Student accuses Alabama university of mishandling sex assault investigation

Student accuses Alabama university of mishandling sex assault investigation

March 9th, 2016 by Associated Press in Local Regional News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A University of Alabama at Birmingham student said Tuesday that she filed a federal complaint alleging that university officials mishandled an investigation into an alleged sexual assault.

The woman told The Associated Press that she was treated unfairly during the university's investigation into the September 2014 incident. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The woman said she was raped by an acquaintance and didn't want to pursue criminal charges, but sought an investigation a year later after learning of her Title IX rights to protect herself on campus. The woman said she went to a crisis center for an examination and filled out a police report the morning after the incident.

The woman said the initial investigation went well past a 60-day timeline she was told officials would adhere to and the university didn't consider key evidence — including a rape kit — before clearing the alleged attacker. School officials issued a no-contact order and told her to avoid the man around campus rather than making him avoid her, she said.

"We share classes in the same building and so their solution was, 'Ok she goes through the back door of buildings, she uses the stairs,' which is fine because I use stairs anyway. I have to use a parking deck that's farther away and inconvenient," she said. "I have to use the medical school library instead of the undergraduate library and I have to remove myself from the situation if we find ourselves in the same situation."

Federal student privacy laws block UAB officials from commenting on sexual assault investigations, universityspokesman Jim Bakken said in an emailed statement.

"We work with appropriate parties on and off campus to review and ensure an appropriate resolution to any incident, as well as continue initiatives to educate and empower our students, faculty and staff to promote a campus culture that prevents and responds appropriately to sexual assault," he said.

The woman appealed the results of the investigation and said in her complaint to the U.S. Department of Education that the same investigator who oversaw the initial probe was involved in reviewing the appeal, which criticized the way the first investigation was handled. The woman, who is expected to graduate this year, accuses the university of creating a hostile learning environment.

Seven rapes were reported on UAB's campus and two were reported off campus in 2014, according to the school's 2015 annual security report. Two rapes were reported on campus in 2013. The woman said she feels the numbers are undercounts and don't represent the true nature of sexual assault on campus.

"It's just a widespread problem and I want other people to be able to come forward and be able to say 'Hey, this happened to me' and not be thrown around like I have," she said. The woman filed her complaint with help from the advocacy group End Rape On Campus.

"It's a hard thing to get right, but I've really been encouraged through the whole process by their bravery and their courage to stand up to say this is wrong and it happened to me too."