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UMBC under federal investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has opened an investigation into how UMBC handles reports of sexual assault. The school is the latest to join a growing list of those being federally investigated by the EOCR for Title IX violations, which currently includes 190 distinct institutions nationwide.

The federal investigation began after attorney Wendy Murphy submitted a complaint on behalf of her client, a UMBC student. Murphy filed the complaint due to the school’s alleged mishandling of her client’s case.

Murphy said her client was drugged, beaten and raped sometime within the past school year. The alleged offender was also a UMBC student. He claimed the sex was consensual.

According to Murphy, a UMBC official advised her client not to file a criminal complaint with the Baltimore County Police Department because the university’s standard of proof was lower than that of local law enforcement.

Murphy declined to identify the individual, but said, “I cannot imagine why a civilized human being would deter any crime victim from reporting an incident to external enforcement. However, in some cases of mine, it appears that schools are motivated to prevent victims from reporting in order to keep their sexual assault statistics artificially low.”

When a crime is not reported it cannot be counted under the Clery Act, which mandates that all colleges and universities provide information on crime occurring within their campus and the surrounding area.

The school’s investigators probed into the claim but found no substantial evidence that a sexual assault occurred. Murphy said the school reached this decision despite the existence of detailed photographs showing evidence of a physical assault. She claims they were not taken into consideration during the investigation. The investigators were also not able to find proof of a drugging.

“This is because drugs dissipate quickly in blood and urine,” Murphy added. “Courts in the real world allow drugging to be inferred from symptoms alone, without forensic testing of blood and urine and when tests are negative.”

Candace Dodson-Reed, associate vice president of communications and public affairs in the UMBC Office of Institutional Advancement, provided The Retriever with a statement on behalf of the university.

“Sexual assault incidents are a deeply troubling challenge for colleges and universities throughout the country,” she said. “We are committed to both preventing sexual assault and responding effectively to allegations of misconduct. We will be working closely with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and we welcome this opportunity to take an even closer look at our current processes.”

Murphy seemingly takes issue with both the process and the policy.

“UMBC has a separate policy for addressing civil rights offenses on campus that applies only to civil rights violence and abuse of women,” she said. “Civil rights violence and abuse of students when it occurs ‘based on’ other civil rights categories such as race and national origin are not separated out for different treatment. And while simply having a separate policy is not illegal, it is illegal to have provisions in that separate policy that do not comply with civil rights laws such as Title IX and Title IV.”

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any program or activity that is federally funded. Title IV of the Higher Education Act provides federal funding to 129 universities across the nation.

She added, “Our complaint identifies numerous aspects of UMBC’s separate policy relating to violence against women that are substandard, meaning they subject victims to second-class redress in campus hearings. All other students from all other protected classes such as race and national origin receive ‘gold standard’ hearings under civil rights laws.”

When asked what she hoped changes as a result of the federal investigation, Murphy replied, “Easy. Full equality and exactly the same treatment during campus proceedings – with no segregating out of only gender-based offenses from second class hearings and investigations.”

“Under civil rights laws, women are fully equal. Under UMBC policies, women are second class citizens.”