A federal official confirmed this week that an investigation is ongoing into how Arizona State University has handled sexual-abuse allegations, and now, students want the probe broadened.
A former ASU student filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of herself and a group of current and former students, asking the agency to expand its investigation into how the school responds to sexual harassment involving faculty and students and sexual assaults involving students.
At least nine other former or current students allege they were sexually harassed or assaulted, according to the complaint.
The federal government was already investigating ASU along with 65 other colleges over the way they handled complaints of sexual assault or harassment. An Education Department official confirmed Thursday that the investigation of ASU remains active.
The students’ complaint asks the federal government to look at how the university handled multiple cases of sexual harassment involving faculty as well as sexual assault involving students. The federal complaint was filed by Jasmine Lester, a 2011 graduate and founder of an advocacy group called Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault.
“We’re seeking accountability and basically just trying to find a way to make ASU safer with different policies and/or different people in the administration,” she said.
Lester said she filed a complaint of sexual assault with the university against a professor in 2012. University officials said there wasn’t enough evidence to do anything, she said.
One of the allegations in the new complaint occurred recently while others date back a few years.
ASU spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said the university takes reports of sexual misconduct seriously and is committed to sustaining a community that is safe and respectful. “Sexual misconduct and sexual violence in today’s society threaten personal safety in all environments and, unfortunately, the university is no exception,” she said in a statement.
University officials are reviewing policies and procedures and will make changes where warranted, she added.
President Barack Obama has made preventing sexual assaults on campus a key goal of his administration this year.
In January, he announced a task force aimed at strengthening enforcement and giving schools additional help to combat sexual assault on campus. The White House cited research at the time that said one in five women was sexually assaulted while in college.
In May, the Education Department took the unprecedented step of releasing names of schools being investigated under Title IX federal law for their handling of sexual-violence or harassment complaints. Title IX applies to educational institutions that receive federal funding and prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender.
A university’s appearance on the list doesn’t mean the institution has violated the law, officials said. On Thursday, Jim Bradshaw, an Education Department spokesman, confirmed that the ASU investigation is ongoing. It began in January 2012.He declined to discuss the case.
ASU has also declined to discuss details and refused to release any documents surrounding the investigation to The Arizona Republic.
The Education Department can launch a Title IX investigation on its own or based on a complaint. Title IX complaints typically have to be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination, according to the Education Department. The person filing doesn’t have to be the victim but may complain on behalf of another person or group.
Some allegations contained in the students’ complaint don’t fall within the 180-day time frame. But Lester said these were included in the federal complaint to demonstrate relevancy to the more recent complaints that students have filed with the university.
Lester said she expects to hear back in about a month on whether the agency will pursue the complaint.
Along with Lester, former ASU student Anthony Eftimeo is part of the federal complaint. Now 26, Eftimeo said he was the victim of sexual assault by another male while at ASU in 2007. He said he filed a complaint with the university and went through the channels to try to get the student disciplined. The other student was not expelled, he said.
Eftimeo decided to be part of the recently filed federal complaint, he said, “to raise awareness on this issue.”
“It’s universities across the country, not just ASU,” he said. “Students are told the university is here to protect you. My personal experience is the university is looking out for their best interest.”
ASU declined to comment to The Republic about Lester’s and Eftimeo’s specific complaints, citing a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.
In the past decade, ASU has been sued twice in federal court over the university’s handling of sexual-assault complaints and once over its handling of a sexual-harassment complaint allegedly involving a faculty member and a graduate student. All three cases were settled.
In 2004, an ASU student sued after she said she was raped by a football player in her dorm room.
An investigation by campus police concluded “non-consensual sexual intercourse” took place, according to court documents, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute, saying a conviction was unlikely. The football player told police the woman invited him to her room and initiated sex.
The lawsuit contended that although the university eventually expelled the football player, it allowed him to complete his spring classes and finals and “remain on the campus among all of the other students that ASU had a responsibility to protect.” The case was settled for $850,000 in 2009.
In 2008, an ASU freshman said she was sexually assaulted on campus by a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. In a lawsuit, she claimed that ASU police refused to authorize a rape kit and that police and university officials conducted limited investigations. The suit was settled in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.
More recently, an ASU graduate student sued in federal court in 2012 after a faculty member allegedly sexually harassed and retaliated against her. The suit said the student had an affair with the faculty member. The affair ended, and the faculty member started to harass and retaliate against the student, the lawsuit said.
ASU, in court filings, said that the student failed to exhaust her administrative remedies at the university and that ASU exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any alleged harassment. The case was settled in March.
Published to the Arizona Republic July 10, 2014 by Anne Ryman