Friday, May 23, 2014

Student Complains that Brown Did Not Adequately Punish Rapist

Brown University student Lena Sclove filed a complaint yesterday with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, accusing the institution of violated Title IX and the Clery Act by failing to adequately sanction the student who choked and raped her in August 2013, as well as other shortcomings in its response to that incident. After a disciplinary hearing held last fall, the university determined that Sclove's assailant was responsible for  numerous violations of the university's code of conduct, including "sexual violence involving physical force and injury."  The disciplinary panel recommended that the assailant receive a two-year suspension, so that Sclove could finish school without running into him on campus.  However, a Brown official reduced the sanction to one year, and counted last fall semester towards that time. This means that the assailant could potentially return to campus in August 2014, a year after committing rape against Sclove.

Title IX does not require universities to impose specific disciplinary measures on students found responsible for sexual assault.  Yet it is certainly arguable that the sanction in this case was too short to satisfy the university's general obligation to "eliminate the hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, and, as appropriate, remedy its effects." 

A second allegation in Sclove's complaint is that the university did not inform her of her rights to file criminal complaint as well as a student misconduct complaint.  On this point, the compliance obligation is clear. According to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, "A school should notify a complainant of the right to file a criminal complaint, and should not dissuade a victim from doing so either during or after the school’s internal Title IX investigation."

It is now up to OCR to determine whether to open an investigation into the allegations in Sclove's complaint.  Meanwhile Brown, for its part, has announced plans to create a sexual assault task force and to move to "a position of national leadership for prevention, advocacy, and response to issues of sexual assault."