Students file charges against campus alleging mishandling of sexual assaults

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Nine UC Berkeley students have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that UC Berkeley violated federal regulations on the handling of sexual assault.

The complaint, filed Wednesday, alleges that the university discouraged sexual assault survivors from reporting incidents to local authorities, failing to notify the campus community of immediate threats to their health and safety and persistently underreporting sexual battery, sexual assault and rape.  If found to be in violation of the allegations, the campus could be fined $35,000 for every offense.

UC Berkeley students filed complaints under the Clery Act in coordination with students from Swarthmore College, Dartmouth College and the University of Southern California at a press conference with women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing students at USC and Occidental College.

UC Berkeley students Sofie Karasek and Anais LaVoie, among the students filing the charges, have agreed to speak on behalf of their fellow complainants.

“For over a year, we have asked campus staff and administrators to take our bodies, our voices and our rights seriously,” LaVoie said in a press release. “We can no longer wait for action, because we’ve learned throughout this process that it isn’t coming.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said the campus has not yet reviewed the complaint and, as a result, is unable to comment directly on the issue.

“UC Berkeley takes sexual assault very seriously, and we are constantly working to strengthen our efforts to prevent such acts from occurring and to thoroughly report and investigate such matters when they arise,” Gilmore said. “We also seek to ensure that students receive the counseling and the support services they need when coping with such a difficult ordeal.”

According to the 2012-13 UC Berkeley Campus Annual Security Report, a total of 21 forcible sexual assault incidents as defined by the Clery Act were reported in 2011 — compared to only 4 in 2010. However, Timofey Semenov, student advocate-elect, says that this rate may be inaccurate because reported incidents may have happened in earlier years.

Enacted in 1990, the Clery Act requires colleges and universities participating in federal financial aid programs to disclose information about crimes that happen on or near campuses.

Once complaints are filed, the U.S. Department of Education assigns an investigation team to the campus in question to examine and review the school’s programs. According to Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, these investigations can take years to be completed.

In April, Yale University was fined $165,000 by the Department of Education for violations of the Clery Act after a seven-year investigation.

Karasek hopes that filing the charges will encourage the campus to reform many of its policies, including ones spelled out in the ASUC bill SB 130, which was passed in April and expresses no confidence in UC Berkeley sexual assault policies.

Karasek says she was sexually assaulted her freshman year by a student leader who also assaulted four of her peers. After reporting the incident to the campus, she was not notified until seven months later that there had even been an investigation.

According to Karasek, she received two three-line emails from the administration regarding the incident — one explaining that the case had been solved through the “early resolution” process and the second saying that her assailant had been found to be in violation of the code of conduct without specifying whether disciplinary action had been taken.

Her assailant graduated from the university two weeks later, making him exempt from any further disciplinary action.

“Contrary to its amazing reputation for social justice, Berkeley has a history of silencing survivors,” Karasek said. “This is unacceptable, and the time for change is now.”

Andrea Guzman is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and on Twitter @guzmanandrea5.