Tulsa facing Title IX lawsuit

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A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday alleges that the University of Tulsa failed to protect a student from one of its prominent basketball players who has a history of facing sexual assault allegations.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Abigail Ross, a sophomore at Tulsa, states that basketball player Patrick Swilling Jr. raped her in January. It outlines three prior alleged incidents involving Swilling, from a woman who reported in 2012 that he raped her while the two were students at the College of Southern Idaho, a woman at Tulsa who reported a sexual assault to campus security, and a woman who said Swilling tried to sexually assault her before friends intervened.

"Despite its knowledge of at least one, and as many as three prior allegations of sexual assault and misconduct perpetrated by Swilling, TU undertook zero investigation of his conduct and permitted Swilling to continue to attend TU," the lawsuit states. "... TU was deliberately indifferent to the substantial risk that Swilling would sexually harass other female students at TU. As a result of TU's deliberate indifference, Plaintiff was subjected to extreme sexual harassment in the form of rape by Swilling."

Ross' lawsuit comes amid growing national focus on Title IX issues. Title IX is a federal gender equity law that, among other requirements, sets the rules for how schools must investigate incidents of sexual assault or violence. The law provides protection for women and men and covers how schools must provide support for the students involved.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating more than 70 colleges and universities for their handling of what is commonly known as Title IX complaints. Those complaints go to the department's Office for Civil Rights, where director Catherine Lhamon said the problem of repeat offenders is something her department sees in its own investigations.

"There are serial perpetrators," she said. "And we need to stop their capacity to do harm."

This year, President Barack Obama established a White House task force to address sexual assaults among college students, and last month, members of the U.S. House and Senate introduced bipartisan bills designed to crack down on colleges that fail to act.

"Outside the Lines" has been investigating the Swilling allegations and college administrators' handling of them for several weeks as part of a larger examination of Title IX and sexual assault issues.

The first reported incident came in 2012 and involved Lexi Mallory, a sophomore at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. Mallory's mother alerted college officials to an allegation that Lexi had been raped when she sent an email to College of Southern Idaho men's basketball coach Steve Gosar on Jan. 6, 2012. "Prior to Christmas break, Patrick Swilling raped my daughter," the sophomore's mother wrote before going into details.

The email explains that her daughter did not go to police because "she just wanted it to go away and not to become some big horrible news story."

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