Students sue K-State over alleged off-campus rapes

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KSNT) – Kansas State University is under fire after a pair of lawsuits were filed in federal court on Wednesday.

Two female students allege in their lawsuits that the university has refused to investigate their rapes and other sex assaults at off-campus fraternity houses.

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.

“K-State decided to turn their back on both of these victims,” says Cari Simon, attorney for Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer. “And at this point, this was the last option available to them. And ultimately they did it because they don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”

The women claim the school refused to investigate their rapes, which they say happened in separate incidents at different fraternities. Although the fraternities are not named in the lawsuits, The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the fraternities are Phi Delta Theta and Sigma Nu.

KSNT News does not typically identify victims of alleged sexual assaults, however Simon told the Associated Press her clients have publicly used their names because they felt they didn’t do anything wrong. The women, both 21, are still students at K-State.

Weckhorst and Farmer told Simon they spoke with several individuals at the university before filing the federal civil suit. The lawsuit reveals the women went to: The K-State Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education; The K-State Interfraternity Council; The K-State Office of Institutional Equity; a Kansas State University professor; The Office of Affirmative Action; an assistant and associate dean at The Office of Student Life; and The K-State Office of Greek Affairs.

Weckhorst said she received help from The K-State Women’s Center and The Manhattan Rape Crisis Center in “drafting and filing a complaint” against her alleged rapists for the Affirmative Action Office at the university.

“They never wanted it to have to come to this,” Simon said about the filing. “What they had hoped, like students and parents all hope, is that when they turn to their university, their university would do right by them. They hoped K-State would stand with them.”

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 K-State told them they wouldn’t do anything about the rapes because they occurred off campus, so they filed complaints with the federal government.

“And K-State unfortunately decided to bury it’s head in the sand in response to rape at it’s fraternities and essentially say to both of these victims, ‘Sorry we’re not doing anything for you.’ That is callous indifference to them, them and their rights, and their education,” Simon said. “Everyone they spoke to closed the door in their face. They spoke to them, but they would take no action.”

Already, K-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, Kan., would not comment beyond an emailed statement to the Associated Press: “Kansas State University does not discuss litigation matters in the media, nor do we publicly discuss individual reports of discrimination, including sexual violence.”

According to Simon, the department of education has said schools have an obligation to respond to such complaints, even if they occur off campus.

“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, Kansas State’s position is an outlier,” Simon said.

In documents obtained by KSNT News, the alleged sexual assaults are outlined in graphic detail. You can view the entirety of both complaints below. The material may be disturbing to some readers because it contains graphic details of sexual assaults and could trigger some individuals:

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 having sex with her, according to the lawsuit.

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.

“I hope and expect that we’ll see alumni, parents, (and) students being really shocked and outraged by what Kansas State has done to these women and potentially others,” Simon said.
According to Simon, this lawsuit shows K-State is not immune to the national issue of sexual assault on college campuses. “We’re seeing universities across the country right now grapple with the epidemic of sexual assault on their campuses and how best to respond to guarantee equal access to education,” Simon said.

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.The first page of the civil suits outline why “K-State has firsthand knowledge of the dangers of fraternities.” In the lawsuits, attorneys put Farmer and Weckhorst’s alleged assaults in context. “In the years 2011-2013, K-State reported 13 forcible sex offenses on-campus and 10 off-campus, and in 2014 K-State reported 16 rapes, 6 of which occurred off-campus.”

As awareness about sexual assaults at universities becomes more mainstream, the Obama administration 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, which is a federal anti-discrimination law involving women.

“In addition to the media firestorm, I’ve seen activism happening around the country,” Simon said. “The student organization End Rape on Campus has started the hashtag ‘kstateinvestigate’ . . .”

KSNT News reached out to Phi Delta Theta’s and Sigma Nu’s national offices. As of 6:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Phi Delta Theta had not replied to our request for comment.
However, Sigma Nu sent the following response:

Based on an investigation of the Kansas State chapter, no member of Sigma Nu was the alleged assailant, and no off campus chapter event or party occurred on the day of the event. Given the limits of investigations that are not by investigative authorities, no confirmation of an assault at the fraternity house could be made.”

“Sigma Nu seeks to transform society through the commitment of its members to the Fraternity’s founding principles, leadership and the development of ethical leaders. Its expectations of its members include adherence to these principles,” said Arthur F. Hoge, Outside General Council for Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.

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