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DOJ Reports USU Mishandled Sexual Harassment Reports For Years

Utah State University, the Justice Department, say the university mishandled sexual harassment cases for years, exposing more students to harassment and assaults.
The Justice Department's report claims "The university’s failure to respond appropriately to sexual harassment and assault subjected dozens of students to further sexual harassment."";

After news of sexual assaults committed by former-student athlete Torrey Green broke in 2016, Utah State University started an internal review on what was going on with sexual assault reports on campus — this was before the Department of Justice informed the university it was investigating. The DOJ report said from 2013 to 2017, USU received 240 reports of sexual harassment, but it processed fewer than 25 in accordance with its Title IX procedures. 

According to USU President Noelle Cockett, “We did not have coordination across the campus.”

Cockett personally apologized for the system’s failures in a video on Wednesday and said the university did not have adequate policies and procedures to address the reports. But she said the university took steps to correct the missteps as early as 2016, including an increase in education programs and services.

“What the DOJ report continues to stress is that victims of sexual assault need support services and resources. And we want to provide that for all of our people who experience this," Cockett said. "Another area that the DOJ believes very strongly in and re-emphasizes with us is those education programs and how to prevent it.”

Since Hilary Renshaw was brought in as USU’s Title IX coordinator a year and a half ago, there has been an increase in reports of sexual misconduct — which she said is really an increase in trust in her office.

“We know that people are experiencing sexual misconduct given the numbers, nationally, that are reported," she said, "and so the fact that people are willing to come to us and get support from our office is really encouraging us and we just hope individuals continue to report so whether they choose to engage with our office or not, they at least know the resources that are available and they know how we can help them. That's the goal.”

According to Amanda DeRito, the University’s director of crisis communication and issues management, the staff designated to address the shortcomings has doubled — and following Wednesday’s announcement, it will double again. New positions will include student trainers and prevention staff, and even a liason who will be based at the Price campus.

"We know that when we talk about issues that are really hard, it helps to move the dial, it helps to change the culture," DeRito said. "We are really focused on being transparent, talking about issues when they arise and not just pretending it doesn't happen. The only way to really address these things is to put them out in the open."

Cockett also said the university hopes to branch out education and prevention trainings to include more information on domestic and dating violence, which she said are an under-reported occurrence across the state. 

A timeline of some key measures taken by the university from 2016 on is available here.