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Details emerge in OCR sexual assault investigation

| Thursday, March 3, 2016

The United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) said Tuesday it had opened an investigation Feb. 19 into the University’s handling of a sexual assault case last spring. The office also has four open investigations into the University for its handling of sexual harassment cases as far back as September 2013.

In 2013, the OCR opened two investigations into the handling of two graduate students’ complaints of possible Title IX violations pertaining to sexual harassment.

complaints graphic FINALSusan Zhu

The OCR launched the two most recent sexual harassment investigations against Notre Dame on Oct. 21, 2015, and Feb. 19, 2016. The latter harassment investigation has the same complainant as the sexual assault investigation launched the same day.

All three of those cases — the most recent harassment cases and the sexual assault case — involve the same alleged perpetrator.

According to University spokesperson Dennis Brown, the alleged perpetrator in question was dismissed from the University nearly a year ago.

“… The University acted swiftly in this matter, and the accused student was dismissed from the University nearly a year ago, months before any Title IX complaint was filed with the OCR,” Brown said in an email Wednesday night.

Laura Dunn, who represents both complainants, serves as Executive Director of SurvJustice, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that offers free legal assistance to sexual violence survivors. In a phone conversation Wednesday, Dunn said the alleged perpetrator was dismissed from the University on disciplinary charges separate from her clients’ sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints.

In a SurvJustice press release sent to The Observer on Tuesday, Dunn said the separate charges led to the alleged perpetrator being temporarily dismissed, allowing him the option to apply to return to the University at a later date.

“[The University] allowed an identified repeat perpetrator to avoid a Title IX hearing on campus that could have led to expulsion so he would retain the option to re-enroll later — that’s unacceptable,” Dunn said in the release.

Brown said the University deals with separate complaints against a single respondent on an individual basis.

“If more than one complaint is made against a student, each incident is thoroughly examined,” Brown said. “ … A student with multiple complaints is therefore likely to have separate hearings. If the accused student is found responsible for a conduct violation, outcomes for that complaint will be assigned, up to and including dismissal. The best interests of the overall campus community may require implementing the dismissal of a student before all pending charges can be fully resolved, especially where the student may pose a threat to the community.”

Brown said at the time the complainant’s case was being evaluated, the existing policy was not to conduct hearings if the accused student was no longer enrolled. He said that policy was amended last summer.

“If a student is dismissed as the result of a hearing and additional conduct matters are pending, he or she would be subject to additional hearings immediately upon readmission,” he said. “It is important to note, however, that readmission to the University is not guaranteed.”

Associate News Editor Kayla Mullen contributed to this report. 

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About Margaret Hynds

Margaret is a senior Political Science major and the former Editor-in-Chief of The Observer. She hails from Washington, D.C., and is a former Phox of Pangborn Hall. Follow Margaret on Twitter @MargaretHynds

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