Recent University of Utah grad claims school mishandled sexual assault investigation
(KUTV) A recent University of Utah graduate has filed a formal complaint claiming that the school mishandled her sexual assault investigation.
Nisha Kavalam, 22, filed the federal Title IX complaint against the university Wednesday, saying the school failed to meet its federal obligations to protect students from sexual violence and respond to reported offenses.
Kavalam told 2News she reported the assault in February 2015, her final semester at the university, after she said she was raped by a male student. The subsequent investigation, she said, took more than a year to complete.
"Reporting induced an incredible amount of trauma, anxiety and depression that completely ruined my final year at the U. I don't feel any sense of justice," said Kavalam.
In March 2016, the school concluded there was "insufficient evidence" that the rape had occurred, but after Kavalam appealed their findings, the school found her attacker guilty of sexual assault, according to a press release by the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The guilty verdict by the University Hearing Committee came 13 months after her initial report, Kavalam claimed, by which time, both she and her rapist had graduated.
"This falls right in line with the national pattern of institutions not protecting their students," she said.
The Utah alum says the experience was so traumatic that, if another student came to her and told her she was raped, she would hesitate to tell them to report it.
"I would tell them that reporting it through the university is not worth the effort," she said. "That's wrong. Students should feel confident that their university cares about their safety and well-being."
University of Utah Dean of Students Lori McDonald said in a statement that she understands sexual assaults are under-reported on the University of Utah campus and across the country.
"We are heartsick to learn that any student felt the process was difficult," McDonald said. "We have and will continue to review and evaluate our procedures to make them more efficient and effective."
The University of Utah is not the only school to come under fire for its handling of reported sexual assaults in recent months.
In a story 2News broke in April, Brigham Young University student Madi Barney claimed the school investigated her for honor code violations after she reported her rape to police.
Barney said the threat of honor code investigations shame rape survivors from coming forward about their assaults.
After Barney's interview with 2News, a petition for BYU to change their policies regarding survivors of rape gathered more than 113,000 online signatures. The school announced on April 18 that it would consider changing its Title IX reporting process following the public outcry.
As for Kavalam, the former student said her decision to file a federal complaint is no longer about seeking justice for her rapist.
"The fight is against a system. A system that told me that as a victim, I could only look down. I moved forward with the report, and after nine successful semesters at the University of Utah, I finally realized that I deserved the view," said Kavalam. "So I looked up, and I became a survivor."