Lawsuit against USU alleges it continues to fail student survivors of sexual assault
Utah State University continues to fail its students who’ve been sexually assualted, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of student Kaytriauna Flint, reported she was raped by a football player in 2019 and alleges the university failed to uphold Title IX protections in investigating her case. It also says the university took advantage of shifting rules to unfairly benefit the accused student athlete.
Flint’s lawyers say such treatment occurred despite a 2020 Department of Justice investigation, which found university officials repeatedly failed to investigate and mishandle reported abuse over multiple years.
The resulting settlement ordered the school to provide training for students and employees on federal sexual harrassment laws and respond “promptly, equitably, and adequately to known sexual harassment.” It also credited the school for taking “proactive steps” such as staffing a dedicated Title IX Coordinator and creating a position dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual harassment or assault.
The lawsuit alleges, however, few improvements were made.
It details Flint’s experience through a prolonged and poorly handled investigation, in which she was handed off to multiple investigators, went months without hearing from anyone and told it might be “easiest” if she left the school.
It also cites recordings of meetings between USU and Logan police officials meeting with the football team in 2021 — after the DOJ report — in which officers gave their support to players, provided personal phone numbers should they get in trouble and told players they would be taken care of “no matter what.”
“When we talk about institutional betrayal, it's less about the underlying assault at issue,” said attorney Michael Young. “It's more about an institution's response to that assault and how that will affect the victim. What we have is an administration that failed to just fundamentally understand their job and in doing so provided just further traumatization and victimization of our client.”
For University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora, the pattern is all too familiar. His book, “Armies of Enablers,” examines how major institutions in high-profile abuse cases enable abusers by failing to act.
“Take out name of institution, plug in name of survivor,” Guiora said. “The patterns repeat themselves, whether at the University of Michigan, Penn State, USA Gymnastics, the Catholic Church and on and on. And that's what's so distressing.”
When a lawsuit comes down, institutions typically go into crisis communication mode, he said. They release a statement about the importance of student wellbeing and promises to do better, which often ring hollow and rarely lead to meaningful change. Worse still, they patronize, infuriate and re-traumatize survivors.
The measures are designed primarily to protect the institution, he said, and limit financial and reputational damage. As a consequence, perpetrators are also protected, which fuels a culture of abuse and leaves survivors and other students vulnerable.
Guiora said real change requires institutions first to understand their primary duty is to protect survivors and place significant consequences on those who fail to act, such as job loss.
Institutions also need to provide in-depth, face-to-face discussion sessions for students, athletic departments and administrators on sexual harrasment protections, he added, rather than “check-box” online trainings that most people shrug off.
As for Flint, Young said she is asking for accountability, including financial compensation for emotional distress and other damages as well as injunctive relief to ensure the school applies Title IX protections appropriately in the future.
“The lawsuit has laid out to a certain extent what they should have done,” he said. “At the end of the day, it's almost as simple as, next time, do your job.”
Utah State did not respond to KUER’s request for comment.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual abuse, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 or the online chat hotline at rainn.org/resources.