Carnegie Mellon University failed to remove from campus a student it found responsible for sexual assault and did little to prevent the offender's continued harassment of the victim, according to a complaint filed with federal authorities on Thursday.
The American Civil Liberties Union complaint alleges that after an abusive relationship between two female students, the school found one responsible for sexual assault, but allowed her to remain on campus, where she continued stalking the victim. The ACLU filed the complaint against the Pittsburgh-based university on behalf of the victim with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The filing, which does not name the complainant, alleges the university violated Title IX, the gender equity law.
Other prestigious colleges and universities also have been accused this year of failing to appropriately respond to sexual assault complaints. Those complaints mostly were filed by students and not attorneys or advocacy organizations like the ACLU. An ACLU spokesman couldn't immediately be reached.
If the Education Department decides to investigate and finds errors on the part of Carnegie Mellon, it could require the school to rewrite policies. It also has the authority to refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice or to withhold federal funding from the university.
The complainant, blogging under the name "Gabrielle" on the ACLU website, said her relationship with the other woman soured during her freshman year. "I was raped repeatedly and I began to live in fear," she wrote.
Gabrielle obtained a no-contact order, preventing any "direct or indirect contact with one another, including that of 'verbal, written, electronic, or any other nature' or 'indirectly through friends or other people, or by leaving phone messages,'" according to the complaint. But the ACLU said the two were in the same academic program and continued to have classes with each other. The complainant had five classes with her accused assailant and one without.
During her sophomore year, Gabrielle filed a complaint against the ex-girlfriend through the university's community standards process. When she made a campus police report, an officer commented that it "seemed like revenge," the complaint says. During a university hearing on the complaint, committee members questioned why Gabrielle remained in the relationship after the assaults.
The school found the accused student responsible for violating the university's policy on sexual assault, the complaint says. But the offender was not removed from campus and her punishment was to review the no-contact order, according to the complaint.
The university declined to comment, citing its commitment to confidentiality. In a brief statement, the school said it "takes very seriously its obligations under Title IX and its commitment to provide a safe and secure environment for its students and other members of the university community."
Gabrielle claimed the university declined to intervene as the offender continued to harass and intimidate her on campus. Instead, a dean told her "that it was not an uncommon situation at the university for a sexual assault victim to be forced to see her attacker on a daily basis," the complaint says.
"I had been diagnosed with PTSD caused by her abuse and was struggling with panic attacks, flashbacks, night terrors, and involuntary shaking," Gabrielle wrote. "I feared for my life around her, and there didn't seem to be any escape."
If Gabrielle wanted to pursue punishment of the offender for violating the no-contact order, she would need to engage "the full disciplinary process" and the accused would be given the opportunity to file a counter-complaint against her, the complaint says she was told by school officials.
"I felt less safe than I had before beginning the process," Gabrielle wrote.