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University of California sued over sex assault claims

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OAKLAND, Calif. » Three current and former University of California, Berkeley students sued the school on Monday, accusing administrators of not doing enough to investigate their sexual assault claims and hand out punishment.

The three women said the administrators mishandled their claims, failed to keep them informed about the disciplinary process, and handed out inadequate punishment.

Janet Gilmore, a university spokeswoman, said campus officials have not seen the lawsuit and couldn’t comment on its allegations. She says the school is committed to fighting sexual assault on campus.

The lawsuit was filed amid a national debate over sexual assault on college campuses. A growing number of victims and their supporters say the crimes are underreported and not vigorously investigated by college administrators.

The Associated Press doesn’t generally identify sex assault victims. However. Nicoletta Commins, 21, and the two other women suing the school publically identified themselves at a news conference near campus. All three recounted the incidents that led to the lawsuit and the handling of their complaints.

Commins said she is fearful she will encounter her assailant when he is allowed to return to campus in August after a two-year suspension.

"Attending Berkeley is a privilege," she said. "I don’t understand why someone like this should be allowed to have this privilege."

The case involving Commins resulted in a misdemeanor conviction. It was unclear if the other two incidents were reported to police.

Aryle Butler, 23, said she was surprised and saddened by the response from the school with such a liberal, progressive reputation.

"I had expected swift, appropriate and firm response to keep my fellow peers safe," Butler said. "I never imagined that such a famed liberal institution would instead place more value on its reputation and image than in the very well-being of the students it prides itself on serving."

The three women previously joined 28 other current and former Berkeley students in filing two federal complaints last year with the U.S. Department of Education alleging violations of Title IX, a federal anti-discrimination law involving women. Those complaints are pending.

The three women who filed the lawsuit against UC Berkeley said they are seeking to force the school to create more rigorous policies and processes to investigate sexual assault claims. They also want harsher punishments.

Sofie Karasek, 22, said school officials never informed her of the steps it took to discipline someone she said attacked her. Karasek said she discovered the student was placed on probation and sent to counseling after she reported the case.

"I’m frustrated, I’m angry, I’m sad and I’m disappointed," Karasek said.

The lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court also seeks unspecified damages.

Last May, the U.S. Department of Education reported that it was investigating so-called Title IX complaints stemming from sexual violence at 55 schools.

As of June 3, the Education Department had 129 open Title IX sexual assault complaints at 116 schools across the country. Those complaints are not criminal cases, but if a university is found to be in violation of Title IX, it risks losing federal funding, a massive piece of most schools’ budgets.

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