The American Civil Liberties Union filed a Title IX complaint on behalf of a Carnegie Mellon student who said her ex-girlfriend had abused and stalked her. The student, who is gay, reported being brushed off by school authorities when she sought help.
"Students must be safe in order to pursue their studies," said Sandra Park, staff attorney with the ACLU Women's Rights Project. "It takes courage for those who have been assaulted and abused in a relationship to speak out, and this case shows that all too often, students' pleas for help are brushed aside."
"Our client reported the violence because she wanted to stay in school and be safe there. The university failed her by minimizing the violence she experienced and refusing to take the steps necessary to support her."
Identified only as "Gabrielle," the student told the ACLU that she began dating her ex-girlfriend, who was also in her major, during her freshman year. The girlfriend "became verbally and sexually abusive" and began stalking Gabrielle after they broke up.
The university acted by setting up a "no contact agreement" between the women, but they continued taking the same classes within their program of study. During sophomore year, Gabrielle’s abusive ex moved into an apartment across the hall from her. The victim wrote in an ACLU blog post that she was subject to "screaming and sudden violent outbursts.”
"I had been diagnosed with PTSD caused by her abuse and was struggling with panic attacks, flashbacks, night terrors, and involuntary shaking," Gabrielle wrote. "I feared for my life around her, and there didn't seem to be any escape."
When Gabrielle did file a complaint against her abusive ex through the university, she was accused of "seeking revenge" and asked why she had been in the relationship in the first place.
"Almost a year later, finally ready to say what happened and hold her accountable, I filed a complaint against her through the university's community standards process," Gabrielle wrote.
"The campus police officer accused me of seeking revenge by making the report and questioned why I had been in the relationship if I was being so badly abused."
Park hopes to seek justice for Gabrielle and other victims of sexual assault with a Title IX sex discrimination complaint to the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education. The department can then order that the university change its general policies and its treatment of Gabrielle’s specific situation.
The Huffington Post reported on a number of sexual harassment cases on college campuses this year, with faculty and staff at schools like the University of Connecticut and Columbia coming under fire for their treatment of sexual abuse complaints.