Lawsuits: Kansas State ignores off-campus fraternity rapes

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? Two female students allege that Kansas State University has refused to investigate their rapes and other sex assaults at off-campus fraternity houses, according to federal lawsuits filed Wednesday.

The civil rights lawsuits, filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas, contend that the university’s practice endangers students and violates federal law by creating a hostile learning environment for victims.

Already, Kansas State is the subject of four open federal Title IX investigations for allegedly mishandling sex assault complaints, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The university, located in Manhattan, Kansas, would not comment beyond an emailed statement: “Kansas State University does not discuss litigation matters in the media, nor do we publicly discuss individual reports of discrimination, including sexual violence.”

The U.S. Department of Education has said schools have an obligation to respond to such complaints, even if they occur off campus, according to the students’ attorney, Cari Simon.

“Schools understand that attending school on a campus alongside an assailant can cause a hostile environment for a student, that it really impacts a victim. It can really prevent them from fully accessing their education and can affect their well-being, so schools across the country are investigating these in fact,” Simon said. “Kansas State’s position is an outlier.”

Campus sex assaults — and universities’ responses have been pushed to the forefront in the past couple of years, most recently involving or allegedly involving student-athletes at Baylor University and the University of Tennessee. The Office of Civil Rights is investigating 224 sexual violence cases at 178 colleges and universities across the nation — including the four at Kansas State. The Obama administration also has taken steps to push colleges to better tackle the issue, including releasing the names colleges and universities that were facing investigations for their handling of such cases under Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law involving women.

Kansas State’s campus crime statistics show 16 rapes in 2014, six of which occurred off campus. The lawsuits cite police reports that indicate at least 11 rapes were alleged to have happened at Kansas State fraternities since 2012.

The Associated Press typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Simon said her clients have publicly used their names because they felt they didn’t do anything wrong. The women, both 21, are still students at Kansas State.

Tessa Farmer alleges in her lawsuit that she was raped March 6, 2015, after a party at a fraternity house where she had become “very intoxicated.” She went home, but later returned with a student to the fraternity house, where they had sex. She blacked out and woke up to find another student sexually assaulting her, according to the lawsuit.

Sara Weckhorst was a freshman when she accepted an invitation to a fraternity event at Pillsbury Crossing, a wildlife area that is a frequent party location not far from campus. Her lawsuit contends she became “extremely incapacitated” from consuming a large amount of alcohol and blacked out. One of the students raped her in his truck while 15 other students looked on, some taking video and photographs, according to the court filing. Her lawsuit also alleges multiple rapes while going to and at a fraternity house.

Both women 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, Simon said. But their lawsuits allege that Kansas State told them they wouldn’t do anything about the rapes because they occurred off campus, so they filed complaints with the federal government.