The University Connecticut announced yesterday that it will award five students a total of $1.28 million as part of a settlement charging that university officials mishandled claims of sexual assault. The students, all of whom are women, claimed that UConn did not take their allegations seriously and did not investigate thoroughly.
The financial settlement includes stipulations that UConn establish better procedures for handling instances of sexual assault among students. "This lawsuit has catalyzed change on UConn's campus so that, hopefully, future generations of students do not have to experience sexual violence," lead plaintiff Carolyn Luby said at a Hartford press conference on Friday. "[A]nd if they do, there will be systems in place to ensure they get the help and justice they deserve."
The suit being settled was filed in November and, as the Times reports, sought restitution for gender discrimination and a violation of the women's Title IX rights to equality of education opportunities. Of the $1.28 million sum, $900,000 will be awarded to former UConn hockey player Silvana Moccia, whose coach allegedly removed her from the team after she came forward with rape charges against a male hockey player. The other four women in the suit received sums ranging from $25,000 to $125,000. None of the men implicated in the plaintiffs' cases faced criminal charges.
Despite assertions by the five students that their claims were not taken seriously, the University denied any wrongdoing in the settlement, rather admitting that a court battle would "be costly and bad for UConn's image." The school's Board of Trustees chairman, Larry McHugh, told the Associated Press "It was clear to all parties that no good would have come from dragging this out for years as it consumed the time, attention, and resources—both financial and emotional—of everyone involved."
UConn in the settlement also made commitments to revise its sexual violence and harrassment training program, form a university police special victims unit specifically trained to respond to sexual violence crimes, and create a new Dean of Students for Victim Support Services position on campus. UConn is still reportedly under Title IX investigation by the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights. Three other current or former students are plaintiffs in that case.
The AP reports that almost 70 postsecondary institutions are currently under investigation for improper handling of sexual violence allegations. Included in the UConn suit was complainant's statement that a female campus police officer told her, "Women have to just stop spreading their legs like peanut butter," or else rape will "keep happening till the cows come home."
The mishandling and, at times, outright obstruction of sexual assault cases on college campuses nationwide has been covered with heightened intensity and detail in recent months. Last week, the Times ran an in-depth piece on rape allegations at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In that report, an 18 year-old freshman student was sexually assaulted multiple times in a single evening. The men implicated in the assaults were quickly cleared of all charges, while the victim reportedly went on to be threatened and harassed so viciously that she said she regretted ever coming forward.