Department of Justice investigating USU for Title IX practices

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The Department of Justice is investigating Utah State University for how it handles sexual assault complaints.

The DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is investigating how the university handles sexual assault complaints, said USU spokesperson Eric Warren. He added that the university is cooperating, but did not provide further detail.

Allison Allred, a sophomore studying marketing, shared her experience with the university’s Title IX office, which handles sexual assault complaints.

The Utah Statesman normally does not identify victims of sexual assault, but Allred agreed to be identified by her full name for this story.

Allred attended an off-campus party in fall 2016 with a male acquaintance, who she said sexually assaulted her during the party.

She first went to the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information (SAAVI) office and after telling the office she wished to report her assault to the university, she was told to speak to the university’s Office of Student Conduct. That office enforces the student code of conduct and decides consequences for those found guilty of violating it.

Allred said she imagined — and hoped — the process would end there. She wanted closure and to not have to worry about seeing her assailant, she said.

However, she was then sent to the university’s Title IX office, where she had to relive the experience once again, the third time in just a few days.

“You don’t want to have to relive it,” she said. “To have to go through telling the story over and over again and relive that process is frustrating and humiliating and upsetting to say the least.”

After telling her story to the Title IX office, Allred said she was told that he was not currently enrolled in classes at USU. The office told her the only option was reporting the incident to the police, which she was not comfortable with.

“After (the Title IX coordinator) told me that, the process just stopped and nothing happened, which was frustrating,” Allred said.

Still, she took comfort in knowing she would not see him on campus.

Or so she thought.

USU student Allison Allred // Photo by Chantelle McCall

The next semester, she said she saw him at a social gathering which was only open to currently-enrolled USU students.

“I got so sick,” she said.

Allred said she hoped she could avoid him — but later found out he was in her statistics class.

“Your stomach just drops. You can almost see the blood leave your face,” she said.

Allred did not intend for her perpetrator to serve legal consequences but said she wishes he would have received even a small form of punishment.

“It almost would have been enough for me if they would have called him in and told him he was being watched,” she said. “That would have been better than nothing.”

Turner Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said he “encourages all stakeholders to engage in this vital process and to provide the critical feedback that will provide critical information to the process.”

Bitton added that “certainly, over the last several years, we’ve really seen some good standards of practice come out (of previous DOJ investigations).”

Five Utah higher education institutions are currently being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX enforcement practices: Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University, the University of Utah, Westminster College and Dixie State University.

Although the U.S. Department of Education typically leads these type of investigations, it is unclear whether that organization is involved in the current case at USU. Usually, the Department of Justice only gets involved in “very high profile” cases, according to a national Title IX expert.

S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC., said a DOJ investigation into a university is usually warranted by a “broader, systemic concern that may also include the local criminal justice system.”

Carter said in his more than 25-year career, he “can’t think of any more than a handful of times that (the DOJ) has gotten involved in one of these cases.”

At this time it is unknown what specific incidents led the DOJ to intervene at USU. Carter said the investigation could have been triggered by a complaint from a victim or university staff member, or could have arisen simply from the DOJ becoming aware of a mishandled case.

Carter added that because the Department of Justice historically only involves themselves in high-profile cases, he speculates that the Torrey Green case could have sparked the investigation.

In that case, four women, who reportedly did not know each other, reported then-USU student and football player Torrey Green to local police agencies. Green was not removed from the university and charges were not filed until the story was published by The Salt Lake Tribune more than a year later.

Since then, Green has been charged with sexual misconduct involving seven women.

“There’s no question in my mind that people across the nation and across the world were aware of (Green),” Carter speculated. “That case might involve the broader systemic issues that, historically, the Department of Justice would look into.”

The Utah Statesman requested details of the investigation from the university and the DOJ. USU declined to provide further details and the Department of Justice would not comment, in general.

“All we do know is that there were two very high-profile, very serious cases involving Utah State, either one of which — or both of which — could have provided information to the Department of Justice that would raise concerns,” Carter said, referring to Green’s case as well as the case of Jason Relopez, who was convicted in 2016 of attempted rape and attempted forcible sex abuse.

The DOJ is seeking feedback from participants who have been through the Title IX process at USU to aid in its investigation. The department asks those willing to share their experiences to call (202)-616-2540 or email brigid.benincasa@usdoj.org for more information.

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