Two Kansas State University students are suing the university for refusing to investigate their claims of rape because the violence occurred in fraternities located off campus.
In separate suits filed Wednesday in federal court in Kansas, the students allege the university was indifferent to their reports of rape. The women also allege the university violated their rights as consumers of public education in the state.
The cases point to a contentious debate that is part of the larger ongoing conversation about campus sexual violence and the role of fraternity culture.
In her lawsuit, Sara Weckhorst alleges she was raped multiple times by more than one man at a fraternity house just off the Manhattan, Kansas, campus during an April 2014 party.
Similar claims are made in her lawsuit by Tessa Farmer, who alleges she was raped by two men in a fraternity bedroom in March 2015.
Both women admit they were very inebriated at the time.
The women say they reported the incidents to university officials but were told the school would not investigate the alleged rapes or the assailants because the incidents occurred off campus.
Cari Simon, an attorney with the Fierberg National Law Group , represents both women. Simon says K-State is under investigation by the United States Department of Education for refusing to investigate the incidents.
“K-State’s interpretation of its policy turns its back on sexual assault victims as it did to Sara and Tessa, in violation of Title IX,” Simon said in an email. “Courts have recognized that the risk of encountering an assailant on campus can create a hostile environment for victims like Sara and Tessa, and taking no action in response violates their civil rights.”
In a 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, the Department of Education laid out specific requirements regarding sexual violence under Title IX, which bars sexual discrimination in education. The requirements extend to violence that occurs off campus.
“If a student files a complaint with the school, regardless of where the conduct occurred, the school must process the complaint in accordance with its established procedures,” the policy reads. “Schools should consider the effects of off campus conduct when evaluating whether there is a hostile environment on campus.”
In both Weckhorst's and Farmer's cases, the women say their health and academic performance were adversely affected by the university’s refusal to deal with their claims.
According to her filing, Weckhorst says she lived in “hypervigilance and dread, fearing she would encounter her attackers at any time. She hid in her dormitory, stopped going to classes and her grades suffered dramatically.”
Farmer says the fear of being on campus with her alleged assailant caused her deep depression and self-destructive behavior -- including cutting herself with a razor.
Kansas State University said in an emailed statement that it does not “discuss litigation matters in the media, nor do we publicly discuss individual reports of discrimination, including sexual violence.”
The statement goes on to say the university has strong anti-discrimination policies as well as many resources for students and employees that "address off campus conduct in compliance with Title IX."
The lawsuits were filed a couple of days after a University of Kansas student sued KU, claiming she was sexually assaulted in a campus residential hall by a KU football player. The plaintiff, who was identified only as Jane Doe 7, says the same player raped another now-former KU student who sued the university last month.
Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer at KCUR 89-3. She can be reached via twitter @laurazig or at firstname.lastname@example.org.