Monday, December 09, 2013

Occidental College Conceals Sexual Assaults

Occidental College in Los Angeles has been publically associated with campus sexual assault since April, when it was the subject of a high-profile Title IX complaint with the Department of Education that challenged the way it handles reports of sexual violence.  This fall, the college admitted to underreporting instances of reported sexual assault as required by the Clery Act, but the extent of that underreporting was recently exposed by investigative reporters at the L.A. Times, who found 27 additional assaults that the college did not disclose in 2012, beyond the two dozen that the college originally acknowledged had been omitted from their reports. The Times article further reports that "dozens more" may have also been ignored by the Dean of Students because they were filed anonymously.

The Times reporters also reviewed the initial complaint, and report that it accuses Occidental's President, Dean of Students, and General Counsel of deterring students from reporting sexual violence and retaliating against those that do. For example, an official in the Dean of Students office allegedly tried to talk a victim out of reporting, saying "Are you sure you really want to go through with this? It is a really long and hard process, and it may cause you more pain and suffering."

Occidental's continued response to the issues of sexual assault since last spring's complaint has also drawn criticism. A professor told the Times that the campus safety logs, while now include anonymous complaints, regularly "downgrade" sexual assault to sexual battery.  In an even more bizarre example of obstructionism, the General Counsel, who has since resigned, reportedly organized a group of male student-athletes to stand up for themselves against anti-rape "activists."

While Occidental paid a financial settlement to the initial complainants in order to prevent them from filing a lawsuit, the Department of Education's investigation is still underway.  An enforcement action by the agency could subject the College to fines and other requirements to remedy violations of Title IX and the Clery Act.