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University of Connecticut is sued over handling of sexual assaults

By Curtis Skinner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Four female students filed a lawsuit against the University of Connecticut on Friday over the school's handling of sexual assault complaints, a week after filing a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

The school in Storrs, Connecticut, was "deliberately indifferent to a number of reports of rape and sexual assault," said the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut by four current or past students.

In the lawsuit, one former student said she was "fearful for her life" when confronted on campus by a male student she described as her rapist whose expulsion for the attack was appealed without her knowledge.

Another woman in the lawsuit, a student who worked part-time in the school dining hall said she was raped by another student on the same work shift, and was not allowed to be reassigned to a different shift, causing her emotional distress, the lawsuit said.

A third woman said in the lawsuit her assault occurred when she was studying abroad in a UConn program in Spain, and that the school was not responsive to her complaint.

And a fourth woman said that university police launched only a "shoddy" investigation into what she said was her rape by a student who played on the football team.

"The University does all in its power to appropriately investigate and handle such claims in a manner that is fully compliant with the law and grounded in both sensitivity and fairness," university spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said in a statement in response to the lawsuit.

The four women were joined by three other women in a complaint filed last week with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that accused the school of being indifferent to sexual violence against women on campus.

University of Connecticut President, Susan Herbst, called the complaint "astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue."

Sexual harassment and violence on college campuses has been a central issue for the U.S. Department of Education, which in 2011 provided guidance to colleges across the country for handling complaints under what are called Title IX regulations. The guidance - widely known as the "Dear Colleague letter" - cited a 2007 report from the National Institute of Justice that found about 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault while in college.

If a school doesn't voluntarily come into compliance, the letter states, the department can move to withhold federal student loan funds.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Tim Dobbyn)

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