USF accused of violating Title IX over handling of sexual assault

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A USF doctoral student who says she was sexually assaulted by one of her peers claims she’s being forced to attend class with her attacker despite reports filed against him.

According to a complaint filed on behalf of Samantha Garrett, the University of South Florida violated Title IX protections by forcing Garrett to have regular contact with Andrew Thurston, her alleged attacker.

In the complaint, Garrett also claims USF tried to silence one of her professors who was concerned over their handling of the situation.

“The school’s actions come even after the results of its own investigation found evidence of non-consensual intercourse and the victim’s attacker accepted responsibility and referred to himself as ‘a monster,'” wrote Garrett’s attorney, Michael Dolce.

The complaint alleges Thurston forced himself on Garrett without her consent in Novmeber 2016, leaving her bruised and bloody. Thurston allegedly apologized after the incident and called himself a “monster” and a “bad person” for what he did.

Weeks after the incident, Garrett told a professor about the attack, who notified USF Title IX officials.  In March, Thurston was formally charged with violating USF’s Code of Conduct related to non-consensual sexual intercourse and non-consensual sexual contact.

“While the investigation itself appears to have been handled appropriately, the sanctions that USF recommended for Thurston’s offense were unduly light, given the circumstances: he was given deferred suspension (meaning not one day of classes missed); ordered to attend two meetings with the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and “ask[ed]” to refrain from contacting Garrett,” the complaint reads.

Garrett claims the university allowed Thurston to have regular, direct contact with her “over her strenuous and repeated objections.”  Thurston is also allowed to attend one of her classes, teach undergraduate students and conduct private meets with individual students, according to the complaint.

“Garrett has and continues to express the repeated and specific concern that the sanctions are insufficient to provide her with necessary mental health comfort and safety, as mandated by Title IX,” her lawyer says.

After an attempt to “get increased punishments” for Thurston, the complaint claims one of Garrett’s professors was rejected and noted a concern of “potentially get[ting] … in trouble.”

“Garrett is seeking to force the University to comply with Title IX protections, as well as damages to help with treatment for her declining mental health,” her lawyer said.

The complaint will be filed with the United States District Court of Middle District of Florida.

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