The College of St. Scholastica will be investigated by the U.S. Department of Education for its alleged mishandling of a student's report of a rape.
Emilee Franklin, who graduated from the college in May, filed complaints this summer with the department's Clery Act Compliance Team and with the Office for Civil Rights under Title IX because of how the college handled her sexual assault report stemming from a 2015 study abroad trip to Ireland.
She said the college failed to quickly and appropriately respond to her report that she was sexually assaulted by a man not affiliated with the college, and then later "retaliated" against her for wanting to talk about what happened with other students traveling to Ireland.
The Office for Civil Rights has opened an investigation and the Clery Act team is assessing Franklin's complaint, calling it "deeply disturbing" according to official documents provided by Franklin's attorney, Laura Dunn of SurvJustice, a national nonprofit that works with survivors of campus sexual violence.
"We obviously believe her case to be an indicator of a much broader problem with study abroad programs on college campuses," Dunn said Thursday. "She is not the first survivor in that circumstance to speak out, but her case is one of the first federal investigations we have been able to open."
Because some study abroad programs are held at foreign institutions, students who attend such programs aren't protected by federal law. St. Scholastica's program controls its own campus in Ireland.
Franklin told the News Tribune last week: "I am hoping my situation brings overall change in how not only St. Scholastica handles sexual assault cases, but also a change in how other universities handle these cases across the country."
The News Tribune typically does not identify victims or alleged victims of sexual assault; in this case, Franklin has chosen to share her story publicly.
St. Scholastica spokesman Bob Ashenmacher said the college had received a complaint and is in the process of reviewing it.
Franklin alleges that she told the college's violence intervention coordinator about the assault in late April 2015 and did not immediately receive information about preserving evidence, reporting to the police or finding resources. She was given a partial list in late May. A professor assisting Franklin reached out to Steve Lyons, vice president for student affairs and the college's Title IX coordinator, for help in communicating with Irish authorities. Lyons did that two months later, Dunn said.
Irish authorities have said they will not prosecute Franklin's accused rapist, and have denied an appeal. With that in mind, Franklin said, she wanted last winter to warn students preparing to return to the same study abroad site. She was scheduled to do so, until Lyons barred her from attending the meeting, according to an email from him, provided by Dunn. It says an employee would handle questions, and if Franklin came, the meeting would be canceled.
Dunn said the college also failed to "promptly" prohibit the accused rapist from continuing to access its campus in Ireland, leaving other students at risk. It eventually did, last March.
The Clery Act enforces the federal campus safety law under the same name, which requires campuses to have certain safety policies and procedures. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational settings that receive federal funding. Dunn said Franklin's civil rights were violated because while her alleged attacker was not a St. Scholastica student or staff member, the law still says the college must support Franklin through a sexual assault complaint.
The Office for Civil Rights is investigating based on allegations that Franklin was discriminated against when the college didn't quickly and equitably respond to the report, that it failed to train its Title IX coordinator and that it retaliated against her when Lyons threatened to cancel the study abroad meeting where she intended to speak about safety issues, Dunn said.
"Institutions of higher education, just as they respond to sexual violence that is happening on campus, need to have a system prepared and in place and known to students prior to studying abroad," Dunn said. "It really is a shocking level of negligence to take individuals into a foreign country and not have any kind of emergency response after they've experienced sexual violence."
She said parents sending students abroad "need to be active in holding schools accountable" regarding plans for all types of crime.
"Students lives are affected by what happens during these trips," Dunn said.
The college has told the state via an annual study abroad report that it maintains written emergency plans, and that staff are trained to respond to health, safety and security issues abroad.