, and both consented to a university-mediated agreement to end contact except when needed for academic purposes.

Because they were in the same small academic program, the student saw her abuser in nearly every class. Despite the order that prohibited any contact outside of academic activities, the abuser also moved into an apartment across the hallway from the student, which intimidated her.

“Students must be safe in order to pursue their studies. It takes courage for those who have been assaulted and abused in a relationship to speak out, and this case shows that all too often, students’ pleas for help are brushed aside,” said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project. “Our client reported the violence because she wanted to stay in school and be safe there. The university failed her by minimizing the violence she experienced and refusing to take the steps necessary to support her.”

Once she reported the violence, the student was subjected to dismissive treatment from campus police, who questioned her motives for filing the report and, without notifying her, informed her abuser that she had filed a report against her. The University Disciplinary Committee also failed to address her concerns by not taking any meaningful action to protect her. Even after finding that the ex-girlfriend had violated the University’s sexual assault policy, the only measures imposed by the University was a continuation of a no-contact order that still allowed the abuser to be in the same classes and activities, as well as a counseling assessment for the ex-girlfriend.

The student has been forced to limit her participation in university life due to her safety concerns. When the student expressed concerns for her safety and her ability to fully engage in school courses and activities, a dean suggested she might need to avoid classes in which her ex-girlfriend was enrolled or consider withdrawing from the university altogether.

Federal law requires universities to properly respond to sexual harassment and abuse under Title IX. The complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education asserts that Carnegie Mellon failed to respond adequately to the student’s complaints and instead required the student to bear the burden of addressing the effects of the violence and harassment.

The ACLU is asking for the university to ensure that the complainant can continue her education safely, and to revise its practices for responding to and preventing sexual assault and harassment to comply with federal law.

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