Feds Clear Hanover College Of Retaliation In Sexual Assault Case

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights closed a Title IX investigation of Hanover College last month having found insufficient information to confirm the Indiana school retaliated against a reported sexual assault victim.

A student claimed in a federal complaint that the private college, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, had mishandled her sexual assault report, ignored subsequent harassment from her alleged assailant, and subjected her to retaliation when the accused student filed harassment charges against her. In a letter to the complainant, identified in previous articles only by her first name, Samantha, the college had told her it considered her "not responsible" for harassment but did find her "behavior to be contrary to the principals [sic]" of the college.

The agency notified the college and Samantha it was closing the investigation in a May 20 letter, writing the "College's reasons for its actions with regard to [Samantha's] fall 2013 allegations of retaliatory harassment were not a pretext for retaliation."

The Education Department found Samantha's reports of alleged offenses were a "protected activity," and that "a causal connection existed" between that report and a subsequent "adverse" harassment charge filed against her by her alleged assailant. However, OCR stated "the evidence is insufficient to establish that the College subjected [Samantha] to retaliation as alleged."

OCR reviewed a second allegation that Hanover failed to publicly identify its Title IX coordinator. "In its response to OCR's data request, the College acknowledged that it had not identified its Title IX Coordinator in the Student Handbook," but quickly made a change after being notified of the complaint. OCR determined "this allegation is resolved."

"We are pleased that Hanover College's actions were validated and that these allegations were thoroughly investigated and closed," Hanover President Sue DeWine said in a statement. "We will continue our goal of providing a safe and respectful campus community and will continue to protect the rights of each and every student."

Much of the findings letter from OCR centered around its review of the harassment charges and whether the college erred in processing a harassment allegation against Samantha. It did not address the college's handling of an alleged break-in and physical assault of Samantha by the accused male student.

The complainant and her attorney are not happy with the outcome.

Myra Mormile-Wolper, Samantha's attorney, responded with a letter to OCR asking it to "revisit its investigation" and take into consideration a new allegation that Hanover may have shredded student records associated with the cases. Hanover declined to comment beyond the president's formal statement.

Mormile-Wolper also noted OCR did not address the language used in a letter to Samantha about her alleged harassment, which the attorney said "all but convicted her and certainly would cause a person in her position to think twice before filing a sexual assault complaint again."

In that letter, obtained by The Huffington Post, Hanover Associate Director of Residence Life Tracy Dubs said Samantha's attempts to have the accused punished for a "wide variety of alleged offenses, whether through campus security, the campus conduct review process, his fraternity, the court system, or the Department of Education, do appear to be a type of harassment." But because the college's student handbook does not identify those behaviors as harassment, Dubs said, Samantha cannot be held responsible.

"OCR should be firmly instructing colleges that, if they get a complaint against a woman who has reported a rape by her accuser, they must use some screening mechanism to make sure the assailant cannot re-victimize her by misusing the college's complaint process," Mormile-Wolper said.

Mormile-Wolper appears to be indirectly referencing a similar case at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Student Landen Gambill began speaking publicly about the university's handling of her report of sexual assault by a former boyfriend. Although Gambill never publicly identified him, the accused filed harassment charges against her, which UNC initially allowed to go forward before the proceedings were called off after backlash.

OCR is currently investigating UNC for alleged retaliation in that case.

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