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Occidental College flooded with fake reports of sexual assault

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Occidental College has been barraged with bogus allegations of sexual assault in recent days after two groups, one claiming to represent "men's rights," set out to undermine the school's anonymous reporting system, a college spokesman said.

Shortly after members of the online communities Reddit and 4Chan began discussing the idea late Monday, Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said, the campus was flooded with reports — some by people who claimed to have been assaulted by "Occidental College," "feminists" or "Fatty McFatFat."

Over 36 hours, some 400 such reports were made. Occidental officials now are trying to determine how to isolate false claims from any actual assaults that may have been reported during that time.


FOR THE RECORD:
A front-page article in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 7, 2013, was incorrect in reporting that Occidental College failed to disclose 27 alleged sexual assaults that occurred in 2012.

The article ("College shelved more assault reports") dealt with Occidental's obligations under the federal Clery Act, which requires schools to publish statistics annually on reported crime on or near campus.

Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law's disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.

Some were not sexual assaults as defined by the Clery Act. Rather, they involved sexual harassment, inappropriate text messages or other conduct not covered by the act. Other alleged incidents were not reported because they occurred off-campus, beyond the boundaries that Occidental determined were covered by the act. Some occurred in 2011, and the college accounted for them that year.

Subsequent Times articles published Dec. 20 in the LATExtra section and Jan. 23 in Section A repeated the original error regarding the alleged underreporting of sexual assaults.

The Times regrets the errors in the articles.

Full Editor's Note


The online campaign appears to have been fueled by misperceptions about how the college's anonymous sexual misconduct reporting form works.

"Feminists at Occidental College created an online form to anonymously report rape/sexual assault," a user wrote in a Tuesday post on Reddit's Men's Rights group. "You just fill out a form and the person is called into the office on a rape charge. The 'victim' never has to prove anything or reveal their identity."

In fact, the form was created by campus administrators in 2009 to encourage assault victims to come forward. Allegations reported to the site are reviewed by administrators and, if they occur on or near campus, should be reported to federal authorities in annual crime statistics. The anonymous reports can be used to track patterns and make inquiries but do not lead to formal investigations, Tranquada said.

Occidental for months has been at the center of a nationwide push to hold campus administrators responsible for violating federal laws on the handling of sexual assault reports.

More than 50 students and faculty at the small liberal arts college have signed on to two federal complaints alleging Occidental routinely discouraged women from reporting assaults, bungled investigations and failed to disclose assault claims to the federal government. The Department of Education is investigating both complaints.

In October, Occidental officials acknowledged they had failed to report two dozen sexual assault allegations made in 2010 and 2011.

Earlier this month, a Times review found that Occidental had failed to disclose an additional 27 reports made in 2012, as well as most complaints filed through the anonymous reporting system.

Last week, the Huffington Post reported concerns from faculty and students that administrators were tracking people who used the anonymous reporting form, an allegation the college denied.

This week's wave of false reports surfaced in the online communities Monday, with the apparent aim of discrediting the reporting form.

"Step one: Get a list of every 'Feminist' at Occidental College who supported this system. Step two: Anonymously report them for rape," wrote user WhiteThrone in a Reddit post Wednesday night. "Step three: Watch them squirm as their lives are hanging in the balance over a false rape charge. Step four: Shutdown the BS online form."

The concern about false rape allegations at Occidental is misplaced, Tranquada said.

"The challenge for the college is not false reports," he said. "Our experience is those are rare. The challenge for the college is getting the survivors to report, either to the college or police or both. Sexual misconduct is underreported everywhere, and we're interested in providing as many options as possible."

By Thursday, some of the more than 83,000 subscribers of the Reddit Men's Rights forum were criticizing the action.

"you know what this makes the [Men's Rights Movement] look like?" wrote user Tehkaki. "a movement more concerned with taking down women and feminism than actually helping men."

More than one noted the irony of using false reports as a tactic.

"I can't believe y'all here are making false accusations to prove a point," wrote user zfoote. "I thought the [Men's Rights Movement] was vehemently opposed to false accusations?"

In a letter to faculty on Wednesday, Occidental's interim Title IX coordinator, Lauren Carella, suggested the college may shutter the reporting system:

"We have already begun exploring options to replace our current anonymous reporting system with a system that continues to encourage survivors to come forward while trying to prevent these type of abuses from outside individuals."

Faculty advocates for assault victims say the form serves a vital purpose.

"It's the best way to keep track of serial rapists," said Caroline Heldman, chair of Occidental's politics department. "The anonymous reporting system allows you to identify the 4% of men on campus who are causing over 90% of the problem."

jason.felch@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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