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University of Maryland, Baltimore County under federal investigation for handling of alleged sexual assault

U.S. Education Department investigating UMBC for handling of sexual assault case

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how the University of Maryland, Baltimore County handles reports of sexual assault after an attorney filed a complaint alleging that the university mishandled a student's case.

The Education Department confirmed Tuesday that its Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation last month.

UMBC joins a list of more than 200 colleges nationwide under investigation for their responses to sexual assault allegations under the federal Title IX gender equity law. The Education Department is also investigating cases at Frostburg State University, the Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, Mount St. Mary's University and St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who is representing the UMBC student, said the student was drugged, raped and beaten by a fellow student on campus last year. She declined to be more specific about the date.

Murphy said the student was discouraged by UMBC officials from reporting the incident to Baltimore County police. Murphy said the alleged assailant said the encounter was consensual. At a disciplinary hearing, Murphy said, the university found the alleged assailant was not at fault.

The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.

A UMBC spokeswoman said she could not discuss specific cases or Office of Civil Rights investigations.

"Providing a safe, supportive learning community has always been our priority," spokeswoman Candace Dodson-Reed said in a statement. "This ethic of care for students has guided both UMBC policies and procedures that address the reporting and investigation of sexual misconduct and the education and support we provide around issues like consent.

"We have consistently updated our policies, procedures, and resources to reflect our campus culture, University System of Maryland guidelines, and national best practices. These updates have been in accordance with guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education in 2011 and most recently in 2014."

Title IX requires colleges to respond to sexual assault claims as they would to other forms of gender discrimination. In 2011, the Department of Education clarified that it considered sexual violence a form of gender discrimination and in 2014 an Obama administration task force released guidelines on how universities should handle alleged sexual assaults.

Department of Education investigations can be triggered by a complaint or a compliance review. Colleges that don't handle cases properly risk losing federal funding.

Murphy said she filed her complaint with the Department of Education in June. She said the alleged victim was "drugged without her knowledge and subjected to a particularly violent sexual attack, which left her with significant bruises, bite marks, and other injuries on her body."

Murphy said UMBC officials told the student that the incident was not serious enough to report to the police and that she would have a better likelihood of an outcome against her alleged assailant if she took her complaint through the university's disciplinary process.

The complaint also alleged that UMBC investigators didn't investigate whether the victim was drugged and did not pull photos of the victim's injuries taken when she went through a rape exam at Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

"My hope is that UMBC will be forced to change its policies to make clear that women are not second-class citizens," Murphy said.

Murphy declined to say when or where the attack occurred, and said the student did not want to speak with members of the news media. Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police Department, said she could not comment because the attorney did not specify the date that the alleged attack occurred.

In a separate incident, UMBC expelled two students last year for violating the student code of conduct after an investigation into the alleged sexual assault of another student in August 2014. No one was criminally charged in the case. Baltimore County detectives determined that there was not evidence that a crime had occurred.

The Department of Education's list of universities under investigation for potential Title IX or Clery Act violations has grown to 263 sexual violence investigations at 205 colleges and universities.

cwells@baltsun.com

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