Former UC Berkeley visiting professor accused of sex assault by then-graduate student

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Update 11/13/17: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from former UC Berkeley Title IX officer Frances Ferguson.

Franco Moretti, an Italian-born UC Berkeley visiting professor in the 1980s, is facing allegations of sexual harassment and rape by Kimberly Latta, a former campus graduate student.

In a Facebook post Sunday, Latta, a psychotherapist and writer, said when she was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in the 1980s, Moretti allegedly stalked, pressured and raped her in her Oakland apartment. Moretti also allegedly pushed her up against the wall and forcibly kissed and fondled her several times in his office, Latta said.

When she tried to resist Moretti’s alleged attempts in her apartment, Latta said he responded with, “Oh, you American women. When you say no, you mean yes,” before proceeding to allegedly rape her. Latta said she vividly remembers her mind dissociating from her body, which she said is a common response to trauma.

“I remember feeling like I was floating around on the ceiling and looking down and saying, ‘This isn’t happening to me,’ ” Latta said. “You can’t even be in your own body anymore.”

Moretti allegedly told Latta that graduate students slept with professors all the time in Italy. He also told her it was perfectly normal for him to expect Latta to sleep with him, Latta alleged.

Moretti, now a professor emeritus of English at Stanford University, confirmed in an email to The Daily Californian that he and Latta did meet 1985 in Berkeley, but he said the sex was “fully consensual.” He denied the allegations of rape.

Moretti added that he was “horrified by the accusation.”

“I was a visitor, with no prospect, back then, of ever being part of the American academy,” Moretti said in his email. “Unfortunately, I fear this (accusation) will have an enormous impact on colleagues, friends, and family.”

In the email, Moretti alleged that he and Latta saw each other several times afterwards and remained on good terms. Latta, however, alleged that in the three to four months after she was assaulted, Moretti continued to sexually harass her.

“I didn’t know how to say no,” Latta said. “I was ashamed of myself at the time for putting up with it. I was like, ‘Why am I allowing this to happen to me?’ ”

Latta said she tried to file a complaint with UC Berkeley’s Title IX office, but when she began to talk about her experiences, then-Title IX officer Frances Ferguson allegedly told Latta not to disclose the name of her assaulter. Ferguson allegedly discouraged Latta from filing a report, Latta said.

Ferguson, however, said in an email to the Daily Cal that she could not have written down Moretti’s full name in her notes unless Latta formally filed a Title IX complaint. According to Ferguson, it was standard policy for the Title IX office not to maintain records on accusations that had not been investigated.

If Latta had filed a formal complaint, Ferguson would have been authorized to call Moretti to her office to interview him and tell him about Latta’s allegations, according to Ferguson.

“I tried to maintain an impassive demeanor even when I heard distressing reports, because I didn’t want to jeopardize the possibility of having a later decision that the University legal counsel would throw out for bias,” Ferguson said in her email.

When Latta told Moretti about her conversation with Ferguson, he allegedly threatened to ruin her career and go after her with powerful lawyers if she pressed charges against him, according to Latta.

After her unsuccessful attempt to file a Title IX report, Latta said she left UC Berkeley. Many of the professors in the English department were friends with Moretti, according to Latta, which meant she couldn’t work with them.

Over the years, Latta said, she was informed of other women at other institutions who were also allegedly harassed by Moretti but were too afraid to come forward. Watching him rise to academic prominence, Latta said, left her feeling “powerless.”

According to Stanford spokesperson Ernest Miranda, Latta’s allegations about Moretti are “new” to the university. Miranda added that Stanford administration is “concerned” and in the process of determining “whether there are any actions for Stanford to take.”

UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that she could not comment on specific Title IX cases, but added that campus administration is “firmly committed” to this issue.

Senior staff writers Audrey McNamara, Chantelle Lee and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks also contributed to this report.

Contact Harini Shyamsundar and Ashley Wong at [email protected].