A female student at Hanover College in Indiana is accusing the school of retaliating against her for reporting that she was raped, harassed and physically abused by a former boyfriend.
In response to a complaint filed by the female student, named Samantha, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights informed the small liberal arts college last week that it is under investigation. Samantha, who requested The Huffington Post only identify her by her first name, claims she faced possible expulsion for reporting sexual assault and harassment.
Over a two-year period, Hanover instructed Samantha to take her case to the police and even attempted to prevent her from living on campus, according to correspondence between Hanover and the student. Samantha says the school, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, also failed to stop the former boyfriend and his new girlfriend from harassing her. Under the federal gender equity law Title IX, colleges are obligated to prevent and intervene to stop harassment that has been brought to their attention.
The OCR initially worked with Samantha, her attorney and the college to reach a mediation agreement in the summer of 2013, allowing for Samantha to file a harassment complaint against her alleged assailant and his girlfriend. But the college then decided in November 2013 that the former boyfriend and his girlfriend were not responsible for harassment, and allowed them to file their own harassment complaint against Samantha.
The Hanover student misconduct board decided that Samantha's attempts to have the male student punished for the alleged offenses, "whether through campus security, the campus conduct review process, his fraternity, the court system, or the Department of Education, do appear to be a type of harassment," according to a notice obtained by HuffPost. However, the college couldn't punish Samantha, the board said, because that kind of harassment isn't covered by the school code of conduct.
The OCR decided to investigate whether allowing a harassment claim from the accused rapist against Samantha constituted retaliation against a sexual assault victim, and further, whether the college failed to stop the harassment against her that had already been reported.
Frank LoMonte, the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, has reviewed Samantha's case and spoken with her. He said Hanover should've had a mechanism in place to deny student complaints that the school believes don't have merit.
"Even though they didn't end up imposing disciplinary actions, just sending a letter condemning her for speaking out is intimidating enough," LoMonte said. "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."
Samantha is grateful the Department of Education is looking into her case, since she insists the school believes it has done nothing wrong.
"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."
For Samantha, this is just the latest chapter in a nightmare she said began when she was a freshman in the fall 2011.
Samantha said she was told with roughly a day's notice she had to move out of her dorm room right before a week-long fall break began in October 2011. The notice came shortly after she complained about a dispute with her roommate. The school informed her it had made the decision to move her and forced her to surrender her dorm keys, disallowing her from entering the dorm building until the fall break ended but neglecting to make alternative arrangements for her, according to the complaint. She arranged to stay with a former on-and-off boyfriend in his fraternity house, where one night, she said, he sexually assaulted her after he had been drinking heavily.
Once she felt comfortable, Samantha reached out to the college to report the assault, roughly a month later. She requested to make the report to a female officer, but she says that while she was waiting, a male security officer pressured her into reporting it to him. He then told her she could not leave the room until she signed a statement agreeing not to press criminal charges, according to Samantha.
The college held a judicial hearing on the alleged assault before the end of the term in December 2011 and found the former boyfriend not responsible. In a fall 2013 review of the case, the college would declare that campus security followed protocol and the officer was simply "anxious to help" Samantha.
In the two years between, the former boyfriend, his new girlfriend and their acquaintances harassed Samantha, and the college did next to nothing to stop it, according to the complaint, which was reviewed by HuffPost. At times, Samantha landed in the same classes as the former boyfriend, and continually ran into him on the small campus, where roughly 1,100 students are enrolled.
In March of 2012, the ex allegedly came into Samantha's dorm room late at night, woke her up, and physically and verbally abused her. She reported the incident the next day and offered to provide campus security with photos of her bruises; they declined. An email to Samantha from Director of Campus Security James Hickerson stated that pictures would not "be necessary," and that they would reach out if they need more information.
The ex told security he wasn't in her dorm at the time of the incident and the case was dropped, according to the complaint.
"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.
The Hanover administration told Samantha in an email several months later that she should not look to the college to intervene in the harassment she kept reporting.
"Your on-going dispute with [the accused] is not a college matter and we have no interest in being made a party to it," wrote David Yeagar, vice president and dean of student life at Hanover. Yeagar added he hoped she will separate her "conflict" from her life on campus. At that time, Yeagar also denied Samantha access to copies of her own statements she made to the college regarding the assault and harassment, which she said she needed to provide to the accused's national fraternity. And in October 2012, an email from Yeagar informed her she would only be allowed to live on campus "with specific stipulations regarding behavior and self-care."
Samantha she reached out to the Education Department in early 2013. Her conversations with how the school handled her situation eventually led to the OCR negotiating a mediation the following summer. But several months later, the college allowed the harassment claim to be brought against Samantha. She then filed the official complaint with the OCR, and was notified last week that the agency would open an investigation.
"I didn't want to report it at first [to the Education Department] because I was afraid the school would retaliate against me, because they've shown in the past they weren't too fond of me," Samantha said.
A Hanover spokeswoman insisted the college takes sexual misconduct seriously and vowed to cooperate with the investigation, but said federal privacy law limits the school from discussing a specific student's case.
"The College is confident that the evidence will demonstrate its commitment to creating and fostering a welcoming educational environment for all students," Hanover spokeswoman Rhonda L. Burch said in a statement.
The college is also dealing with alumni who are outraged by the situation. A group of 38 signed a letter and sent it to the college during the fall 2013 semester after hearing about Samantha's case, warning they will withhold donations and discourage people from attending Hanover until the school overhauls their sexual assault policy.
"Retaliation against victims should not be tolerated. ... We will not attend official alumni or Hanover College events. We will not wear Hanover College apparel," the alumni stated.
Hanover President Sue DeWine responded in a letter, "The College cannot simply ignore a complaint filed by a student. Every student has the right to file a complaint and to have the complaint reviewed."
The federal investigation could lead to a resolution agreement where the Education Department lays out steps it wants the college to take in order to reform its sexual assault prevention policies. In some cases, the situation could be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal government could withhold all public funding to the college, including Pell grants and student loans. If the Hanover administration takes action against Samantha that could be perceived as retaliation, it could prompt an additional investigation, as was the case in 2013 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Samantha plans to stay at the college, though she says she hates it, because she's determined to get her degree.
"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."
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