Two former sex crimes prosecutors have been brought in to review the handling of sex abuse cases at the prestigious Occidental College amid claims that rapes and sexual assaults were covered up or dismissed by college staff. One student found guilty of raping a woman was allegedly given a five-page book report to write as punishment.
In response to a civil rights complaint filed by a group of students, faculty, and alumni with the U.S. Department of Education, the Los Angeles liberal arts college announced the review Thursday.
According to the 250-page complaint, Occidental failed to protect women from sexual assault and created a hostile environment for victims.
Civil rights attorney Gloria Allred said the complaint outlines violations of Title IX, which bars discrimination at schools. If the school does not improve, the complaint would seek to cut off federal funding.
Allred is representing 37 females, including current students and alumnae, as well as some professors. In the complaint, she states that the 37 students were “raped, sexually assaulted, battered, harassed or retaliated against for speaking out against sexual violence” since 2009.
The complaint says the school not only discouraged the reporting of sex crimes, it also discouraged taking criminal or administrative action against perpetrators.
“Some students were discouraged from filing a formal complaint, while others were not informed of their rights,” said Caroline Heldman, chair of Occidental’s politics department, who appeared with Allred and the accusers at a news conference. “In some cases the college chose to let perpetrators back on campus after they had been found responsible for nonconsensual sexual intercourse.”
The complaint was filed with the Department of Education’s Civil Rights Office two months after students protested at Occidental over an alleged cover up of a rape that took place near the school.
Occidental spokesman Jim Tranquada said that the school has updated its sexual misconduct policy since 2010 and has trained faculty on how to properly respond to sexual assault reports.
Allred says the school must take a “zero-tolerance” policy on sex crimes.
“We readily admit that Oxy has more work to do and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress,” College officials said in a statement.
A sociology professor at the college, Danielle Dirk, signed the civil rights complaint. She said that when she became vocal about the sexual violence policy at the college she was ridiculed by administrators who said she was “actively seeking to embarrass the college.”
Victim Carly Mee said she was raped as a freshman at Occidental. A university panel found her attacker responsible for the crime and expelled him. After an appeal, Occidental decided to let the perpetrator return to the school once Mee graduates in May.
“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,” Dirk said.