FOX 8 Investigates: Assault on the Student Body
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The feds are investigating the state's largest university for possible discrimination against a student after she reported being raped on campus.
We found a number of rapes are reported at LSU each year to a campus advocacy group - 16 last year and as many as 25 in 2013. But some victims say the university doesn't do enough to protect them or hold the perpetrator accountable. In fact, our investigation uncovered that in at least one case the university said an LSU student had sex with an intoxicated co-ed without her consent, but that student was allowed to stay on campus.
"I said no at least a dozen times that night," said a former LSU student whose identity we are protecting. She said if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone.
"I wasn't, you know, a freshman at her first party," she said. "I had been an RA for two-and-a-half years before, and part of being an RA, which is a resident assistant, someone who works on campus housing, part of the annual training is sexual assault training."
She had recently graduated from the university when she says she was date raped by a current LSU student at an off-campus apartment in August of last year. She reported it to the university and wanted her alleged attacker kicked out of school so he couldn't hurt anyone else. But, instead of getting the help she needed, she says she was isolated and subjected to an insensitive and unacceptable investigation.
"I had repeatedly, repeatedly told the assailant and the on-campus investigators that I did not give consent," she said. "I am not sure that the employees I interacted with, the LSU employees who worked on my case and my investigation, were trained or equipped to properly carry out an investigation."
She said it was especially difficult because the LSU student she says raped her also worked on campus with her sister.
"In the end, she lost her job because the man who raped me was not forced to move away from her and no longer work with her," the victim said.
And, she's not the only one who says LSU didn't do enough to help. The university is now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for how they handled a separate and recent sexual assault complaint. Universities like LSU are required by a federal law called Title IX to provide support and assistance to students who have reported being raped.
But, according to public records obtained by FOX 8, a complaint filed with the feds alleges that "LSU failed to respond in a prompt and appropriate manner when it was notified that she was sexually assaulted by a former LSU student in her dormitory on March 28th, 2015."
Now, investigators are looking into whether LSU failed to promptly respond to that report and similar reports, which caused one or more students to be or continue to be "subjected to a sexually hostile environment."
Laura Dunn founded the national non-profit SurvJustice, a group helping those who have reported being sexually assaulted on college campuses. She's also an attorney and a rape survivor. She says it's not uncommon to get calls from victims in Louisiana. In fact, she says local rape victims have reached out to her for help.
"The perspective I have gathered from the few survivors who have reached out is there is a lot of stigma to speak out," Dunn said.
Victims advocates will tell you college rape survivors have two options: press criminal charges against their attacker or have them disciplined through the university system. Oftentimes, victims are reluctant to file a police report for privacy reasons. So, they turn to the university for help. But our investigation found questionable details about that disciplinary process.
"We have a very low tolerance, very low tolerance for any individuals who are found guilty in something like this," said LSU President Dr. F. King Alexander.
But according to university records, in 2012 LSU found enough evidence to administratively charge and administratively convict a student for violating the school's student code of conduct. The university said that student "engaged in non-consensual sexual intercourse with an intoxicated female student" and was even alleged to have recorded an interview of the victim and distributed that video to an unknown number of students. That student was simply placed on "deferred suspension." The student was allowed to stay on campus and take classes, but he couldn't hold a university leadership position or study abroad. Part of the discipline also included taking classes on "healthy relationships, gender respect, and decision making."
We asked LSU's president if that was an appropriate punishment.
"Well, I think this - individual cases we can't talk about," Alexander said.
"There should be no tolerance of sexual violence, and deferring a sentence is essentially not imposing one at all," Dunn said.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, agrees there are major problems with how schools across the state handle complaints of sexual violence.
"The investigations themselves are a joke. I mean, you have people who are tasked with investigating sexual assault claims who in some cases don't believe sexual assault is a crime - that's obscene, that's ridiculous and something that has to be changed," Morell said.
Morrell adds that students are more likely to get kicked out of a university for cheating than they are for rape.
"What's very frustrating is you'll talk to a university and say, what's your policy on cheating? And they will have a robust four or five different layer investigation regarding a cheating complaint, where there's an appeals process, here's how we investigate, here's the strong criteria and here you're out. And then you'll ask them, what's your policy on sexual assault, and it is kind of this ambiguous mess," Morrell said.
That's why Morrell now heads up a legislative task force to address the disciplinary process for college students accused of sexual assault. At the task force's most recent meeting, victim advocates testified that students at college campuses are not getting the help they need.
"That's the perception of survivors that we see that they are being wronged by these on-campus report services, essentially because it's a way not to be held, you know, the school won't be held accountable if they're not told all of their rights," victim advocate, Morgan Lamandre said.
Lamandre testified about a student she helped.
"I found out her homework was copied, you know, some project, and I was like, you know, this might actually be a better route for you to report the assailant on cheating, because privacy was important. And so ultimately her goal would be for him to get kicked out, and that was the route she took," Lamandre said.
Morrell and his task force are now working to create a uniform sexual assault policy for colleges across Louisiana.
"As a father of three daughters, first and foremost we do not sweep any of this under the rug. We want as many people that have had a problem with this or find any barriers even among their friends in reporting it, we want them to come to us first and foremost," Alexander said.
As for the former LSU student we interviewed, she said the university sent her a letter saying they conducted a full investigation but there wasn't enough evidence to support or deny her allegations. Even though she tells us she submitted a hospital rape kit, phone records, text messages and a detailed narrative of what happened to her that night. She decided to share her story with us because she wants other victims to know, they're not alone.
"I know what happened, I know exactly what he did to me, and, I know what he did was rape me," she said. "I know there is a rapist on campus there, every day, walking among the students as if he had never done anything wrong, as if nothing in his life had changed because of what he did to me."
Of the four LSU students administratively charged and administratively convicted of sexual misconduct from 2012 to 2014, only one was suspended. As we mentioned, as many as 25 rapes were reported to an LSU campus advocacy group in 2013. That same year, only 10 of what the university calls "forcible sex offenses," were reported to LSU police. A federal law, called the Cleary Act, requires universities to disclose crimes on campus. But, the university says, it is not possible to make a correlation or comparison between those two because the Cleary Act numbers only reflect sex crimes reported to police and those that happened on campus.
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