Activists accuse colleges of not responding to sexual assault complaints

Attorney Gloria Allred, left, and Caroline Heldman, professor of politics, at a news conference announcing the filing of a complaint against Occidental as a result of what the women allege is the college's indifference to rape victims.
Attorney Gloria Allred, left, and Caroline Heldman, professor of politics, at a news conference announcing the filing of a complaint against Occidental as a result of what the women allege is the college’s indifference to rape victims.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times )

Students and activists joined together Wednesday to file complaints against colleges and universities nationwide alleging that the schools have failed to follow federal laws, including those involving the reporting of sexual assault crimes and discrimination.

Attorney Gloria Allred announced that complaints were filed against Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College, USC and UC Berkeley on Wednesday morning.

Some of these were Title IX complaints alleging a hostile environment for women. Others charged the colleges with violating the federal Clery Act, which requires accurate reporting of campus crimes.


“We are asking the United States Department of Education to open an investigation into these complaints and take appropriate actions to force these colleges to comply with the law or risk losing their federal funding,” Allred said.

Complaints were filed previously against Occidental College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Women from all over this country are demanding that their colleges stop these rapes and sexual assaults from happening,” Allred said. “They will no longer accept the status quo where rapes and sexual assaults are being swept under the rug and condoned by college administrators.”

Occidental’s students filed a complaint in April and earlier this month, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced its investigation into the allegations.

“There are 5,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Every day on these campuses students face rape, sexual assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment,” said Occidental professor and criminologist Danielle Dirks.

“These behaviors have horrifyingly become a normal part of students’ educational experiences and … are routinely betrayed by their institutions who treat them with indifference.”

Last month, Jim Tranquada, a college spokesman, said that since 2010, Occidental has updated its sexual-misconduct policies and procedures and trained more faculty, staff and students in how to respond effectively to reports of sexual assault.

USC’s Student Coalition Against Rape also filed a complaint Wednesday.

“We hope that our actions today will encourage our university to support reporting of sexual assaults and to punish sexual offenders,” said Tucker Reed, the group’s co-founder and an alleged rape victim who spoke at a news conference in New York City to announce the filings.

Reed said the university hired investigators to look into her case, only to be told that their process was “educative,” not punitive.

“But when students are punished for other kinds of violent assaults, or even for simple cheating, why shouldn’t they be punished for rape?” she said.

A university spokesman said he had not had a chance to review the complaint.

“In all reported instances, we thoroughly investigate and take appropriate disciplinary, as well as interim remedial, action. Previous investigations have resulted in a wide variety of sanctions, up to the dismissal of students from the university, including in cases where no criminal charges were filed,” according to a statement from USC’s Division of Student Affairs.

“While the university remains committed to addressing student concerns and protecting the rights of all students, the university’s disciplinary process cannot and does not take the place of the judicial system. Any student victim of a crime has the option of reporting it to the Los Angeles Police Department.”

A UC Berkeley student said she was sexually assaulted her freshman year by a student “leader” who she alleged also assaulted four of her peers. Seven months after she filed a report with a campus group, she said she was notified there had been an investigation and that the case had been solved through “an early resolution” process. His graduation two weeks after she received the email removed the case from the university’s jurisdiction.

UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said the school had not had the opportunity to review the complaint, however, she said the campus “takes sexual assault very seriously and we are constantly working to strengthen our efforts to prevent such acts from occurring and to thoroughly report and investigate such matters when they arise.”

“We also seek to ensure that students receive the counseling and the support services they need when coping with such a difficult ordeal,” Gilmore said.


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Twitter: @dalinac