Occidental College Rape Coverup Deserves More Than a Lawsuit

Occidental College ("Oxy"), a private liberal arts school in Los Angeles, is currently embroiled in a lawsuit regarding their, erm, lax punishments for students found guilty of sexual misconduct on campus. More general legal information on the case can be found on PolicyMic, but the general gist is that 37 female students, faculty, and alumni came together to file a 250-page federal complaint against the school for its failure to take proper action against sex crimes including improperly reporting incidents and actively covering up rape. When students were found guilty of sexual misconduct, punishments included writing a five-page book report and letters of apology. 

Jim Tranquada, Director of Communications for the college, said Occidental "takes this issue very seriously, and will not tolerate sexual misconduct." He did concede, however, that "Oxy has more work to do."

That's kind of an understatement.

Occidental's lawsuit comes at the tail-end of an April 1 complaint against the school under the Clery Act and criticism this February by women who came forward to describe flaws in the reporting process for assault. According to a timeline compiled by the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition, the suit also comes after six years of repeated attempts to get the administration to act on issues of rape and violence: these include forums and presentations, administrative and task force meetings, and student-driven activism. Caroline Heldman, Chair of the College Politics department at Occidental, said since filing the complaint she saw more action from the administration than she had in those six years.

The lack of collective action on Occidental's campus and within their administration is illegal. According to Title IX, "discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment, rape, and sexual assault," and when schools knowingly ignore sexual harassment or assault they can thereby be held responsible in court no matter who the perpetrator in the case was (as long as they're under the jurisdiction of the university community).

However, the phenomena of rape on campus is not new or unfamiliar, and neither are the structures and obstacles which keep it in place. I've written previously on the barriers that exist to keeping campuses rape-free, both of the monetary and cultural variety. Those obstacles exist at Oxy, and are exemplified not only by their history of brushing the problem under the rug but in their verbatim text of their sexual assault policy, which addresses sexual misconduct directly but fails to address amnesty and emergency care and completely overlooks education on the policy or resources for women facing the rape epidemic on their campus head-on. The U.S. Department of Education recommends educating on resources and policies as part of policy statements for police and educators working on college campuses.

The rapes which occurred and were not prosecuted at Occidental College were crimes. The failure of the administration to act accordingly to those crimes was an equally serious crime. Every time. And the allowance of a rape epidemic on campuses across the United States is a crime committed against us every day. None of these things are wrong because of Title IX or the Clery Act. They're wrong because rape is a crime against humanity, and college is supposed to be the beginning of someone's life. 

In order for Occidental to see change in their campus culture, they need more than a polished reporting system. They need educational programs and a larger dialogue, not to mention a quick-to-act and conscientious staff and administration willing to take action against harmful behaviors and a culture that endangers a majority of undergraduates in America. And once they're done fixing their internal culture one which knowingly perpetuates a broken system of victim shaming and rape apology they need to show rapists more meaningful consequences for their actions than book reports and summer semester suspensions.

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Carmen Rios

Carmen splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower-picking. You can read more of her work at Autostraddle and THE LINE Campaign blog (where she also serves as Managing Editor).

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