Occidental College in Los Angeles is facing a law suit accusing the institution of having a history of handing out less than severe punishments to students found guilty of sexual assault, including one man who was found guilty of a sexual assault that was sentenced to writing a five-page book report, and a second guilty man who was required to apologize to his victim and resign from campus leadership positions. Other students found guilty were expelled but allowed to re-enroll after their victim either left the school or graduated.
Here is a video report from KTLA:
Famed attorney Gloria Allred is representing several of the alleged victims. The group, including 37 students and faculty, claims that the school violated Title IX requirements granting freedom from sexual discrimination in the 250-page complaint.
“I’ve seen some of the outputs of these so-called ‘educational sanctions’ like book reports and apology letters and they’re abysmal,” Danielle Dirks, a sociology professor who co-filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, explains to Huffington Post. “The fact that Occidental has invited rapists back to campus and even told survivors not to worry because ‘he’s reformed now’ after these types of inadequate sanctions is an abomination.”
Here is the full press conference, in which Allred is flanked by 12 current and former students and faculty members involved in the suit. The clip begins with Allred addressing the allegations, and then some of the students and faculty members share their individual stories.
In response to the suit, Occidental College’s director of communications Jim Tranquada released the following statement:
Sexual assault on college campuses is a nationwide problem, from which Occidental College (Oxy) regrettably is not exempt. We take this issue very seriously, and will not tolerate sexual misconduct. We readily acknowledge that Oxy has more work to do, and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress.
Occidental College has been in the spotlight for rape before. In February, the campus reportedly failed to alert students about a rape that occurred. Some students claim that there have been other rape “cover ups” as well.
As Tranquada says in the statement, campus rape is a huge national concern, with a 1997 National Institute of Justice study estimating that between one-ﬁfth and one quarter of women are the victims of completed or attempted rape while in college. Though there have been numerous programs instituted to raise awareness on college campuses, the statistics haven’t seemed to improve much over the last five decades.
The number one factor in sexual assaults among college students is obviously alcohol. (A study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol indicates 74% of perpetrators and 55% of victims of rape of a nationally representative sample of college students had been drinking alcohol.) But another major contributing factor is the lack of severity of punishments handed down by colleges and universities, which is what the Occidental law suit hopes to being to light.
The Center For Public Integrity published an article focusing on Indiana University freshman Margaux J., who was furious after a University panel found her alleged attacker “responsible” for “sexual contact” with another person without consent, and then handed down what amounted to a slap on the wrist when they “recommended suspending her alleged assailant only for the following semester — a summer semester, during which he was unlikely to attend school anyway.”
The article includes a lengthy video interview with Margaux as well as tons of statistics and information about the roles of colleges and universities in the proliferation of sexual assault among their students. Here is one excerpt, although I highly recommend reading the entire article if you are interested in this topic:
A year-long investigation by the Center for Public Integrity demonstrates that the outcome in Margaux’s case is far from unusual. The Center interviewed 50 experts familiar with the campus disciplinary process, as well as 33 female students who have reported being sexually assaulted by other students. The inquiry included a review of records in select cases; a survey of 152 crisis services programs and clinics on or near college campuses; and an examination of 10 years of complaints filed against institutions with the U.S. Education Department under Title IX and the Clery Act. The probe reveals that students deemed “responsible” for alleged sexual assaults on college campuses can face little or no consequence for their acts. Yet their victims’ lives are frequently turned upside down. For them, the trauma of assault can be compounded by a lack of institutional support, and even disciplinary action. Many times, victims drop out of school, while their alleged attackers graduate. Administrators believe the sanctions commonly issued in the college judicial system provide a thoughtful and effective way to hold culpable students accountable, but victims and advocates say the punishment rarely fits the crime.
Additional data suggests that, on many campuses, abusive students face little more than slaps on the wrist. The Center has examined what is apparently the only database on sexual assault proceedings at institutions of higher education nationwide. Maintained by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, it includes information on about 130 colleges and universities receiving federal funds to combat sexual violence from 2003-2008, the most recent year available. Though limited in scope, the database offers a window into sanctioning by school administrations. It shows that colleges seldom expel men who are found “responsible” for sexual assault; indeed, these schools permanently kicked out only 10 to 25 percent of such students.