In a recent article in Bloomberg, Occidental College alumni Carly Mee and Leah Capranica discussed their struggle to navigate their administration’s policies and procedures regarding sexual assault after both women were raped by the same male student in 2009 and 2010. The women filed separate complaints with the college after they discovered they had both been assaulted by the same person.
When confronted by school officials, the accused student admitted to assaulting Capranica. He was put on probation and was required to write a book report on sexual assault as punishment. The student denied raping Mee, but was found guilty by a panel of three trained campus officials of assaulting Mee on two separate occasions — once after a party and a second time when he forced himself into her dorm room — and was expelled.
Scarily, the student will be returning to campus this December so long as he successfully writes a second book report on sexual assault.
Although both Mee and Capranica will have graduated before the student’s return, the now-alumni are concerned about the safety of other women on campus. Upon learning that the student would return this upcoming winter, a third woman came forward to the Occidental Sexual Assault Coalition and stated that she had also been assaulted by the former student and that he had been found responsible by the college.
Given that the majority of sexual assaults on college campuses go unreported due to numerous, complicated factors, the fact that the administration of Occidental College knows about a serial rapist and is allowing him back on campus is horrifying. Unfortunately, Occidental probably isn’t the only college allowing a serial rapist to walk their campus. In a 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul M. Miller, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” the researchers found that at a mid-sized, urban commuter university the actions of 120 male students met criteria for rape or attempted rape. And, of these 120 students, 76 — or 63.3% — committed rape more than once.
Many colleges and universities are unprepared to handle accusations of rape and sexual assault due to weak sexual assault policies that fail to clearly outline student safety rights and disciplinary procedures, the framing of a violent crime as a disciplinary infraction in existing sexual assault policies, uneducated administrators or student-led honor courts taking on the roles of judge and jury, and blurry town-gown relations that discourage students and administrators alike from involving local law enforcement.
While Occidental’s sexual assault policy does provide students with information on how to report a sexual assault, grievance and appeal procedures, and the investigation process into sexual assault allegations, the College grants itself the permission to “impose different sanctions” on known violent perpetrators at the administration’s discretion, which leaves students and alumni with little recourse to prevent a known rapist from being permitted back on campus by administrators.
Yale is currently facing a $165,000 Education Department fine for failing to report campus sexual assaults in 2001 and 2002, and students from Swarthmore College, UNC Chapel Hill, Dartmouth College, University of California-Berkeley, and University of Southern California have either already filed or are in the process of filing Title IX and Clery Act violations against their administrations.
Colleges and universities could avoid these filings if they committed to providing students with strong sexual assault policies that clearly outline student rights (for both accusers and the accused), written procedures for when an accusation is made, and written minimum disciplinary actions based on the severity of the crime(s) committed. And, of course, if the administrations actually implemented their policies when an accusation arose.
"Over the last few months especially, we've seen the extent to which many college and university sexual assault policies are failing their students,” says Selena Shen, Chair of the Board of Directors of SAFER Campus, a national rape and sexual assault prevention organization that fights sexual assault by empowering students to reform college sexual assault policies.
"In having strong policies that are established not only by the administration, but also by the students, schools practice the accountability and transparency that they preach. It is undeniable that a robust sexual assault policy benefits and strengthens the campus community as a whole."
By allowing a known serial rapist to return to campus this upcoming December simply because his victims have graduated, Occidental is failing to provide its students with the level of safety and security they deserve. While colleges can’t gaze into a crystal ball and prevent crimes before they occur, they can minimize the number of violent crimes that occur by refusing to readmit known serial rapists.