After a series of rape allegations at Utah State, federal justice department launches rare investigation into university
The Department of Justice has for months been investigating how Utah State University responds to reports of sexual assault.
In a January letter released by USU on Tuesday, the department’s civil rights division said it had learned of allegations regarding how the school has handled ”numerous reports of student-on-student sexual assault.” The department said its investigation was focusing on cases between 2013 and 2016.
The inquiry is different — and more serious — than the reviews federal education officials are overseeing at hundreds of colleges across the country, said S. Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, LLC.
The scope of a DOJ investigation is usually much larger, as the department typically looks at ”more systemic issues across an entire community,” he said.
USU did not immediately release an enclosure in the letter that listed the documents requested by the department. While it isn’t clear what allegations or cases the DOJ is examining, three USU students have been charged or convicted in high-profile sexual assaults alleged to have occurred between 2013 and 2015.
In the case of former football player Torrey Green, four women told Logan police in 2015 that they had been assaulted by Green, but no charges were filed and he was not questioned about two of the reports. After The Salt Lake Tribune reported the complaints, other alleged victims came forward, and Green is now charged in seven assaults. He has denied the allegations.
USU’s internal investigation revealed that the school “fell short” in handling reports related to Green — at least three women said they reported him to the school — but it has refused to detail those shortcomings or release its inquiry, citing student privacy protections. Green has told The Tribune the school talked to him about one incident, which he did not specify.
An attorney for former USU student Victoria Hewlett, who has sued the school for allegedly mishandling sexual assault allegations against two other students, said she is cooperating with the DOJ investigation.
University officials said in a statement that the school is working with the DOJ’s Educational Opportunities Section as it investigates the university and its Title IX practices. Title IX is a federal law that charges universities with ensuring students receive education without sex-based discrimination.
“USU is cooperating fully with the review and welcomes the opportunity this will provide as we continue to improve our processes,” spokesman Eric Warren wrote. ”Because this is an ongoing inquiry, it would not be appropriate to discuss details of the review.”
DOJ officials said Tuesday that they could not give details about specific allegations being considered.
According to advocate Turner Bitton, the department is seeking information from people who have had experiences with USU’s Title IX office, inviting them to call (202)-616-2540 or email [email protected].
Bitton, executive director of the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault (UCASA), said the organization became involved with the DOJ review at USU in recent weeks. He said the coalition has been connecting investigators with people.
“We’re obviously hopeful folks will participate,” he said. “Oftentimes, people view these investigations as a punishment or a finding of a shortfall. That’s not necessarily the case. It’s a fact-finding investigation. The more people who participate, the better it will be for everyone.”
He added that if anyone doesn’t feel comfortable reaching out directly to the Department of Justice, they can contact UCASA. “We can help facilitate some different mechanisms to protect their privacy,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Education has more than 300 Title IX reviews underway nationwide, Carter said, but there are few Title IX investigations by Justice officials.
“This would be the only one under investigation that I am currently aware of,” Carter said. ”It is much more rare and far, far more serious.”
A DOJ investigation at the University of Montana extended into the criminal justice system and led to a community-wide audit. In 2015, the department said the Missoula police department had completed “historic” changes to improve its response to sexual assault, including training and a review process for cases that were not pursued.
It’s not clear how far-reaching the investigation in Utah will be. Cache County Attorney James Swink said he hasn’t heard from anyone about the investigation, and Logan police also said they are not involved with the process.
Hewlett’s lawsuit contends USU mishandled complaints about both Relopez and Ryan Wray, a former president of Pi Kappa Alpha charged in a separate assault. Prosecutors said Wray inappropriately touched a woman at the fraternity in 2014, while he was assigned to keep watch over partygoers who couldn’t take care of themselves. He pleaded guilty to attempted forcible sex abuse and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Jeffrey Eisenberg, Hewlett’s attorney, said she wants to bring attention to underreported sexual assaults on campuses and to the peer pressure and retaliation that can occur when an assault is reported.
She filed suit “to not only bring attention to [the handling of her case,] but so other students who are the victims of sexual assault will see an example of someone who has challenged this through the legal system,” he said.
The Tribune generally does not identify sexual assault victims, but Hewlett has agreed to the use of her name.
USU has asked for Hewlett’s lawsuit to be dismissed, arguing that school officials did not violate her rights.
Five other Utah universities are being evaluated by the Department of Education for potential Title IX violations: Westminster College, the University of Utah, Brigham Young University, Dixie State University and Utah Valley University.
Bitton said the coalition is not involved in any of the other Title IX reviews pending in the state, but noted a DOJ investigation “looks different” than a typical review.
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 2015 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.
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 [email protected] for more information.
The director of a Utah coalition says Thursday's announcement by United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an insult to victims of sexual assault.
“Secretary DeVos’ comments, while they were fairly ambiguous, the message was crystal clear,” says Turner Bitton, executive director for the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources to various groups around the state.
Bitton and his group work as advocates for survivors of sexual violence.
DeVos announced she is pushing for an end to the Obama-era rules for Title IX, the law requiring universities to investigate claims of sexual misconduct, as well as ensure a safe and equal environment for all students.is responding to a possible loss of federal support for programs that protect victims of sexual assault.
He expects the announcement is a precursor to ending sexual assault procedural and processing guidance from the federal government. The education secretary says she is reviewing guidelines some consider to be unfair toward the accused. Included in the law is the “dear colleague” letter that outlines how schools should handle sexual assault allegations.
“I don’t necessarily believe that institutions will quit acting in the best interest of sexual violence survivors,” Bitton said. “Fortunately for the state of Utah, many of our colleges and institutions work well with the community programs in their areas. They’re doing a lot of programming, doing a lot of work to help provide information on sexual violence.”
Although he sees an increase in awareness and advocacy at the local level Bitton says the lack of support from the federal government poses a problem for survivors of sexual violence, especially at universities.
“Without the ‘dear colleague’ letter, really what we risk doing is going back to a day when someone who experienced sexual violence was on their own,’’ he said.
DeVos is not revealing specifics about how she plans to approach Title IX. Bitton says until she does he is being proactive in encouraging universities and colleges to support policies that will still put sexual assault survivors first.
SALT LAKE CITY — Local advocates for survivors of sexual assault say college students will be less likely to report attacks in the wake of an address by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Thursday.
Speaking at George Mason University School of Law in Fairfax, Virginia, DeVos vowed to replace an Obama administration system of campus assault enforcement that she says is broken for both survivors of sexual assault and those wrongly accused, and "fails all students."
Too often the conversation has been framed as "a contest between men and women," or the rights of sexual misconduct survivors and the due process rights of accused students, she said.
"The reality is, however, a different picture. There are men and women, boys and girls, who are survivors, and there are men and women, boys and girls, who are wrongfully accused," DeVos said.
"I've met them personally. I've heard their stories. And the rights of one person can never be paramount to the rights of another."
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, who has successfully carried a number of bills on various aspects of sexual assault through the Utah Legislature in recent years, described DeVos' address as "troubling."
"I'm afraid that victims won't report because they'll feel like people won't believe them," Romero said. "There's a reason why we've been heading toward this victim-centric approach to where we give the power back to the victim of sexual assault, and I think we're taking steps back.
"At the end of the day, rape is rape and sexual assault is sexual assault. As we know, only 2 to 10 percent are false accusations," she said.
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault said in a prepared statement that DeVos' announcement "tips the scales of justice away from survivors of sexual violence."Read more
For Immediate Release
Salt Lake City, Utah, September 7, 2017– This morning, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced changes to the Title IX rule process while criticizing the so-called Dear Colleague letter. While she did not announce an end to the guidance established by the Dear Colleague letter, the message was clear.
“Today’s announcement by Education Secretary Devos shows a willful disregard for the needs, concerns, and experiences of survivors of sexual violence. The announcement follows a series of statements, actions, and policy changes that tip the scales of justice away from survivors of sexual violence. We condemn, any effort to undermine the robust process of accountability established by the Dear Colleague letter.” – Turner C. Bitton, Executive Director
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault committed to working with the state legislature, local partners, and all stakeholders in the state to ensure that institutions continue to adhere to the spirit and letter of the Dear Colleague letter.
“Our Coalition has a long history of working with leaders in our great state to ensure that survivors of sexual violence get the justice that they deserve. We will work with our valued colleagues at institutions throughout the state to ensure that they have the resources, support, and encouragement to continue to adhere to the spirit and letter of the Dear Colleague letter.’ - Turner C. Bitton, Executive Director
# # #
If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Turner Bitton at (801) 746-0404 Ext. 1 or email at [email protected]
The Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, along with the Utah Department of Health and the Center for Women and Children in Crisis presented resources, information and scenarios for bystander intervention on Tuesday at the Fulton Library Lecture Hall.
Student for Choice UVU, Spectrum UVU and the UVU Women’s Success Center co-hosted the event.
The training presented by Martin Liccardo, the men’s engagement specialist with the Violence and Injury Prevention program at the state health department, focused on how to intervene safely, especially in situations involving harassment and assault.
Liccardo began the training by discussing ‘diffusion of responsibility’ theory, the tendency toward inaction when others are present. Liccardo also took time to discuss cultural conditions such as rape culture, stigma, biases/ judgmental attitudes, all of which allow for and promote harassment and sexual assault.
According to Liccardo, a cultural shift needs to occur in the way people view and talk about gender, sex and sexuality. He stressed that people need to be more deliberate in talking about sexual activity and gaining consent.
“We are more comfortable having sex than talking about it,” Liccardo said.
In addition to trying to prevent physical harassment and assault, Liccardo repeatedly referenced people feeling safe, and certain culturally accepted behavior and attitudes can often take that away from people.
Liccardo continued by providing guidelines and tools to aid in bystander intervention and then presented scenarios for practice. He expressed that intervening is difficult and complex, but that taking action will become easier with the correct tools, knowledge and experience.
The training attracted students from BYU and Salt Lake Community College as well as those from UVU.
Tyler Clancy, a sophomore in family services at BYU, attended the training to take action and to assume responsibility for the world around him. The training is an opportunity for men like Clancy to address what was described by Liccardo as a “men’s violence issue”.
Clancy has been involved with athletics for much of his life and he believes that the “machismo” that can develop in all-male sports teams contributes to the occurrence of harassment and assault.
“I think that athletics, both in the world around me as I see in the news – some of these big cases like the Stanford swimmer guy, the Duke lacrosse team—and then in my own life I’ve seen habits or mentality towards women that I don’t think is necessarily evil, but I think that it could lead to bad things,” Clancy said. “I think we need to change that.”
Students started arriving at college for fall classes about a week before Labor Day.
About that same time, news broke that the federal government is investigating five of Utah’s 10 largest colleges and universities for the way they handled allegations of sexual violence.
Weber State University is not on the list. And perhaps that’s for a reason — the [email protected] program.
Under Title IX, schools must quickly investigate reports of sexual violence and harassment. Additionally, if requested, they must provide counseling, tutoring and relocation.
The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating complaints against Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Westminster College and Dixie State University.
The Dixie State investigation stemmed from its handling of a sexual harassment report. At the other four schools, the complaints stemmed from sexual violence cases.
College campuses can be dangerous places, especially for newcomers. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, reports that more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur between August and November.
And according to RAINN, college students face the highest risk of sexual violence during the early months of their first and second semesters.
The risk is great. Nationally, RAINN reports, 23.1 percent of undergraduate women experience sexual assault. So do 5.4 percent of undergraduate men.
Weber State addresses sexual violence through its [email protected] initiative, which requires all students to participate in an online sexual violence prevention and awareness course.
As part of [email protected], the WSU Women’s Center also provides a number of services for assault survivors, including counseling referrals, medical treatment and legal advocacy.
But the school didn’t stop there — it built on [email protected] to add a sexual violence prevention program for LGBT students.
For good reason. According to RAINN, 21 percent of the nation’s transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted. For non-TGQN females, it’s 18 percent. For non-TGQN males, the number is 4 percent.
"We see really high rates of violence committed against LGBT folks, so having specific programming for LGBT individuals is a huge step forward for the community," he told Anna Burleson, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner.
It’s a new semester. Take steps to protect yourself from sexual violence.
At Weber State, that means learning about [email protected]
This month is recognized nationally as National Suicide Prevention Month, National Recovery Month, and National Hispanic Heritage Month and we are proud to be participating by focusing on the unique ways that sexual violence and suicide are connected.
We have created a new working group to study the issue of suicide and support our expressed desire to this serious public health issue. We’re working overtime to ensure that all of our programs include suicide prevention as a critical component of our work. We’re committed to ensuring that no survivor ever feels that they are alone. We’re committed to building a community for all people working to end sexual violence in Utah.
In keeping with our theme of building a community for those working to end sexual violence in Utah, we’re growing our membership program, the Vanguard Network. This network is designed for anyone who is interested in supporting our statewide efforts to end sexual violence. If you like the work we’re doing, please consider joining the Vanguard Network by clicking here.
Our members are the backbone of our efforts and power the work that we’re doing in communities across the state. Here are the things that our members are making possible this month:
- We’re looking for volunteers to join us in tabling at Hooper Tomato Days, Ogden Hispanic Festival, Provo Pride Festival, Logan Pride Festival, and other community events. If you’re interested email our Outreach Specialist Myla Anderson at [email protected].
- We’ve launched several new webinars on topics ranging for sexual violence research to the impact of trauma on advocates. Head over to the UCASA Training Center to learn more.
- September 7-9th, we’re hosting the a 44-hour SANE certification training for new SANE nurses in Provo. Read more.
- On September 27th, we’re partnering with several community partners to host a screening of the internationally recognized documentary The Voiceless. The Voiceless features the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence. This powerful straight to camera film discusses culture, masculinity, and other important concepts. Read more.
This is only a small portion of what we are doing and we hope that you’ll join us and get involved. Our work is powered by our membership program. Join us on the next step of our journey by becoming a member of our newly formed Vanguard Network. By making a monthly membership contribution to UCASA, you are joining the local movement to end sexual violence. Our members include community leaders with a wide range of interests, backgrounds, and experience working to combat sexual violence in our community.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like to schedule one of our events in your community. We are a statewide organization and love to support the work of our community partners across the state.
Turner C. Bitton
(801) 746-0404 Ext. 1
Request for Proposals
For Bookkeeping Services
For the period: October 2017- December 2018
Inquiries and proposals should be directed to:
Name: Turner C. Bitton
Title: Executive Director
Entity: Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Address: 284 West 400 North Suite Salt Lake City, Utah 84103
Phone: 801-746-0404 Ext. 1
Email: [email protected]
For immediate release
During the past 24 hours, we have watched with horror and disgust the events transpiring in Charlottesville. We condemn in the strongest terms the disgraceful and pathetic displays of hatred and bigotry. What has transpired in Virginia is reprehensive and deserving of the utmost condemnation. Violence, of any kind, has no place in our society and the violence perpetrated by members of the so-called “alt-right” is nothing but Nazism by a different name.
Advocates for survivors of sexual violence know all too well that sexual violence stems from the same hatred being spouted in Charlottesville. Sexual violence is fundamentally a crime of power and control. By dehumanizing others and sowing division, this movement of hate seeks to create opportunities for the perpetration of violence against others. While disgusting, this tactic is used all too often against people of color and other marginalized people.
From the founding of our country, we have aspired to create a more perfect union through the idea that all men and women are created equal. What has transpired in Charlottesville is nothing more than an attack on the sacred principles that are the moral pillars of our country.Read more