Students file complaints against UC Berkeley for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases

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Michael Drummond /Senior Staff

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Thirty-one current and former UC Berkeley students filed two federal complaints against the campus Wednesday for allegedly mishandling sexual assault and harassment cases, bolstering the nationwide movement to prevent incidents of sexual assault on college campuses.

The announcement came about nine months after nine students filed a federal complaint against UC Berkeley for allegedly discouraging survivors from reporting incidents of sexual assault and allegedly underreporting cases of sexual violence to the federal government, which is required under the Clery Act. At a press conference Wednesday morning, students said they have received no word about their complaint from the Department of Education, which can open investigations after students file Clery complaints.

“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 the press conference.

An additional 22 students joined the nine original students in filing a new Clery complaint Wednesday. The 31 students also filed a Title IX complaint with the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, which deals with Title IX compliance issues at colleges. Title IX, a federal law that was passed more than four decades ago, prohibits sex discrimination that interferes with educational activities or opportunities.

At the press conference, six of the 31 students shared their experiences of reporting sexual assault to campus officials. Recurring themes in their narratives included delayed and unsatisfactory responses from the campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and the Center for Student Conduct after opening cases. Some of the students said their assailants were permitted to stay on campus and graduate, sometimes receiving counseling or reflective writing assignments as punishment.

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

UC Berkeley sophomore Meghan Warner talked about the blame she faced from peers 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 press conference came on the heels of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ Tuesday announcement that the campus is providing additional resources for survivors of sexual assault. Among the new developments is the creation of the confidential survivor advocate position to help survivors navigate the reporting process, Dirks said in the statement.

Similarly, a new role within UCPD — the survivor resource officer — will aim to help survivors navigate the criminal reporting process. Dirks said the campus will also launch a new “one-stop website” in the coming months that will provide information about sexual misconduct.

“Our hearts go out to these students,” said campus spokesperson Claire Holmes. “We want to demonstrate that we’re putting in resources and that we care about our students.”

Students at Wednesday’s press conference were hesitant to praise the progress campus administrators are making.

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

At the state level, California’s auditor is investigating UC Berkeley and three other public universities to examine how they handle cases of sexual assault, with results slated for release in June.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.