Tennessee investigated for handling of sexual violence complaints

1:02 | College Football
Tennessee investigated for handling of sexual violence complaints
Friday July 17th, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had launched an investigation into sexual violence at the University of Tennessee.

The federal government confirmed to The Tennesseean that it had started an investigation of the school on June 29.

UT officials said Thursday they were “in the process of collecting and preparing the information the Office of Civil Rights has requested.”

According to email sent to the school’s faculty, staff and students, Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said the university was notified that someone had filed a complaint with the department pertaining to Tennessee’s response to a sexual violence report.

“While privacy laws prevent the university from disclosing the details of the complaint, I can assure you we will cooperate fully with OCR as it investigates the complaint,” his email said.

At least six Tennessee football players on last season’s roster have been accused of sexual assault.

Former linebacker A.J. Johnson and defensive back Michael Williams were accused of aggravated rape by a female athlete in November. Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges, with their trial date set for August.

The school suspended wide receiver Von Pearson indefinitely in April after he was identified as a suspect in an alleged rape a Tennessee student. Pearson has not been arrested or charged in the case.

Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said this week that the league is starting the process of forming a "working group" to study how to minimize conduct issues among student-athletes, but did not comment of specifics on how the group will organize.

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According to a Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights spokesman, there are 135 cases involving 121 schools that are under a Title IX investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.

Title IX prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds. Schools that violate the law and refuse to address the problems identified could lose federal funding or be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for further action.

- Scooby Axson

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