University of Richmond accused of mishandling rape investigation

Published: Sep. 21, 2015 at 8:20 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2015 at 9:43 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A female student says the University of Richmond not only mishandled her rape investigation, it violated federal laws meant to protect student safety.

The University of Richmond is one of five Virginia colleges under federal investigation right now for its handling of a sexual assault case on campus. NBC12 obtained the complaint against the university filed with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

It was October 5, 2013 when a University of Richmond student says while incapacitated she was raped twice by a fellow student in his residence hall. Six days later the rape was reported to the University. On October 16, she formally met with one of the people on campus who is trained to handle sexual assault cases. A week later she says she's told after a "thorough investigation" they determined the "key findings warrant a complaint" and a hearing.

But according to a 5-page Clery Act complaint filed by the victim with the Department of Education, another dean stepped in, "without thoroughly reviewing evidence" and "unilaterally decided that no hearing would occur."

"We had someone kind of decide, without knowing all the information from the investigation, to let the person accused go without even a hearing," said Laura Dunn. She wrote the complaint and is the executive director of SurvJustice, a national non-profit that helps survivors of sexual violence. "They really weren't invested in her well-being or safety."

There are two laws that outline what a school must do once a student reports being sexually assaulted on campus, the Clery Act and Title IX. The Clery Act requires colleges to disclose crimes that are reported on the campus. Title IX says they must provide adequate accommodations to students of all genders.

"Making sure that they can stay in school, that they won't fail out because they are dealing with a trauma," adds Dunn.

The sexual assault survivor in this case filed complaints against the University of Richmond under both laws. She's alleging the school went as far as to remove sex offenses from the public crime log. She includes a screen capture of the log from September 2013. On it there is a rape reported on September 3 and another on September 20. Several months later she went back to the crime log and she says both those rapes were no longer listed.

She also complains the school removed all online access to the log.

"At no time was there any change or manipulation or anything like that to the actual mandatory crime log," says University of Richmond Police Chief David McCoy. He says a change to a new website format in 2013 is actually to blame. He says the hard copy of the log, kept at the police department, was always correct. It's the website version that had problems. "We migrated to a different format for our website, which impacted some of the captured elements of the crime log. Once we were made aware of that, we took it down because it wasn't appropriate for us to maintain that when we knew it differed from our main primary hard copy."

McCoy went on to say that sex assaults are, "the  most significant crime that I think a campus police department deals with and we want to provide the highest quality of service we can to anybody."

According to the Clery Act complaint. the alleged victim also says the University failed to provide a "prompt, fair and impartial disciplinary proceeding" against her accused attacker and that the University didn't help her academically while she was dealing with the trauma.

"University of Richmond was not as responsive. They allowed there to be a professor who wouldn't accommodate her and that ultimately hurt her academically," added Dunn.   

The Title IX investigation has been underway over a year now.

"We continue to fully comply and cooperate with what the Office of Civil Rights has asked of us," says Dean Kerri Albrighut-Fankhauser, who was also the Deputy Title IX Coordinator at the time the alleged crime. She says the University can't talk about specifics because of federal privacy laws, but she wants the campus to know the University started overhauling its sexual misconduct policy back in 2011, making major changes over the years. The dean says prevention and education are now a top priority.

"We recognize that, yes, we need to and we want to always respond well, but we also want to prevent. So, that we don't ultimately have to respond, so someone doesn't have to go through this," added Fankhauser.

She also says the dozens of Title IX investigations currently underway aren't entirely a negative for each university.

"I think it's a positive that we've started to really look critically to push institutions to change their policies and procedures and to explain things to students, to train students, to train faculty and staff," said Fankhauser. "I think it gives us another opportunity to look even deeper and try to make some changes if necessary. Institutions across the nation, I think, are facing this as well."

The complaint against the University of Richmond is still under review by the Department of Education. These investigations can take years.

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