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Occidental College wants review of handling of sex abuse cases

The university hires two former sex crimes prosecutors to complete an extensive review of its handling of sex abuse cases amid allegations that officials don't take such cases seriously.

April 18, 2013|By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times
  • Attorney Gloria Allred, right, escorts six current or former Occidental College students after filing a civil rights complaint outlining alleged violations of Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools.
Attorney Gloria Allred, right, escorts six current or former Occidental… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

Occidental College has hired two former sex crimes prosecutors to complete an extensive review of the university's handling of sex abuse cases amid allegations that officials don't take such cases seriously.

The university announced the review Thursday after a group of Occidental students, faculty and alumni filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that the school failed to protect women from sexual assaults.

Flanked by six current and former students, attorney Gloria Allred said the complaint outlines violations of Title IX, which bars sex discrimination at schools. The complaint seeks to curtail any federal funding to the school if it does not improve.

In the complaint, Allred alleges that 37 students were "raped, sexually assaulted, battered, harassed or retaliated against for speaking out against sexual violence" since 2009. The women say the college discourages reporting of sex crimes and proceeding with criminal and administration action against the perpetrators.

The complaint comes two months after students criticized the college for not making public an alleged rape of a student by a fellow student near campus. (Prosecutors reviewed the case and declined to file charges, police said.)

"Some students were discouraged from filing a formal complaint, while others were not informed of their rights," said Caroline Heldman, chairwoman of Occidental's politics department who joined Allred and the alleged victims 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."

College officials released a statement defending Occidental's record but acknowledging the university wants to improve its record.

"We readily admit that Oxy has more work to do, and are vigilantly ensuring our continual progress," the college said.

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.

The university has also initiated an education effort to "foster a culture that rejects sexual violence."

The college recently hired former sex crimes prosecutors Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez to conduct what the college calls an "independent" review of policies and practices.

The Times could not independently verify all of the 37 incidents Allred cited. Allred said some of the women reported the incidents to police and others did not. Some took place on campus, others in nearby houses, she asserted.

There have been two alleged rapes around the college so far this year, according to Crime L.A.

LAPD Deputy Chief Jose Perez said the latest rape was April 13 and remains under investigation.

Allred said the college needs to take a "zero tolerance" approach with students the college determines had nonconsensual sex with another student.

Asked about the zero tolerance stance, Tranquada on Thursday presented The Times with a policy that says the college in sexual conduct cases can impose "sanctions, ranging from a warning to permanent separation from the college, depending on the severity of the offense."

Senior Carly Mee said she was raped as a freshman. She reported the incident to the college. But for reasons that are not clear, she did not report it to police.

She said a university panel found the alleged perpetrator responsible and initially expelled him. But he appealed and now will be able to re-enroll once she graduates in May.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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