(Updates with quotes from plaintiff, attorney, background)
By Scott Malone
BOSTON, July 18 (Reuters) - The University of Connecticut on Friday said it had reached a $1.3 million deal to settle a 2013 lawsuit filed by five current and former students charging that the school had mishandled claims of sexual assault and harassment.
The five women, including a hockey player who charged she was cut from the team after reporting a rape by a male player, sued the school in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, saying that its policies fell short of the standards of Title IX, a 1972 U.S. law that prohibits gender discrimination at schools that receive federal funds.
The school was one of 55 U.S. colleges and universities sued over their policies on sex assaults, and the settlement come a few months after the White House warned of a sex assault "epidemic" on U.S. campuses.
Four of the women addressed reporters at a Hartford, Connecticut, press conference after the settlement was revealed.
"As I enter into my senior year at UConn, I am optimistic that these steps will make a meaningful difference for all students," said Rosemary Richi, who said in court papers that was sexually assaulted in 2011, her first year at the school.
In addition to paying cash damages to the five women, the Storrs, Connecticut-based university, which has some 30,000 students, has made a number of changes to the way it handles sexual assault claims, including creating a assistant dean of students for victim support services, and charging the school's Title IX office with investigating sex assault charges.
"This lawsuit may have been settled but the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has not been," UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement posted online. "UConn, like all colleges and universities, must do all it can to prevent sexual violence on our campuses, hold perpetrators accountable and provide victims with the resources and compassion they desperately need."
A federal report released last month found that some 3,300 sex crimes were reported on U.S. colleges and universities in 2011, up 50 percent over the past decade. Experts have warned that those figures likely under-repot the number of assaults that take place since many victims are reluctant to report the attacks.
"I hope that other students who are victims of sexual violence on college campuses throughout this nation will hear about the positive results in our case involving UConn and be inspired and encouraged to report rape and sexual assault," said attorney Gloria Allred, who represented the women.
The plaintiffs said they did not hold the university responsible for the attacks or any harassment they faced but rather sued over policies, according to a joint statement issued by the women and the school. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Bill Trott and Eric Walsh)
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