140228-uc-berkeley-sexual-harrassment
Justin Sullivan/Getty, Justin Sullivan

Fight Back

U.C. Berkeley Students Accuse School of Botching Sexual Assault Claims

Dozens of UC Berkeley students have banded together to file federal complaints against the school for not reporting their sexual assaults.

A battle is brewing at one of the top public universities in the world. On Wednesday, 31 students and alumni filed two federal complaints against UC Berkeley, alleging neglect and failure to act on behalf of their claims of rape and sexual assault.

This recent move comes after nine of those students had filed a complaint against the university's administrators last May, citing the Clery Act, a federal law that requires all U.S. colleges to report incidents of serious crimes, including assault.

The school is currently under audit from legislators over its failure to fully report such incidents.
As part of Title IX, the country's anti-discrimination law, schools receiving federal funding are "required to impartially investigate allegations of sexual assault." But the students say the university has not done so, and claim this is a systemic problem facing the campus and the female student body.

"It is unacceptable that as we wait for the federal government to respond to our complaint, more students are being sexually assaulted," said UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek at a press conference on Wednesday, where six female students highlighted the ongoing troubles they face at the university.

“If given the choice, I would go back in time and never report anything to anyone,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Iman Stenson, “because the process that followed is far more upsetting than the assault itself.”

Sophomore Meghan Warner said she faced blame from fellow students after an incident last year in which two men sexually assaulted her in a fraternity. “I was told it was my fault for even going to this frat in the first place because of the reputation, for going upstairs, for not staying with a friend the entire evening, for not fighting back,” Warner said at the press conference. “It took me months to realize that what had happened was rape.”

The revelations of the past few months concerning sexual violence at the school has led to an outpouring of discussion and even small demonstrations, where female students held up placards calling for an end to sexual violence on campus.

Janet Gilmore, director of the university's Strategic Communications Office of Public Affairs, told The Daily Beast via phone that "clearly, these students have gone through a horrific ordeal and our hearts go out to them."

She added that she could not speak to specifics of the students' complaints, citing school and federal privacy, but added that "since 2008 through fall of last year, fewer than 10 rape cases went to the Conduct Office," the office responsible for hearing and investigating allegations of students breaking the university's code of conduct.

"[UC Berkeley] has taken a number of steps to ensure that students are being protected," she added. She said that a few students have been suspended or dismissed from the university as a result of breaking the school's code of conduct. In a follow-up email, Gilmore cited how the university differs from the American court system in its handling of sexual violence: "The university does not employ lawyers to "prosecute" students or apply the rules of evidence used in civil or criminal trial. The conduct process uses the preponderance of evidence standard; that is, the hearing panel or administrator will determine what is "more likely than not" to have taken place," read her email.

Sexual violence on American campuses is nothing new, with a study published by the Center for Disease Control in 2009 reporting that 19 percent of undergraduate women had experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering school. 

“This is a major problem for all women on campus. They walk around and go to class and their attackers are still out there," one male UC Berkeley student told The Daily Beast. “I have friends who have broken down at times because the person who raped or assaulted them is in the same class. I don't know how this is happening. I think it is a fraternity culture that we can do without," he said, asking that his name not be made public.

Other women also spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity as they said they had filed with the university or other group statements of being assaulted on campus.

“What these girls are doing is what we all need to be doing because after I was assaulted last semester, I didn't know what to do," said one female sophomore. "I was in tears and shaken. I couldn't eat for days and had to go to class where my attacker was sitting in the same room. The university has done nothing.”

On Tuesday, before the most recent filing, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced that the university is to provide additional resources for survivors of sexual assault and would be creating a new survivor advocate position to help survivors deal with the reporting process.

"Our focus will be to educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assault resources and bystander intervention; enhance our ability to quickly and effectively handle allegations and reports of sexual misconduct, and amplify our communications and support to survivors of sexual assault," Chancellor Dirks wrote in a letter published on February 25.

But this surfaces a larger question of enacting prevention efforts before an assault or rape occurs.

“The university will preach your ear off about resources,” said Stenson at the press conference. “I don’t want to hear anything more about resources. I want to see action.”

Comments