DALLAS (AP) — A federal lawsuit is renewing monthslong criticism Baylor University has received for failing to adequately respond to claims by women that they were sexually assaulted.
A former Baylor student claims in a lawsuit filed this week that administrators at the largest Baptist school in the nation were “deliberately indifferent” to her complaints that she was raped by a Baylor football player, Tevin Elliott.
Elliott is one of two players who faced numerous allegations of sexual assault, leading to scrutiny of football coach Art Briles and whether he or others knew of previous criminal behavior that should have prevented the players from being recruited.
More broadly, female students have complained the university did little to act on their allegations of assault, leading to campus protests. Baylor regents have announced a $5 million plan to increase services and staff to improve the university’s response.
Jasmin Hernandez says in her lawsuit filed Wednesday that Baylor failed to comply with federal Title IX protections against sexual harassment. Hernandez contends that after she was raped by Elliott, the university counseling center said it was too busy to see her, and the student health center said its counseling sessions were booked and couldn’t provide services.
“Baylor literally turned her away from health services, academic accommodations and to investigate her claims,” said her attorney, Alex Zalkin.
The suit also criticizes Briles and athletic officials for not properly monitoring the behavior of student-athletes, even when they’re aware of serious allegations against an athlete.
The convictions of Elliott and another former football player for sexual assault have called into question the integrity of the Baylor football program.
Elliott was convicted a year before a jury ruled that Sam Ukwuachu assaulted a former Baylor women’s soccer player. Ukwuachu was sentenced to six months in jail.
Both Elliott and Ukwuachu were highly touted players. Ukwuachu transferred from Boise State and the head coach at the time, Chris Petersen, has said he told Briles of disciplinary infractions by Ukwuachu and of his dismissal from the team. Ukwuachu also had a domestic run-in with his girlfriend.
The McLennan County assistant district attorney who prosecuted both Elliott and Ukwuachu has criticized Baylor’s handling of sexual assault complaints.
Hilary LaBorde says that in the case of Ukwuachu, the university “did not validate” the sex assault claim made against him. She also noted that whether an assault allegation proceeds to a university review or police investigation largely depends on how receptive Baylor is to women claiming they were victimized.
Federal statistics show Baylor did not report a single instance of sexual assault in a four-year span, a finding that stands in sharp contrast to other private and public schools that made multiple reports over the same period.
“There’s always a red flag that goes up when a school reports zero incidents,” Neena Chaudhry, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center, has said. “I don’t think it’s a good sign when you’re not getting any reports because it’s probably not true.”
Colleges and universities are required to report crime statistics to the U.S. Department of Education. Prosecutors, alumni and students say they were dismayed by statistics that showed Baylor reported no sexual assaults from 2008 to 2011.
The university last week announced new actions to improve how it addresses sexual assault.
It says the plans are part of a $5 million commitment the board of regents announced in February.
Baylor is adding another investigator and an administrative assistant to the school’s Title IX office, which currently has seven members. Also, case management systems will be improved.
A plan to increase services and staff at Baylor’s counseling center was previously announced.
Officials have declined to address specific allegations, though President and Chancellor Ken Starr has decried the “scourge of sexual violence.” The university has hired a Philadelphia law firm, Pepper Hamilton, to review its response to assault claims.
When the review is complete, “we will determine how best to share the firm’s recommendations,” Starr has said.
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