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Vanderbilt University Faces Federal Complaint From Female Students - John Dunn

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There are new concerns about the way Vanderbilt University handles sexual assaults on campus. Six current and former students have filed a federal complaint, and are calling for an investigation.

Vanderbilt University is not immune from crime on campus.  That fact is proven by the ongoing rape investigation involving former football players. Now, there's a new complaint submitted to the U.S. Department of Education. It claims the university has mishandled sexual assault on campus.

"We really would like to see the university start taking students seriously and involving students in the changes that are being made," says senior student Sarah O'Brien. Sarah O'Brien is a current Vanderbilt student who says she was sexually assaulted in 2010. O'Brien spoke to us by phone and allowed us to use her identity. She says the 70 page complaint raises serious claims.

"Students being dissuaded from reporting, students not reporting because they felt pressured to not report," says O'Brien.
The Sexual Assault Center in Nashville is not involved with the complaint, but says no college is immune from sexual assault crimes. Vice President for programs Rachel Freeman says victims must be taken seriously. "It is very rare that somebody makes up or lies about a sexual assault. False reports of rape are very rare in our society," says Freeman.

Vanderbilt hasn't received a copy of the complaint, but a spokesperson says policies and procedures are in place to deal with sexual misconduct. A statement reads, "We take the concerns of our students very seriously and share their goal of assuring that the university maintains a culture that rejects sexual violence and supports victims of sexual violence."

Sarah O'Brien hopes the complaint she and other students have submitted will cause a change. "All survivors of any type of sexual violence should constantly feel supported and safe," says O'Brien.

The Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights has received the complaint. They will evaluate it and determine whether it needs to be investigated. Vanderbilt says it will cooperate with any review the DOE undertakes.

The Sexual Assault Center maintains a 24/7 crisis and support line at (800) 879-1999.

Beth Fortune, Vanderbilt University's Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs released a statement in reference to the report. "We have not been provided with a copy of any complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education but we take the concerns of our students very seriously and share their goal of assuring that the university maintains a culture that rejects sexual violence and supports victims of sexual violence. We have long had policies and procedures in place to deal with complaints of sexual misconduct and to support students who report incidents of sexual misconduct and violence. We review and update those measures on a regular basis and are always seeking ways to make them as effective as possible. We will cooperate fully with the Department of Education in any review it undertakes." 

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