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University officials deny wrongdoing in rape, stalking investigation lawsuit
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University officials deny wrongdoing in rape, stalking investigation lawsuit

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Dear UNL

Current and former University of Nebraska-Lincoln students Luz Sotelo (from left), Giselle Nevarez and Miranda Melson stand together in front of Love Library on City Campus. The three women, members of Dear UNL, have asked the university to reform its Title IX office to make the process for reporting sexual misconduct easier to understand and victims' rights more transparent.

The University of Nebraska Board of Regents and other NU officials sued earlier this year by an unnamed former law student filed a response Friday denying the allegations in the lawsuit.

The case was moved last month to federal court from Lancaster County District Court. The woman, referred to as Jane Doe, said the university acted with "deliberate indifference" after she reported being drugged, raped and later stalked by another student in the fall semester of 2018.

The regents, Chancellor Ronnie Green, former President Hank Bounds and other defendants outright denied many of the allegations. They said some references to statements of the Student Code of Conduct and responsibility of employees were taken out of context, that they lacked firsthand knowledge of some allegations and others were misstatements, mischaracterizations or unduly vague.

The woman's attorney, Abby Osborn, has said she and the plaintiff found there is a systemic problem within the university as it relates to the rights of victims.

"They need to be protected and the university's practice of ignoring the policies and procedures to protect victims needs to end," Osborn said.

Lawsuit claims UNL, athletic department protect Huskers accused of sexual assault

According to the lawsuit, the woman said she was unknowingly drugged and later sexually assaulted at the apartment of a male student — who is not being named because he has not been charged with a crime — in September 2018.

The man later began stalking the woman to friends’ apartments and at the College of Law, where they were both enrolled, waiting for her as she left class or in the parking lot at dusk, the complaint alleges.

In October 2018, the woman told another law student about the stalking. That student relayed the information to Marc Pearce, an assistant dean for student affairs. Pearce reportedly spoke to the male student and indicated he would “pass a note” to UNL’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance, which is responsible for investigating instances of sexual misconduct and harassment under Title IX.

No investigation was started until March 2019, six months after the sexual assault reportedly took place and two months after the woman described the incident to Pearce in a one-to-one meeting, according to the lawsuit.

When UNL finally opened an investigation, deputy Title IX coordinator and investigator Meagan Counley met first with the male student and his attorney in early May, according to the complaint. The two directed her to seek more information from the woman and her witnesses.

The information sought by the male student was not meant as evidence in the reported assault, according to the lawsuit, but as a means to “harass and shame” the woman and the witnesses she told about the incident, which she alleged amounted to retaliation.

The lawsuit states UNL's actions were "so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive" it deprived her of an education at UNL in violation of Title IX, and violated her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.

UNL said there had been no violation of the student code of conduct and that the Title IX office would not recommend any sanctions against the male student.

Last summer, the coalition of current and former students calling itself Dear UNL demanded the university reform what they said is a flawed Title IX process that places blame on victims and is too deferential to alleged perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment.

Judge orders trial for ex-Husker accused of rape

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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