Jan 28, 2014 10:49 AM EST
Hanover College Student Feared Retaliation Before Filing Federal Complaint Relating to Sexual Assault Claim
A student at Hanover College claims she was told accusing her ex-boyfriend of rape and physical abuse would be harassing him and could get her expelled.
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Only identifying herself as Samantha, the student filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department's Office of Civil Rights (OCR). She told the Huffington Post the OCR responded by informing Hanover they were under investigation.
Samantha said she is also reporting the ex-boyfriend for harassment, but was worried the school might expel her for filing the claim. Since she reported the attack in 2011, Hanover told Samantha she could file a complaint with the police and then allegedly tried to stop her from living on campus.
Hanover also did not stop the ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend from harassing Samantha. In the summer of 2013, the OCR, Hanover and Samantha were reportedly close to an agreement that would allow her to file a harassment complaint against her assailant and his girlfriend. That November the school changed its mind and said the two were not responsible for harassment and that they could file their own complaints.
Samantha told the HP she is glad the OCR is stepping in because the school has continuously given her roadblocks.
"They think everything they've done is fine and they don't need to change anything," Samantha said. "It's a reality now - they can ignore me all they want, but they can't ignore the Department of Education."
Samantha shared a note from the student misconduct board that told her accusing a person of rape and pursuing legal action against him can be seen as harassment. Such harassment is not covered by Hanover's conduct code, so Samantha was at least saved punishment.
"Even though they didn't end up imposing disciplinary actions, just sending a letter condemning her for speaking out is intimidating enough," Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center told the HP. "Certainly if word gets around that the college regards telling people that there's a sexual predator on campus as harassment then people are going to be intimidated into staying silent."
Under federal gender equity law Title IX, a school must respond appropriately once they are made aware of a sexual assault. A year after her attack, Samantha said the assailant came into her dorm room in the middle of the night and abused her physically and verbally. Campus security took photos of her bruises, but the school declined to see them when she reported the attack.
"When a person walks in and says 'I've just been attacked and I have the bruises to prove it,' the next thing that happens should be an arrest," LoMonte said.
Samantha said she is planning to stay at Hanover, despite the dispute and even though she initially feared the school might retaliate against her. She said she is determined to seek justice, get her degree and move on from Hanover.
"They didn't realize I'm a very stubborn individual who is really wanting to graduate so I can move on with my life," Samantha said. "I have not enjoyed my undergrad career, which makes me sad because I was always told it would be some of the best years, but it's been some of the worst."