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California and the West

'Acquaintance Rape' Allegations Often Unresolved

May 10, 2000|CHRIS JENKINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SANTA BARBARA — Just before 1 a.m. on a Sunday in February, UC Santa Barbara freshman Adrian Breckel was close to passing out from a drinking binge. But the 18-year-old believed she had just been raped by an older student who escorted her from a fraternity party to her room in a palm-shaded apartment complex.

Later that day, distraught and angry, Breckel filed a complaint with the sheriff's office. After investigators declined to pursue charges, she and her mother contacted the dean's office, hoping officials would hold a hearing and punish her alleged attacker. They were wrong on both counts.

"I understand that the police couldn't do anything because there are a lot of gray areas," Breckel said. "But it's disappointing that the university won't use their power to even listen to what happened."

Although the case involved two students, officials refused to hear it because the alleged assault happened off campus.

Breckel's case illustrates the difficulty in prosecuting alleged "acquaintance" rape and how the handling differs school to school.

Unlike UC Santa Barbara, the vast majority of 15 California campuses surveyed for The Times discipline students for off-campus misconduct, even if it occurs thousands of miles away.

UC Santa Barbara officials say they plan to bring their rules in line with other schools in the fall. The rationale behind the current policy, said Dean of Students Yonie Harris, was that "there is potential for depriving a student of his or her rights" to live independently if disciplinary jurisdiction is extended off campus.

Carol Mosely, coordinator for the campus Women's Center, said the university has done a disservice to students by ignoring off-campus places where much student sexual misconduct occurs, including university-affiliated housing like the privately owned complex where Breckel lived. "We are a university community, both on and off campus," she said. "Each one of the members should be held to the same standards."

In the 1998-99 academic year, officials said, the women's center received 18 complaints of sexual assaults involving students as both victims and assailants. None were heard by the campus student judicial board and very few were prosecuted. "We get about one [complaint] a month from students," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Ron Zonen. "We're lucky if we can go forward in one in five."

Breckel's case is typical. It boiled down to her word against her alleged attacker's. The incident occurred behind a closed door.

The male student did not respond to messages seeking his comment.

Breckel said she was too drunk to resist, and witnesses confirmed she appeared intoxicated that night. Intercourse with someone who is too drunk to give consent can be rape, according to state law.

The university's handling, Breckel said, leaves her feeling victimized a second time and she probably will not return to school. A hearing, she said, "would have sent a major message. Also . . . it would have been for my protection, both psychologically and physically. That's why it's important."

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