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College shelved more assault reports

Occidental failed to disclose at least 27 other allegations of sex crimes, a Times review finds.

December 07, 2013|Jason Felch

Occidental College's underreporting of sexual assault allegations was far more extensive than campus officials have acknowledged, according to documents, interviews and a Times review of two confidential federal complaints against the school.

In October, the college said it had failed to disclose two dozen sexual assault allegations made by students in 2010 and 2011, a potential violation of federal law. At the time, officials said their revisions represented a complete accounting of the assault cases.

A Times review found 27 additional sexual assault allegations made in 2012 that have not been disclosed. Dozens more may have been ignored by the dean of students' office since 2009 because they were made anonymously, records and interviews showed.


EDITOR'S NOTE:

A front-page article in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 7, 2013, was incorrect in reporting that Occidental College failed to disclose 27 alleged sexual assaults that occurred in 2012.

The article ("College shelved more assault reports") dealt with Occidental's obligations under the federal Clery Act, which requires schools to publish statistics annually on reported crime on or near campus.

Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law's disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.

Some were not sexual assaults as defined by the Clery Act. Rather, they involved sexual harassment, inappropriate text messages or other conduct not covered by the act. Other alleged incidents were not reported because they occurred off-campus, beyond the boundaries that Occidental determined were covered by the act. Some occurred in 2011, and the college accounted for them that year.

Subsequent Times articles published Dec. 20 in the LATExtra section and Jan. 23 in Section A repeated the original error regarding the alleged underreporting of sexual assaults.

The Times regrets the errors in the articles.

Separately, as they began looking into the complaint, Times editors learned from the author of the articles, staff writer Jason Felch, that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with someone who was a source for the Dec. 7 story and others Felch had written about Occidental's handling of sexual assault allegations. Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles.

Times Editor Davan Maharaj dismissed Felch on Friday. Maharaj said the inappropriate relationship with a source and the failure to disclose it earlier constituted "a professional lapse of the kind that no news organization can tolerate."

He added: "Our credibility depends on our being a neutral, unbiased source of information in appearance as well as in fact."


FOR THE RECORD:

Occidental College assaults: An article in the Dec. 7 Section A about Occidental College's failure to report sexual assaults stated that college President Jonathan Veitch told the campus newspaper he had met with an alleged assailant and decided the student did not pose an ongoing threat. A campus spokesman said Veitch's staff, not Veitch, met with the student.


In other cases, administrators actively discouraged victims from filing reports, according to the complaints reviewed by The Times. "Are you sure you really want to go through with this?" Associate Dean of Students Erica O'Neal Howard told one student who said she was raped last February, according to the complaint. "It is a really long and hard process, and it may cause you more pain and suffering."

Top administrators -- including the college's president, dean of students and former general counsel -- are accused in the complaints of suppressing assault reports, retaliating against those who raised concerns and, in one case, attempting to organize a group of male athletes to rebuff administration critics.

The complaints were filed last spring by dozens of students and faculty members at the small liberal arts college in Eagle Rock. They sparked Department of Education probes into alleged violations of the Clery Act, which requires campuses to disclose all reports of serious crime, and Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination law.

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A national debate

The federal investigations come amid a national debate over how administrators deal with sexual assault reports. Dozens of campuses across the country, including USC and UC Berkeley, have been the subject of similar complaints. Several of them have been organized by Know Your IX, a group of activists who have used social media to raise awareness about victims' rights and colleges' obligations under the law.

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