EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Boston and Beyond

November 15, 2013

Sexual assault complaints leads to suits against schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Students and former students at Vanderbilt University and Amherst College have filed federal complaints alleging the schools responded inadequately to their reports of sexual assaults, harassment and stalking, which one rape survivor said is a common problem on campuses nationwide.

Vanderbilt senior Sarah O’Brien said Friday that she and five other women filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The filing was coordinated with the one against Amherst, and similar complaints are being prepared at other schools, O’Brien said.

O’Brien says survivors hope to change a culture that tries to silence them.

“It’s not going to just end with Amherst and Vandy. It’s going to keep happening across the nation,” she said.

Both Amherst and Vanderbilt officials said they are working to improve their procedures to deal with such serious problems.

Angie Epifano is one of the people who filed the complaint against Amherst. She left school at the end of her sophomore year because of the way she says the administration treated her after she told them she was raped. She has spent the past year focusing on sexual assault prevention and advocacy for victims.

Epifano said she talks with women at schools all over the country who have experienced similar problems on campus. In general, she said, many schools don’t adequately investigate reports of rape and sexual misconduct, don’t prosecute the perpetrators and create a hostile environment for survivors.

“Under federal law your right to a harassment-free education is a civil right,” Epifano said. So it is a civil rights violation “if you’re living in a toxic, dangerous environment on campus where you have to see your rapist every day or where your rapist goes unpunished.”

Amherst President Biddy Martin said in a statement that the school is working to confront “one of the most serious challenges facing colleges and universities across the country.”

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