(Courier file photo)
(Courier file photo)
A former Hanover College student's allegations that the school retaliated against her for reporting that she was harassed, physically abused and raped by another student is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education.

The DOE's Office for Civil Rights confirmed that it is investigating the allegations. Jim Bradshaw of the DOE's press office, said details of the investigation could not be discussed because of federal privacy laws.

In a statement released by the college this morning, spokeswoman Rhonda Burch called the story that ran on the Huffington Post website "flawed and inaccurate." She also quoted a letter from the Office for Civil Rights saying "An investigation 'in no way implies that the OCR has made a determination with regard to their merit.'"

Burch goes on to say in her statement that Hanover College welcomes the intervention in the case.

According to the story published this week on the website, the incident began after the student filing the complaint was told to move out of her dorm room in the fall of 2011 because she and her roommate were having difficulties.

The news blog referred to the student as "Samantha," but did not reveal her last name.

After an Internet search, The Madison Courier contacted a woman believed to be Samantha. She did not respond to the paper's request for an interview.

The Huffington Post story reported that, the school informed her it had made the decision to move her, forced her to surrender her dorm keys, forbade her from entering the dorm building until the fall break ended and neglected to make alternative arrangements for her, according to the complaint.

She arranged to stay with an on-and-off boyfriend in his fraternity house, where one night, she said, "he sexually assaulted her after he had been drinking heavily."

The story goes on to say that Samantha waited about one month after the incident to file a report with Hanover College security. The complaint reported that Samantha said the officer who spoke to her said she "could not leave the room until she signed a statement agreeing not to press criminal charges."

The college held an internal hearing on the alleged assault before the end of the school term in December 2011, and found the former boyfriend not responsible. In a fall 2013 review of the case, college officials said campus security followed protocol and the officer was simply 'anxious to help' Samantha, according to the Huffington Post.

Since then, Samantha has reported verbal abuse from the ex- boyfriend and his new girlfriend, and physical abuse after he allegedly showed up at Samantha's dorm room late one night.

The investigation, according to the story, was dropped by Hanover, even after Samantha offered to show pictures of her bruises from the incident.

Samantha then, according to the story, contacted the DOE and attempted to have the students disciplined.

After mediation between the school, Samantha and her lawyer, "the college then decided in November 2013 that the former boyfriend and his girlfriend were not responsible for harassment, and allowed them to file their own harassment complaint against Samantha," the Huffington Post reported.

She was also told by the college, according to the story, to take her case to the Hanover Police Department. No mention was made of Samantha notifying the police of the incident. Hanover Police Chief Ron Kroger said that, to his knowledge, his department never received a complaint. He was told, however, that Samantha may have contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff's office. Representatives from that office were unable to be reached before deadline today.

Burch said that federal law limits what the college can say, but that any case of sexual misconduct is taken seriously by the college.

"Various charges surrounding these allegations have undergone multiple appeals and reviews during the past two years and the college will cooperate fully with any requests or inquiries from the DOE, and welcomes their intervention in this case.  

"Hanover College has at no time pressured any student who has filed a complaint, or suggested they give up their right to due process. I am confident that the evidence presented to the DOE will demonstrate our commitment to creating and fostering a welcoming educational environment for all students."

If the federal investigation by the Office of Civil Rights determines the school failed to comply with a civil rights law, the office will contact the college and attempt to negotiate a voluntary resolution, according to the DOE's website.