Vanderbilt students file complaint over university's response - WSMV News 4

Vanderbilt students file complaint over university's response to sexual assaults

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A group of current and former Vanderbilt University students have accused the institution of pressuring victims of sexual assaults on campus to keep quiet.

Now, federal officials will decide whether the university has been following the rules when it comes to reporting the cases.

The complaint filed Thursday with the U.S. Department of Education cites numerous assaults against students and even references the rape investigation involving former members of the university's football team.

In all, the current and former female students behind the complaint say the school has "mistreated" sexual assault cases.

"We no longer would like to see anymore victims go through any of the things that we went through," said Sarah O'Brien, a senior student at Vanderbilt and survivor of sexual assault.

O'Brien said that some cases of sexual assault were mishandled and there was lack of follow-through and inadequate education about assault on campus.

"There are violations that the university has made regarding Title IX and the Clery Act," she said, referring to federal laws that address how schools handle and report crimes on campus.

O'Brien says there is also a culture of intimidation at Vanderbilt.

"With sexual assault cases, there's failure to report, because of the hostile environment the university has created almost silently and inherently pressures people not to report," she said.

Just Wednesday, a group called Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence unveiled a clothes line campaign on campus to support sexual abuse survivors.

Students hung shirts in the student center, with each one representing a different story of sexual assault. They say it's not just about one high-profile case.

"We're not saying that it's just the administration who has an issue. We're saying that their position as authority figures means they need to be leaders at ending rape culture here at Vanderbilt," said Erika Russ, with Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence.

"We want the university to be more clear in their steps for people to take. There's about eight different offices on this campus that deal with sexual assault, but no over-arching," said Emmie Arnold, with Vanderbilt Students of Nonviolence.

"There were a lot of people who came forward who said that, 'When I went to the authorities to let them know that this happened, they told me there was nothing much they could do,'" Russ said.

In a statement released to Channel 4 News, Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt University vice chancellor for public affairs, said:

"We have not been provided with a copy of any complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education but we take the concerns of our students very seriously and share their goal of assuring that the university maintains a culture that rejects sexual violence and supports victims of sexual violence. We have long had policies and procedures in place to deal with complaints of sexual misconduct and to support students who report incidents of sexual misconduct and violence. We review and update those measures on a regular basis and are always seeking ways to make them as effective as possible. We will cooperate fully with the Department of Education in any review it undertakes."

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