Faith Ferber (left) Hailey Rial (right)
Four women from different universities filed federal complaints Monday saying administrators violated gender equality laws by mishandling their alleged sexual assault cases.
The students from American University, Indiana University Bloomington, Monmouth University, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham, filed the complaints under the Title IX law with the Department of Education. They did so with the help of national survivor advocacy organization End Rape on Campus.
“The similar patterns of institutional negligence and indifference in these complaints — despite the differences in the institutions — are shocking and merit immediate accountability,” said Sofie Karasek, the organization's co-founder.
The group has filed joint complaints in the past. In April 2014, Karasek said, said they filed simultaneously against University of California, Santa Barbara; Valparaiso University; University of Toledo; and University of Michigan. In 2013, the organization filed a simultaneous complaints against Swarthmore College; University of Southern California; University of California Berkeley; and Occidental College.
While the details of each complaint filed Monday are different, the overall allegations are markedly similar — including allegations that no-contact orders, issued by the school, between the women and their alleged perpetrators were not enforced.
Additionally, all four complaints say the universities' investigations into the alleged assaults took longer than 60 days — the timeframe recommended by the U.S. Department of Education.
A spokesperson for Monmouth University said the school has “a rigorous and exhaustive protocol and support process to ensure that all concerns are addressed.” The university has not been notified of the complaint yet, but the spokesperson said they are fully prepared to work with the Office for Civil Rights in the matter.
A spokesperson for University of Alabama at Birmingham said student privacy laws prohibit the university from discussing details of a sexual assault investigation.
American University said it has not yet received the complaint but added that “if we do receive a complaint, we will fully cooperate and work with OCR to address any questions they may have. AU does not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, assault or misconduct.”
A spokesperson for Indiana University told BuzzFeed News the school is aware of the complaint.
BuzzFeed News spoke with the four women about their experiences and what brought them to file the complaints.
Hailey Rial, a freshman at Indiana University Bloomington, said she wrote in the complaint that she suffered a biased adjudication process because the Title IX investigator assigned to her case, Jason Casares, faced unrelated allegations of sexual assault himself.
Casares, the Title IX coordinator and director of student ethics, resigned after the university launched an investigation into allegations of sexual assault that were lodged against him, according to a university statement.
"I'm offended he didn't excuse himself from the case," Rial told BuzzFeed News of Casares.
BuzzFeed News reached out to Cesares for comment. Casares, in the Indianapolis Star, denied the allegations through a statement from his lawyer.
“Although Jason believes he could still do his job, Jason wanted to do what was best for IU and his family,” the statement reads. “Jason’s time at IU has been memorable and worthwhile in every respect.”
Mark Land, a spokesperson for Indiana University, said that all cases investigated by Casares from this academic year, including Rial's, are being reviewed by an independent Title IX authority.
Rial said she decided to speak out publicly because she felt like no one at Indiana University was discussing the issue of sexual violence.
"I'm trying to take a negative experience and turn it into a positive," she told BuzzFeed News. "When you can put a face and a name to a situation like this, people start to pay attention."
After a university investigation, Rial's alleged perpetrator was found not responsible, Rial told BuzzFeed News. After hearing about Casares' resignation, Rial she wrote in the complaint that she tried to appeal the university's decision, citing conflict of interest, but was told the school would not review her case because she was three days past the appeal deadline.
The four women also claim the no-contact orders issued by their respective universities also violated Title IX.
A senior at Monmouth University filed a complaint against the New Jersey college alleging, among other things, that administrators failed to enforce such an order.
The student — who asked to remain anonymous — said she was assaulted right before Thanksgiving 2014 and reported to university officials in February 2015. The woman was in an "on-again off-again" relationship with the accused, according to the complaint, and told administrators that one of her biggest concerns was that her assailant was retaliating against her via text messages and would continue to do so.
The Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs told the student, now a senior, she would issue a no-contact order that forbade both people from contacting each other, according to the complaint.
About a month later — before the woman had decided whether to go through with a university investigation but with the no-contact order in place — she said she saw her alleged assailant at a local bar where Monmouth students hang out.
The next day, she said she was called in to the assistant vice president for student affairs office and was told the man reported her for breaking the no-contact order. The woman wrote in the complaint that she interpreted his report as retaliation.
The complainant from the University of Alabama at Birmingham was issued a no-contact order after reporting her alleged assault — but, according to the complaint, the burden was on her to enforce it.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, alleges that she had to use the back entrance of buildings in which shared classes with her alleged assailant. She also had to use the medical school's library while the man was allowed to use the undergraduate library.
If she ever found herself in the same place as the man, it was her responsibility to remove herself immediately, she alleged in the complaint.
"Everything the school has done to me since the beginning of the investigation has been more traumatic to me than the original assault," the woman told BuzzFeed News. "It's probably cliché to say, but it's true, it has been terrible.”
For Faith Ferber, a student at American University, the sanctions her alleged perpetrator faced were not enough.
Her alleged assailant agreed to be held responsible for the sexual assault but only received "a simple sanction of disciplinary probation and he remains on campus," according to an End Rape on Campus news release.
Ferber also alleges that the university "forced her to sign an illegal confidentiality agreement, saying that she wouldn't be able to have a hearing without one."
Ferber told BuzzFeed News that she has no personal goal in filing the federal complaint but hopes it will help make the process easier.
"I will have long graduated by the time they investigate the complaint," Ferber told BuzzFeed News. "I'm hoping to make it easier for future survivors because it's not fair that people should be re-traumatized by reporting."
The remaining women also know they will also have likely graduated by the time the federal government concludes its investigation — if one is even opened. All four said they're going through the process now so future victims will not have to experience what they went through.
"I know I probably won't get justice for myself, but f there's any way this process can be modified so the victim is not put through so much crap, then that's a win for me," Rial said.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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