MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The federal government has weighed in on lawsuits brought by two women who say Kansas State University refused to investigate complaints that they were raped in off-campus fraternity houses.
In a court brief, or "Statement of Interest," filed last week on behalf of Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Education said the university's policy to not investigate complaints of student-on-student rape when the attacks occur off-campus is wrong.
The departments of Justice and Education share responsibility for enforcing Title IX, The Kansas City Star (http://bit.ly/29qIEHD ) reported.
Weckhorst, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and Farmer, of Overland Park, filed separate federal lawsuits in April accusing Kansas State of violating Title IX, the federal gender discrimination law that protects students against sexual violence and harassment.
The Associated Press doesn't generally name sexual assault victims, but Cari Simon, an attorney representing both women, said they have come forward because they want to hold the university accountable and to help prevent other women from being raped.
In both lawsuits, the students said they told the university about rapes at different fraternity houses, but that the school said it wouldn't investigate because the fraternities aren't on campus. The university later argued that the lawsuits should be dismissed.
The federal government, in its brief, suggested the U.S. District Court in Kansas deny the request to dismiss the suits.
"The continuing effects of a student-on-student rape, including the constant fear of exposure to one's assailant, can render a student's educational environment hostile," the government filings said. "Thus, a school must respond to allegations of sexual assault in fraternity activities to determine if a hostile environment exists there or in any other education program or activity."
Kansas State University said in a statement Wednesday that the school doesn't comment on pending litigation. Officials from the two federal departments also were not available for comment.
The Education Department's Office for Civil Rights has more than 200 Title IX investigations open at colleges and universities examining claims that the schools mishandled sexual assault cases. Two of those are from the University of Kansas, one involves Missouri University of Science and Technology and another involves William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri.
Weckhorst and Farmer said they reported the sexual assaults to police and went to hospitals where rape kits were taken; prosecutors declined to file charges related to Weckhorst's allegations and a decision is pending on whether to file charges in Farmer's case.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com