Sex Assault Complaint Filed by Occidental College Students

A group of Occidental College students and alumni said they filed a complaint with the Education Department today alleging that the school doesn’t meet federal standards for preventing and responding to sexual assaults.

The complaint contains allegations by 37 women who claim their rights under Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools, were violated when they were students at Occidental in Los Angeles, said Gloria Allred of Allred Maroko & Goldberg in Los Angeles, who is representing the students.

“It has been open season on the female students at Occidental,” Allred said in a press conference. “It will be open season at Occidental in our criticism of them unless they do their jobs and stop the rapes and sexual assaults.”

Students at Yale University, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and other colleges have complained to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights that their schools’ sexual assault policies and procedures are inadequate. Their Title IX complaints are calling for universities to remedy a “hostile environment” that fails to prevent sexual assault and allows rapists to go unpunished.

Nationwide Problem

Campus sexual assault is a nationwide problem, and Occidental has taken a series of steps toward greater safety, spokesman Jim Tranquada said. The school has hired Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, both former sexual-assault prosecutors now with Pepper Hamilton LLP, to review policies and procedures and make recommendations for improving them.

“We take this issue exceptionally seriously and will not tolerate sexual misconduct,” Tranquada said in an e-mailed statement. “The creation of a safe and respectful campus environment at Oxy is paramount.”

The Education Department said its San Francisco office hasn’t received the complaint.

Occidental administrators came under fire earlier this year from students who said they weren’t notified of a report of sexual assault near the campus. Dean of Students Barbara Avery said at the time that the assault involved two students and didn’t represent “a continuing threat.”

An Embarrassment

Jonathan Veitch, president of Occidental, was also criticized by students after he said that members of the campus community who had spoken to the press regarding their concerns about sexual assault were trying to “embarrass” the college. He later apologized for his remarks.

Administrators have gone back on promises to tighten policies, said Caroline Heldman, who is chairwoman of the school’s politics department and helped write the complaint.

“We’ve been discouraging students from filing, and we’ve stopped discouraging them because of the administration’s intransigence,” she said in a telephone interview. “The only way the institution will change is if it comes from the outside.”

About one in four women will be sexually assaulted during their college careers, according to David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who studies assaults and consults to the U.S. military and colleges on the issue. The students are alleging that Occidental failed to educate them about issues of rape and consent, discouraged them from reporting assaults and didn’t remove acknowledged attackers from campus, Heldman said.

UNC is undergoing two Education Department reviews for potential violations of Title IX and the Clery Act, which requires schools to collect statistics of campus violence, including sexual assaults. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, is being monitored by the department for its compliance with anti-discrimination regulations.

Students filed a complaint against Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, alleging violations of the Clery Act, the Daily Gazette student newspaper reported today. Violations of Title IX and the Clery Act can result in fines and put eligibility for federal student aid at risk.

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