Federal lawsuit claims KSU illegally refuses to investigate off-campus rapes

This week, a federal lawsuit against Kansas State University alleges its policy against investigating allegations of sexual assault taking place off campus has horrifying consequences. In 2014, KSU student Sara Weckhorst reported to school officials that she had been sexually assaulted by two male students at a fraternity house, only to be told by the school’s affirmative action office that KSU officials would not investigate or penalize the accused rapists because the alleged attack had taken place off campus.

The federal lawsuit filed this week claims that as a result of this policy, another female student named Crystal Stroup was assaulted by one of the same male students who assaulted Weckhorst at an apartment off campus one year later in October 2015.

Stroup told BuzzFeed News that at the time she reported her attack, she was unaware her alleged attacker had previously assaulted someone else. “I reported so it wouldn’t happen to somebody else,” Stroup told BuzzFeed. “I didn’t realize I was the somebody else.” Stroup also said she hesitated to report her experience, as her roommate had reported a rape earlier that year, only to be told (as Weckhorst had been) that the rape would not be investigated since it happened off campus. According to the lawsuit filed this week, “K-State’s deliberate indifference to Sara’s reports of rape ultimately led to J.G’s assault on Crystal.” J.G. refers to Jared Gihring, the alleged assailant in both cases.

KSU has yet to issue a response to the lawsuit, claiming it has yet to review the court filings.

“Apparently they were fine having a guy who now had two women report that he had raped them remain on campus without even investigating,” Stroup told BuzzFeed.

According to the lawsuit, seeing her alleged attacker around campus was a major source of stress for Stroup, who eventually sought help from KSU’s Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education (CARE) in the spring 2016 semester. But upon opening up about her experiences, CARE staff failed to discuss her options with her, which would have included asking the university to investigate or seeking a no-contact order against Gihring. As a result of her distress, Stroup left the university later that year.

The U.S. departments of education and justice responded to the controversy in July by filing court papers stating that if allegations against KSU were true, KSU’s actions violated federal law. Under the Clery Act, all schools are required to inform alleged victims of all their options for taking action against their alleged attackers, regardless of where the attack in question took place. Additionally, under Title IX, schools must investigate student sexual assault allegations on or off campus. The Obama administration has placed vocal emphasis on enforcing both of these policies on campuses across the country.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that roughly 63 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Society has created a climate that strongly discourages women and all victims of sexual abuse from reporting their experiences, not only because of all of the stigma, misogynistic victim-blaming, slut-shaming, and emotional abuse they will inevitably face, but also because victims see how unlikely it is that appropriate action will be taken. Outside of KSU, just one example of this can be found in the case of Stanford sexual offender Brock Turner, who served just three months in county jail for committing sexual assault.

And, whether or not KSU students will be held responsible for committing sexual assault is wholly contingent on where they committed it, according to this lawsuit. In addition to disproportionately endangering its female students by essentially allowing alleged sex offenders to roam freely, the message this sends is that committing sexual assault is A-OK as long as it’s not done on campus.

In July, Gihring was charged with two counts of rape and one count of sodomy, according to court records, with his case slated to be heard in December.