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UConn president on sexual assault complaints: ‘Astonishingly misguided’

The University of Connecticut on Wednesday rebutted allegations made in a compliant filed earlier this week by seven current and former students who claim the school failed to protect them after reports of rape and sexual assault.

UConn President Susan Herbst addressed the university’s Board of Trustees on Wednesday, detailing UConn's plan of action to curb sexual violence and saying the women’s claims that UConn was dismissive of the women’s sexual assault reports was “astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.”

Four of the women — Kylie Angell, Carolyn Luby, Erica Daniels and Rose Richi — tearfully recounted their experiences with rape, sexual assault and sexual battery on Monday at a press conference in Hartford, Conn., where they announced the filing of the complaint in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The women are represented by Gloria Allred, a high-profile women’s rights attorney, who said the school failed to abide by a federal gender equity law Title IX.

Amid tears, Kylie Angell, recounted her story of the night she was raped in her campus residence hall in June 2010 at Monday's press conference. She waited a few months to report the incident because she said she was shaken up and wanted to be more stable.

By October, the university held a hearing and expelled the male student, who they found guilty of sexual misconduct, possession of drugs, providing alcohol to a minor and breaking and entering.

“Though I was emotionally and mentally exhausted, I felt that this was a victory and that I could finally go back to my life as a student,” Angell recalled at the press conference.

Attorney Gloria Allred, center, walks with current and former University of Connecticut students, from left, Rose Richi, left, Erica Daniels, Carolyn Luby and Kylie Angell to a news conference Monday in Hartford, Conn. The four women, who say they were victims of sexual assaults while students at the school, have announced they are filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against the university. Jessica Hill/AP

But the attacker wasn’t gone. In fact, a few weeks later she saw the male student in the cafeteria room with his friends, who taunted her that he was back. He had filed an appeal and the university official in charge of telling Angell forgot.

She ran to the campus police at the advisement of her therapist, according to Allred’s statement.

“The officer told me, ‘women need to stop spreading their legs like peanut butter or rape is going to keep on happening until the cows come home,’” Angell said, covering her mouth to cry as Allred rubbed her back.

Luby, the lead complainant in the case, wrote an open letter to Herbst in April asking UConn’s administration to take a more active approach in dealing with sexual violence issues on campus.

The letter went viral and Luby started receiving rape threats in person and via email saying “I hope you get raped by a husky” and “you sure are pretty enough to rape,” according to Allred’s statement. When Luby approached the police about feeling threatened, they reportedly told her to wear a hat if she didn’t want to be recognized on campus, according to a statement.

School officials said Herbst spoke on behalf of campus police at Wednesday's meeting.

"They are the men and women out every day and night working to protect our students, an extraordinarily hard job given this age group,” Herbst said of the university cops at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said he spoke with President Herbst and is confident the university is taking the allegations seriously.

“One of the most basic responsibilities of our institutions of higher learning is to keep our young people safe,” Malloy's office said in a statement to NBC News. “If they have failed in that responsibility in any way, or if these women have been treated with anything but the utmost respect, the University must take necessary action.”

Without written approval from the victims, UConn is barred from sharing any information about these cases because of federal privacy protections through the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Sexual violence is a national problem that is nearly impossible to irradiate, Herbst said as she ended her remarks to the Board of Trustees.

“There will unfortunately be assaults on this campus and others,” she said. “No president or police chief will prevent them all, and we should never, ever be so naive to think so.”