Amy Smotherman Burgess/The Knoxville News Sentinel/AP

School officials accused of "deliberate indifference to known sexual assaults" and fostering a "hostile sexual environment"

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February 11, 2016 03:40 PM

A lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Nashville claims University of Tennessee football players attacked a fellow player who helped a woman after she had allegedly been sexually assaulted.

More generally, the suit, which was obtained by PEOPLE, claims administrators at the University of Tennessee turned deaf ears to rape allegations brought against the school’s male athletes, fostering a “hostile sexual environment” that made female students particularly “vulnerable” on campus.

PEOPLE obtained a copy of the 64-page civil suit, which was filed by six female victims, identified only as Jane Does. Four are residents of Tennessee, one is from New York and one is from Florida.

One victim alleges she was raped by former players Mike Williams and A.J. Johnson in 2014. Both players have pleaded not guilty and have trials scheduled for June 27 and July 18, respectively.

The suit, filed by attorney David Randolph Smith, says that former wide receiver Drae Bowles, was “jumped” twice by his teammates in retaliation for supporting the victim’s decision to go to the police with her rape allegations against Williams and Johnson. The suit also claims the team’s coaches were aware of the attacks on Bowles.

Bowles transferred to a different school after the attacks, according to the suit.

In addition, the suit alleges that university officials feted the athletes with alcohol-fueled parties while “blame shaming” all six victims and treating them like criminals.

The players involved were not named as defendants in the federal lawsuit.

According to the suit, university officials are accused of “deliberate indifference to known sexual assaults,” which, the plaintiffs argue, “condoned” additional attacks at the school.

Administrators’ alleged lack of any kind of investigative response to the allegations allowed “perpetrators of sexual assaults, particularly varsity football and basketball players, to delay and altogether avoid sanctions and discipline,” the suit says.

The school’s administrative hearing process, the lawsuit insists, is also biased towards the university’s football players.

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In a statement, the university’s general counsel Bill Ramsey said the school has “devoted significant time and energy to provide a safe environment for our students, to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault, and to encourage students to come forward and report sexual assault.”

Ramsey’s statement adds that victims if such crimes are offered “care and support” when such reports are made, and that “when warranted, the university takes disciplinary actions but will not do so in a manner that violates state law or the constitutional due process rights of our students.”

His statement continues: “In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today, the university acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true.”

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