Not just ‘fraternity parties’: Suit against ex-Tang Center employee reveals wide range of sex misconduct, experts say

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A sexual harassment lawsuit filed Thursday by a UC Berkeley student against a former Tang Center employee and the UC Board of Regents raised concerns among the UC Berkeley community regarding recurring allegations of sexual misconduct on campus, particularly pertaining to employee misconduct.

The lawsuit was filed anonymously by a UC Berkeley student, who is referred to in the complaint as Justina Roe. The complaint alleged that Roe was sexually harassed and emotionally abused by former Tang Center employee Eric Samuels, who at the time of the alleged incident was a postdoctoral fellow at the clinic assigned to her case.

Samuels is a member of the LGBTQ Psychotherapist Association, according to his Psychology Today profile. The profile also states that he suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, a nervous system disorder that causes various forms of tics, including lack of impulse control.

Samuels declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus could not comment as of press time since it had not yet been served with a complaint. A UC spokesperson also could not be reached for comment as of press time.

John Winer, Roe’s attorney, said the case will go to trial in about a year and half if it is not settled. He alleged that the campus’s “serious problem” regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment stems from insufficient education, monitoring and hiring of employees.

“(Samuels) should’ve been instructed to maintain appropriate boundaries — that’s all part of the appropriate training for therapists,” Winer alleged.

Winer said he has been an attorney for more than 1,000 cases involving therapist abuse across California over the past 35 years.

The campus has been “trying to get (a) handle” on sexual harassment over the past year, according to Laura Nelson, a campus associate professor of gender and women’s studies. She said the campus has been focusing on education about sexual violence and increasing accessibility to resources for victims, but she added that she is uncertain as to the effectiveness of the campus’s measures.

“To be really honest, I think that violence will happen at some rate in all human societies, but I think that as communities we can make things much less likely by increasing awareness and changing cultures and changing structures that facilitate abuse,” Nelson said. “I’m hoping that what the university has been working toward will be effective.”

Nelson said there are no concrete statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual misconduct involving medical professionals, making it difficult to determine how often such incidents occur.

“All of us, I think, would say that most medical professionals are unlikely to engage in (sexual misconduct),” Nelson said. “But the impact of it when it does happen is probably extremely devastating because of the vulnerability of patients in that context.”

Kim Thuy Seelinger, director of the Sexual Violence Program at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Human Rights Center, expressed concern about patients’ vulnerability. She said in an email that healthcare providers should be aware of their potential to do harm.

“This is clearly not just about sexual assault at fraternity parties or inappropriate advances by professors,” Seelinger said in an email. “We also need to look at all areas of staffing, including those working in support services.”

Campus senior Rosa Kwak, an ASUC senator last year, said her office organized the Sexual Violence Conference in April, a discussion about sexual violence that brought together various student groups on campus. She said that when she was a senator, the ASUC tended to show solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct through bills in statement of support. ASUC, she said, aims to ensure that various student groups can “make noise on campus” and “make their frustration visible.”

Based on her personal experience, Kwak said she believes a bill about Roe’s case will be raised or at least discussed at upcoming ASUC Senate meetings.

Kwak added that while the lawsuit saddens her, it does not surprise her because of the number of sexual harassment allegations that arise among campus students each year. Last spring, The Daily Californian obtained hundreds of pages of documents that revealed 124 cases of sexual misconduct across the UC system between 2013-16.

“I think it’s really hard and tiring to hear consistent stories where UC Berkeley tries to be the front-runner when it comes to handling sexual violence and sexual assault cases. But every year there’s cases,” Kwak said. “There is sort of a disconnect when it comes to different actions and initiatives to combat this.”

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.

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  • anon

    This article is utterly unacceptable. In our society, the standard of justice requires that the accused is presumed innocent until guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Congratulations on taking a man’s reputation and running it through the mud before he has had an opportunity to defend himself.

    I will reiterate what I said in the original article about this story:

    “https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/4063318-SexHarassmentLawsuit-TangCenter.html

    The full complaint document is linked above. I think that this article misrepresents the nature of the complaint. Is it so unusual for a therapist to ask about things of a sexual nature, or to drill down on areas that patients become especially defensive or anxious about? How can a patient who describes her father as having frequently invaded her privacy be treated if she is caused permanent damage when her clinician asks her questions that he thinks may be relevant? Suppose that the clinician is innocent of wrongdoing. Even if the complaint is ultimately dismissed, the complaint in and of itself could permanently damage his reputation.

    Was it worth it?”

    What a disgrace.

  • Curious Anna

    This is a one-sided article the Daily Cal should be ashamed of.

    If you read the original complaint — included in the first Daily Cal article about this case — it mentions that the Title IV investigation into this issue was closed in January 2017. Daily Cal reporters, please do your job — Is there anyway to find out what resolution it was closed as? You seem to be assuming guilt in this article, you are going against the American fundamental right of “innocent until proven guilty”. Samuels did finish his year fellowship at UC Berkeley, so the most logical conclusion is that the investigation was closed without finding him guilty. Wouldn’t that be relevant information to include in your article? Title IX investigations found other professionals and professors at UC Berkeley guilty, and they were then reprimanded or fired. There’s no indication that happened here, in contrast to the other cases. I’m not saying that the closure of a Title IX investigation proves definite innocence, but is is ***certainly very relevant information that has been left out of this article***!

  • flashsteve

    I’ve known two people with Tourette’s, one was my grandfather decades’s ago, and the other is a 45-year old neighbor now. I also used to be a therapist. I’m not saying it is impossible, but it is difficult for me to understand how someone with that syndrome could function as a therapist. Both of the people that I knew would spontaneously curse, or mumble, or rant unpredictably. I understand the syndrome, so am not threatened by it. But, a regular person, particularly one who is seeking mental health counseling, would not, and should not, be expected to be empathetic and or understanding, when the reason that they are with the therapist is to get help for themselves. I admit I do not all the facts in this case.

    • Curious Anna

      I think you are making a lot of assumptions. Only only 10% of people diagnosed with Tourettes curse, for most the presentation is milder.

      • flashsteve

        You’re correct. I am no expert in this field. I have known several other people who had the milder manifestations, usually just a tic or impulsive behavior. On further thought, I’m wondering why his diagnosis is even public knowledge at this point.