Six women filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the University of Tennessee at Knoxville has created a campus culture that enables sexual assault and protects athletes accused of violence. The lawsuit focuses primarily on assaults allegedly committed by five Tennessee football and basketball players against the six female students, but cited more than dozen other incidents involving other athletes and students, as well. The lawsuit claims that the university created a hostile environment for female students by showing "deliberate indifference" and by directing accused athletes to high-profile lawyers.
The women are seeking damages including reimbursement for their tuition and for emotional suffering. The lawsuit also seeks an injunction to force the state of Tennessee to stop using an administrative process for adjudicating campus sexual assaults that allows accused students to be represented by an attorney.
"Like the many other college campuses facing the challenges of sexual assault, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has devoted significant time and energy to provide a safe environment for our students, to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault, and to encourage students to come forward and report sexual assault," the university said in a statement to the Tennessean. "When the university receives a report of sexual assault, we offer care and support to the person who came forward and work to investigate and resolve the matter in a timely, thorough and equitable manner."
Last year, the Tennessean obtained a memo written in 2013 by a former vice chancellor at the university who said he was concerned that the athletic department had "undue influence" over how athletes accused of misconduct are investigated and punished.
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