Feds reviewing Bethany College’s handling of alleged sex assault

May 7, 2014

The handling of a sexual assault investigation on Bethany College’s campus last fall prompted the school just across the state line in West Virginia to be included on a list of 55 higher education institutions under review by the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights last week released the list of schools, which also includes Penn State and Carnegie Mellon universities, as it investigates possible federal law violations in the handling of sexual violence cases.

A complaint was filed with the Department of Education April 30 – one day before the list was distributed – about the handling of an alleged sexual assault on campus last fall. Bethany spokeswoman Rebecca Rose said college officials contacted local and state police “immediately” after receiving the assault report, and police began investigating the incident.

West Virginia State Police troopers and local officers investigated and brought their findings to a grand jury in Brooke County, which declined to indict anyone in the case, Rose said. During that time, Rose said, the college conducted an internal student conduct investigation into the incident.

She would not say if any students faced disciplinary action for the alleged incident.

Neither Rose nor the federal government would provide specific details of the case or the investigation. The Department of Education’s review relates to the school’s compliance with the Clery Act and the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act.

“We feel strongly that we have fully complied with both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Rose said.

Brooke County Prosecutor Joseph Barki did not immediately return a phone call to discuss the incident or investigation.

The list is not new, although last Thursday was the first time it had been made public. Catherine Lhamon, assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, said it released the list of schools for transparency and will continue to update it as investigations are initiated or closed.

“We hope this increased transparency will spur community dialogue about this important issue,” Lhamon said in a written statement. “I also want to make it clear that a college or university’s appearance on this list and being the subject of a Title IX investigation in no way indicates at this stage that the college or university is violating or has violated the law.”

Rose said students, faculty and parents should not be concerned about the college’s inclusion on the government’s list and that it does not indicate systemic problems on campus.

“The college always reserves the right to reopen any investigation if new evidence is provided,” Rose said. “Because the safety of our students is our priority, we take any allegations of sexual assault very seriously.”

Bethany College is in Brooke County, about 16 miles west of Washington.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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