Virginia’s James Madison University found three fraternity brothers “responsible for sexual assault and harassment” but punished them with expulsion from the campus after graduation, local TV station WHSV-TV reports.
The “expulsion after graduation” punishment allowed two of the men to graduate on time, while the third will return to campus in Harrisonburg, Virginia for his senior year this fall, according to The Huffington Post.
Sarah Butters, the student who says she was assaulted, filed a federal complaint following the decision, prompting an investigation from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
JMU is one of 63 colleges and universities nationwide under investigation for allegedly mishandling sexual assault. On January 22, President Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum that established the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault.
On May 1, the Department of Education released a list of over 60 colleges and universities under investigation for compliance with Title IX, a federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination at schools receiving federal funding. Since its original report, it has weekly released public updates.
“Colleges and universities can no longer turn a blind eye or pretend rape or sexual assault doesn’t occur on camps uses,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a 20-page report released in April.
The alleged incident at James Madison occurred in Panama City, Florida during spring break of 2013, and Butters says the three men involved were her close friends. She was still in Florida when she first learned about a possible mobile phone video of the incident. When she confronted the men, they denied filming anything, she told HuffPost in an interview. Upon returning to campus, Butters says she obtained a copy and discovered the video being passed around an online gossip forum.
“It was kind of hard for me to deal with,” Butters told HuffPo in an interview. “I just tried to diminish the situation — I didn’t want to bring it up, didn’t want to talk about it.”
In the video, the three men reportedly laugh and grope Butters, who at one point reportedly says, “This isn’t ok, this isn’t a good idea.”
Butters reported the alleged incident to the university, which then punished them by banning them from campus after graduation. Upon hearing this decision, Butters immediately appealed the punishment. A hearing board then decided to expel the three men immediately, which the men appealed. On April 2, another hearing board returned to their original “expulsion after graduation” sanction, according to HuffPost. They also prohibited the men from joining student clubs or contacting Butters.
Butters has since withdrawn from James Madison after her losing her financial aid due to the poor grades she earned during the adjudication process, according to the Huffington Post and confirmed by the Washington Post.
On April 30, Butters filed the national complaint because she believes the three men were afforded more rights than she was.
“I don’t think they had my best interest in mind when they gave them the expulsion after graduation,” Butters told WHSV-TV, a television station based in Harrisonburg.
James Madison told HuffPost it was working with the Education Department to resolve the complaint.
“James Madison University takes very seriously any allegation of sexual assault and is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the JMU community,” university spokesman Bill Wyatt told HuffPost.
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