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Johns Hopkins, Recruited By White House To Tackle Sexual Assault, Has Problems Of Its Own

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Johns Hopkins University faces a federal Clery complaint for not disclosing a police investigation into an alleged gang rape on its campus. (Kim Hairston/MCT) | Baltimore Sun via Getty Images

Johns Hopkins University, one of three institutions the White House recently claimed would "lead by example" in reforming the way schools address cases of sexual assault, has joined a list of other elite schools accused of mishandling such cases.

JHU currently faces a federal Clery complaint for not disclosing an alleged gang rape at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, or PIKE. As first reported this month by The Huffington Post, multiple university officials knew Baltimore police were investigating an alleged gang rape at PIKE in March 2013, but decided against notifying the campus community.

PIKE continued to hold parties, and almost a year after the alleged assault, a stabbing at one such party resulted in the fraternity being put on probation. A subsequent university investigation is ongoing, and may ultimately result in the chapter's expulsion.

News of the complaint came just as the White House task force on campus sexual assault named JHU's School of Nursing responsible for researching sexual violence on campus and for determining rates of rape in off-campus residences. The nod from the White House, which also assigned responsibilities to the University of New Hampshire and the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, attracted favorable coverage, including headlines saying that Hopkins "lead[s] the way in combating sexual assault."

But the investigation into PIKE doesn't mark the first time students have raised questions about Johns Hopkins' compliance with the Clery Act, the law that requires schools to track and disclose all reports of sexual assault on campus.

In March 2011, the blog Until It's Zero began encouraging survivors to share stories about their experiences at JHU, with the intent of demonstrating that the university's official count of zero rapes between 2007 and 2009 was inaccurate. (The latest JHU Clery report shows eight forcible sex offense reports in 2012, one in 2011 and zero in 2010.) Students related stories of being brushed off by campus police, or hesitating to report their assaults for fear that no one would believe them.

Around the same time, during the 2010-11 academic year, the Hopkins student newspaper drew outrage for a pair of opinion pieces, one of which referred to women as "bison" and "elephants" and one of which debated the pros and cons of hooking up while drunk. The latter article included a passage arguing that intoxication provides women with a "convenient excuse to be promiscuous and not be considered slutty by society's biased standards." The editors of the paper later apologized for the former article and said that it was meant to be read as satire.

A 2010 graduate of Johns Hopkins who spoke to The Huffington Post anonymously said that she saw shades of recent history at the school this month, as students protested on campus in favor of increased transparency on sexual assault cases.

At a frat party in early 2009, a man tried to stick his hand under her dress, the former student told HuffPost. "I slapped him across the face, I told him not to do it and told my friends it was time to go," she recalled.

As she attempted to leave, the woman told HuffPost, the man came at her with his hands up, yelling "If you ever fucking grab me again," before someone intervened and pushed him away.

The JHU alum says she reported the incident to the university, and a dean said they would speak with the man who assaulted her. As far as the former student knows, no punishment came of the incident.

Later that summer, the same woman said, she began receiving threats online from another woman at the school. She was hesitant to return once summer break was over, but her father told her, "It's Johns Hopkins, nothing's going to happen."

In the fall, the woman says she was jumped in a campus stairwell by the woman who had made threats against her. She reported it quickly to the university, but because there was no security camera footage, and her attacker allegedly had marks from the student's attempt to defend herself, school officials said they couldn't punish the woman. The student asked if the university could at least guarantee her safety, she told HuffPost. School officials told her no, they could not.

"I know this girl was threatening me and she attacked me in the stairwell and she's walking around without any fear, and I'm fearing my life because this girl dragged me down a marble staircase," the former student told HuffPost. She added that she had never been in a fight before, and that she "wouldn't think the first time it would happen would be at Johns Hopkins."

The former student said that she decided that fall to move off-campus, because she was still being harassed by friends of her frat-party assailant and friends of the woman who assaulted her. She ended up living with an aunt nearly an hour away and commuting to school.

The former student declined to specify exactly where the groping incident took place, fearing further retaliation, but said it was not at a party hosted by PIKE.

After HuffPost's story on the federal Clery complaint filed against Johns Hopkins, the student said she began thinking "about how I could've handled it different. I didn't know that was something you could do -- that I could file a complaint."

JHU spokesman Dennis O'Shea said the university takes sexual violence seriously, and is "committed to the safety and security of our students." He also noted that the university is undergoing an independent review of both JHU's response to the March 2013 incident and the complaint filed with the Department of Education.

"Pending completion of that review, it would be inappropriate to comment on the university’s handling of sexual misconduct reports," O'Shea said. "We cannot, because of our obligations under federal law to maintain confidentiality and the privacy interests of those involved, provide information about specific cases."

A decision about whether PIKE will be allowed to remain at the university is expected as early as this week.

Last month, JHU announced it will be hiring Terry Martinez as the new dean of students, bringing her over from Columbia University, where she currently serves as interim dean of student affairs. Columbia is also facing a federal complaint over the alleged mishandling of multiple sexual assault cases.

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