University of Utah settles with family of murdered student Lauren McCluskey and renames its violence prevention center in her honor

The University of Utah has settled two lawsuits with the parents of Lauren McCluskey, a 21-year-old student who was killed by an ex-boyfriend she had complained about to police more than 20 times.

Sadie Feighan looking at the camera: Lauren McCluskey

© University of Utahq
Lauren McCluskey

McCluskey’s body was found in the back seat of a car on campus two years ago. She had been shot and killed by 37-year-old Melvin Rowland, a convicted sex offender who had spent more than a decade in prison. He killed himself hours later after a police chase, university police had said.

Lauren McCluskey’s parents, Jill and Matt McCluskey, filed a $56 million lawsuit last year alleging the University of Utah had failed to protect their daughter.

“The university acknowledges and deeply regrets that it did not handle Lauren’s case as it should have and that, at the time, its employees failed to fully understand and respond appropriately to Lauren’s situation,” University of Utah President Ruth Watkins said in a statement on Thursday.

“As a result, we failed Lauren and her family.”

The university will pay the McCluskeys $10.5 million and make a charitable donation of $3 million to the Lauren McCluskey Foundation.

The university also said it has also been making improvements to campus safety after the death, including implementing new policies and trainings and adding a new shuttle service.

University: McCluskey’s murder was ‘preventable tragedy’

McCluskey and Rowland had met at a bar and dated for about a month. When McCluskey learned Rowland had a criminal conviction, and had lied about his age and name, she ended the relationship.

Over the course of the next two weeks, she called campus police a number of times to report he was sending her harassing messages, as well as attempting to extort money from her. She told police she sent $1,000 to an account in the hopes of keeping compromising photos of her private, according to a review of the incident.

Audio from McCluskey’s 911 calls to Salt Lake City Police show that she was increasingly frustrated by the pace of the university investigation.

The university said in the settlement “that the murder of Lauren McCluskey was a brutal, senseless, and preventable tragedy and acknowledges the unspeakable loss the McCluskey family has suffered and continues to suffer.”

‘Hope for the future’

As part of the settlement, the University of Utah said it will raise funds to construct an indoor track facility that will be named after Lauren McCluskey, who was a track athlete at the school.

The university will also rename the newly launched Center for Violence Prevention as the McCluskey Center for Violence Prevention.

“We share with the McCluskeys an interest in working to improve safety for all students, not only on our campus but on campuses across the country. With our commitment to learning from our mistakes, we honor Lauren and ensure her legacy will be improved campus safety for all students,” Watkins said.

As part of the campus safety improvements, the university has also consolidated evening classes in

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Why Devote an Entire Blog to Writing About Media Violence?

The Short Answer

For four main reasons. First, we wanted to thoroughly review all of the nooks and crannies of media violence research in a way that’s simple and accessible for all audiences. In contrast, many books on the subject tend to be targeted toward academics (read: boring and complex), can be overly simplistic (e.g., only focus on video games, only scratch the surface of the research), or inaccurately represent the state of scientific research on the subject.

Second, we want to counteract the misinformation about media violence that always seems be circulating. As science reporting in both reputable news outlets and online have become increasingly inaccurate (imagine that, people on the internet are often wrong!), there is greater need for scientists to speak up and set the record straight.

Third, we’d like our research to reach beyond the “Ivory Tower” of academia. Researchers frequently discuss their findings with other researchers, but rarely make their findings accessible to the average person. We believe that we have a moral obligation to make this research publicly available, since much of it is publicly-funded (we’re surprised taxpayers don’t demand this of scientists more often!)

Lastly, we’re frequently contacted by people – students, parents, reporters, and gamers – who want answers to the very questions we hope to address in this blog. It’d be nice (and time-saving!) to provide them with a link to the answer, including the option to dive deeper into the research upon which that answer is based.

The Long Answer

We’ve got a confession to make: We’re not the first researchers to write about media violence (gasp!) Heck, we’re even guilty of writing books on the subject ourselves!

So why go to the effort of writing a blog at all if others have already written about this stuff?

We did it because we believe that there’s a gap needing to be filled when it comes to mainstream books on media violence. To be sure, books such as Steven Kirsh’s Children, Adolescents, and Media Violence: A Critical Look at the Research1 offer an incredibly thorough review of the research on media violence and my own book Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research and Public Policy2 do a terrific job of walking the reader through the nitty-gritty details of video game violence research from start to finish.

But these books tend to be fairly detail-heavy and theory-oriented – certainly not the sort of thing you read before bed or on a bus in ten-minute bursts. This is mostly because their target audience is people who already know a thing or two about media violence research (e.g., college students, media scholars, and public policy wonks.) Most people simply don’t have the experience to make heads or tails of books filled with academic gobbledygook.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t excellent books intended to be read by concerned parents and lay audiences. But even these books require considerable time and effort to find the answers people are

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Through These Doors: Domestic violence support and education

The Cape Elizabeth Police Department has a display of purple lights up in support of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Through These Doors, the domestic violence resource center for Cumberland County has partnered with local business owners, law enforcement agencies, health care facilities, municipalities, and community members to make October “glow purple.” Courtesy photo Paul Fenton

CAPE ELIZABETH — With October being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, organizations through Cumberland County have shown support for survivors and victims, including Cape Elizabeth.

Through These Doors, a domestic violence resource center that serves Cumberland County, wants the public to be aware of domestic violence and know that everyone plays an individual role in addressing and ending the problem, said Rebecca Hobbs, executive director.

“We all have a role to play in addressing and ending this problem,” Hobbs said. “It’s not up to professionals solely, but as neighbors and friends, as coworkers. Each one of us can see when we’re concerned about somebody who we might think is a victim, and we might be able to see if we think someone is a perpetrator. And there are things we can all do.”

Since 1977, Through These Doors has expanded, engaging with community partners, and provides individual services as well as a full range of community education and training in schools, law enforcement agencies, and workplaces, Hobbs said.

“Now we have 35 staff members and are doing lots of work to support victims and survivors of abuse and also to change common attitudes and beliefs and coordinate responses so that we’re all doing the best we can to keep people in Cumberland County safe from domestic violence,” she said.

Through These Doors provides individual assistance through a helpline, Hobbs said. In the center’s 2019 fiscal year report, there were over 5,300 helpline calls made.

In 2020, Through These Doors has several goals for October of 2020 in an effort to broaden domestic violence knowledge, Hobbs said.

“When someone is abusive, you’ll often see they are showing controlling behaviors of their partner.” she said. “They’re attempting to control where they go, who they see, what they do, maybe what they wear, maybe what they eat. Those controlling and dominating behaviors are tactics of abuse and sometimes they show up in public places, or if you know someone well, you can start to see those. And you have an op to talk to the person exhibiting the behaviors and say, I see what you’re doing that’s not ok. Or to talk to the person living with it and say, I’m concerned about you — how can I help?”

Through These Doors is partnering with Portland City Hall, Cumberland County, local business owners, law enforcement agencies, health care facilities, municipalities, and community members in Purple Light Nights, a global campaign, she said.

“The idea is to increase awareness of domestic violence through something that’s relatively easy to do, which is just shining purple lights,” Hobbs said.

The Cape Elizabeth Police Department has displayed purple lights in front

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Sexual violence reports rise drastically at schools, Education Department data shows

The context: The data was released as part of a massive survey of information from schools, known as the Civil Rights Data Collection, which the Education Department conducts every other year.

This is the second year the civil rights data survey has asked schools to report information about sexual violence. The Education Department said it took new steps to bolster the quality of the data after errors in the last survey raised questions about the accuracy of how schools reported sexual violence.

The numbers reflect documented allegations, not necessarily confirmed incidents, the department said.

An analysis of the data by the department’s Office for Civil Rights said it was unclear what was driving the increase between the data released this year and the data released in the previous report in 2018.

“The increase in reported allegations may reflect under-reporting” in the previous survey, “an increased sensitivity to this issue” in the latest survey, “or an actual increase in incidents of sexual violence,” the department wrote in its analysis of the data.

Still, the government’s latest sexual misconduct data reflect what Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has described as a “tragic rise of sexual misconduct complaints” in elementary and high schools.

Changes ahead: Earlier this year, the department’s Office for Civil Rights said it would start “nationwide compliance reviews” to examine how schools address misconduct complaints under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in education programs. The civil rights office has also proposed collecting more detailed data on a school-by-school basis, including incidents and allegations involving school staff.

Seclusion and restraint data: The department also highlighted its analysis of new civil rights data that examines the extent to which schools physically restrained students or placed them in seclusion.

The data shows that students with disabilities were disproportionately subject to seclusion and restraint. Students with disabilities comprise 13 percent of total enrollment but accounted for 80 percent of students who were subjected to physical restraints, 41 percent of students subjected to mechanical restraint and 77 percent of students secluded.

The department’s analysis also showed racial disparities. Black students comprise 18 percent of students with disabilities but made up 26 percent of students with disabilities placed in physical restraints and 34 percent of students with disabilities who were subject to mechanical restraint.

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