Sex assault victims say UConn failed them [Connecticut Post]

November 14, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

HARTFORD — Some testifying through tears, four sexual-assault victims told state lawmakers Wednesday that it’s not enough for the University of Connecticut to have policies in place for handling sexual assaults.

It also needs a staff willing — and capable — to implement those rules.

“They do not support victims,” Kylie Angell, a 2013 UConn graduate who grew up in Trumbull, testified at a joint hearing of the Legislature’s Higher Education and Public Safety committees.

“UConn is not a safe campus,” added Erica Daniels, a UConn senior who said she was raped by a fellow student and co-worker who remained on campus. “To not be taken seriously by the university was most upsetting.”

The hearing at the capitol was called after Angell and three current UConn students filed a federal discrimination lawsuit seeking an injunction and damages for gender discrimination based on federal Title IX rights.

Two weeks ago, those four students and three others filed a Title IX complaint with the U.S Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights claiming their rights were violated after reports of rape and sexual assault weren’t taken seriously or were improperly handled by the university.

State Rep. Roberta Willis, co-chairwoman of the higher education committee, said the hope was to find a way to improve policies to keep students safe on all college campuses in the state.

“Is there something we are failing to do?” Willis asked during the session.

A state law was passed last year requiring colleges in the state to give all students training in what sexual assault is and to give victims information about their rights.

Some UConn students said that is not happening on the Storrs campus.

Rosemary Richie, a UConn junior, said after a member of the UConn football team raped her, the burden was on her to figure out what to do. Richie said when she reported the incident, people said they didn’t believe her.

Angell, who now works as a nurse in Norwalk, said UConn discouraged her from reporting her rape to police.

Lawmakers also heard from officials from private universities, the Board of Regents for Higher Education, and Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus.

Kiss told the panel that policies are only as good as the training and support that staff receives to carry them out. Campus leaders, she said, must also be involved for policies to work effectively.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, a ranking member of the higher education committee, said it’s important to determine what happened in these cases and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Boucher called it regrettable that UConn President Susan Herbst did not appear at the hearing.

Instead, Herbst told UConn trustees earlier Wednesday that statements she made last month — in which she called the charges astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue — were not taken the right way.

“I was responding only to the broad allegation of institutional indifference,” Herbst said.

Herbst said she feels nothing but heartfelt compassion for every victim of sexual violence and would never stop working to keep students safe and prevent sexual assault.

Herbst left it to several other UConn officials — Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Conklin, Chief of Police Barbara O’Connor and Vice President Michael Gilbert — to outline the university’s policies and procedures when it comes to sexual assault.

“We do understand we have to examine our programs,” Gilbert told the panel of about 32 legislators.

Outside the hearing, Gloria Allred, an attorney for the students, said UConn had treated the students with disrespect and failed to support them when they reached out for assistance.

She called Herbst’s original comments “harsh” and apt to have a chilling effect on the willingness of other victims to step forward.

“We still want justice and changes at UConn,” Allred said, adding it is not enough to have it written down on paper.

Boucher said it is clear UConn’s Sexual Assault Response Policy, in addition to being followed, needs to be updated. She also called on UConn to come into compliance with the law passed by the state Legislature last year.

“This issue is far too serious to ignore,” she said.