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Prosecutors reviving cases of 4 women who told police they were sexually assaulted by same Utah State student

First Published      Last Updated Dec 13 2016 05:28 pm

Investigation » In 2015, the victims went to police and informed the school, but no charges were filed.

Cache County prosecutors say they have begun reviewing and investigating the cases of four women who reported to Logan police that they'd been sexually assaulted by the same Utah State University student in 2015. Meanwhile, USU has tasked its in-house legal counsel with reviewing the school's sexual-assault policies and events reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

The women — who did not know each other — separately went to Logan police last year and made official reports naming the same man as their attacker.

Three of them were students and also informed the school.

But no charges were filed and it appears the university never fully investigated the allegations against the student, who has since graduated but remained on USU's Logan campus through spring 2016. Two of the women left the school because they no longer felt safe, they told The Tribune.

Under Title IX, a federal law that bars sex discrimination, higher education institutions have an obligation to swiftly respond to complaints of sexual assault.

After the story was published, USU spokesman Tim Vitale released a statement saying officials would do a "thorough examination of the events reported" as part of an "ongoing comprehensive review" of how the school handles sexual assault cases.

Vitale said this week that the review has begun, and will look at communication between offices that deal with sexual assault, how the school handles anonymous or confidential sexual assault reports and mandatory reporter training.

"The inquiry will be led by our in-house legal counsel," Vitale told The Tribune. "We're trying to address this as quickly as we can, and any recommendations will be shared widely with our constituents."

He did not answer questions about the scope of the inquiry or who would review the findings or act on any recommendations that come out of it.

S. Daniel Carter, board president of SurvJustice, a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to survivors of sexual violence, said the school's investigation sounds like a good first step.

But Title IX and the Clery Act — a campus-safety law — are specialized and might not be part of every lawyer's expertise, especially as the requirements have tightened in past years, he said.

Vitale said Friday he could not reach USU's general counsel, Mica McKinney, to determine whether she has had Title IX training, but said she has been "a driving force" in past changes to the school's sexual assault policies.

Carter noted that "There is a conflict of interest, that the in-house counsel has to protect the institution."

One way to protect an institution from future liability is to identify and correct deficiencies, he said, but that would not "address potential past errors, which they may, understandably, be reluctant to identify," he said.

"There were still a lot of unanswered questions about what happened, and how it was allowed to happen," he said.

The three female students — Catherine, Mary and Anna — all went to the Sexual Assault and Anti-Violence Information office (SAAVI), which provides confidential counseling, before going to police.

Jenny Erazo, SAAVI coordinator, told The Tribune she would tell the university if she received multiple allegations against the same perpetrator, but would not say if that's what she did in this instance.

Catherine didn't report to the Title IX office, but informed her dormitory complex's resident assistant — who is required to report to Title IX — and the dorm's supervisor.

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