Author: Soo Jin Kim
One in four college women surveyed were victims of rape, according to Robin Warshaw’s report I Never Called it Rape. 42 percent of these women tell no one about their assault. Taking into account such staggering statistics, what is Oxy doing to prevent sexual assault and support student survivors?
The College has a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault and rape. The on-campus organization Project SAFE (Sexual Assault-Free Environment) provides information and support to those who have been sexually assaulted or harassed. Designated College Officers accept and investigate sexual harassment complaints. But is the College doing enough to inform its students of their options regarding sexual assault and harassment?
Project SAFE offers education and helps victims of abusive relationships, sexual assault, and harassment. The program’s website lists numbers for rape crisis hotlines and medical centers. The website also has a calendar featuring on-campus events to support survivors and inform the community about sexual assault.
Assistant Director of the Intercultural Community Center Nadia Palacios supervises the Project SAFE Program Assistants. She is confident in the College’s ability to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment and to support survivors.
“The College is committed to providing equal opportunity in education and employment and will not tolerate sexual harassment,” Palacios said. “To fulfill this commitment, the College must maintain an environment in which individuals are judged and rewarded solely on the basis of relevant factors such as ability, prior experience and accomplishments, effort and performance.”
Palacios said the College is attempting to wipe out discrimination of any kind, including sexual assault and harassment. She also noted that fostering a setting free of sexual assault is necessary for the College to maintain its commitment.
“The environment also must be one in which all employees and students can pursue their work and education free from coercion, intimidation and exploitation,” she said. “Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that undermines the community the College seeks to maintain. The College is dedicated to bringing about an end to sexual harassment by providing education, informal assistance in resolving situations and—where appropriate—a formal complaint process that includes disciplinary procedures.”
The College’s sexual assault policy outlines the steps to take if you have been sexually assaulted. It states that students should report sexual assault immediately to the LAPD. A student should receive medical attention as soon as possible, and seek support from organizations that specialize in counseling for sexual assault survivors.
The sexual assault policy also states that consent for sexual acts cannot be given if either person is intoxicated. According to Warshaw’s report, 90 percent of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol, and alcohol is a factor in 100 percent of gang rapes. The College’s policy specifically states that the use of alcohol or drugs “shall not diminish one’s responsibility to obtain consent and does not excuse conduct that constitutes sexual assault.”
The sexual harassment policy focuses on where to seek counsel, what constitutes sexual harassment and how the College educates students about sexual assault policy and prevention. Associate Dean of Students Jonathan O’Brien praises the policy. “[The policy is] very comprehensive and talks about proactive, educational, as well as supportive, investigative and punative actions.”
If harassment occurs, Designated College Officers (DCOs) handle the cases. DCOs are not officially listed. “All staff who work at the College are supposed to know this policy and direct the student to the appropriate DCO,” O’Brien said. “DCOs are trained to help and to know the policy well.”
This policy creates a situation where students may have to go through more than one faculty or staff member to reach a DCO.
Palacios explained the responsibilities of the these officers. “The DCOs are responsible for accepting all formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment, for investigating allegations of violations of this policy and for representing the College in formal hearings [. . .] and for providing documents to the Senior Administrator, the Hearing Panel and the President,” she said. “At the minimum, there will be six DCOs.”
Are faculty and staff prepared to handle sexual harassment claims? Rick Youngblood, the Director of Student Health Services at Emmons, said all faculty undergo a three-hour sexual harassment training session when they are hired. Youngblood also pointed out that Emmons offers counseling services. Oxy students are entitled to five free counseling sessions. Each session lasts about 50-55 minutes and is confidential. After those five visits, each additional visit costs $30.
What happens when a faculty member or staff member sexually harasses a student? The student can approach the DCOs, or get in contact with Richard Ledwin, the Director of Human Resources.
Ledwin said his job is to investigate claims and most of his claims concern non-student sexual harassment. Ledwin said sexual harassment can take many forms. Whereas sexual assault is a physical action, sexual harassment can be any range of behaviors such as winking, making crude remarks, whistling in a sexually suggestive manner and presenting lingerie as a gift.
Ledwin is legally obligated to investigate all claims brought to him. He must consider the setting of the harassment and the victim’s sense of being violated. While one person may feel that a hug is a friendly greeting, another may feel that personal boundaries have been crossed.
Once a person files a sexual harassment complaint, Ledwin is obligated to speak with the person who is being accused of harassment and warn him or her to stop such behavior. Should the harasser not comply, the case is reported to the Dean and the harasser is warned that he or she may be fired.
The institution has no legal obligations to defend the faculty. If sexual harassment is not dealt to the satisfaction of those involved, a student and even the College can sue the individual harasser.
The College is trying to better equip the campus with resources to make students feel safe. According to Project SAFE, Campus Safety is working with the Facilities Department to provide adequate lighting on campus. Campus Safety also works to provide sufficient emergency phones on campus.
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and College Ombudsperson Diana Akiyama assists members of the Oxy community who experience problems relating to the College. As Ombudsperson, she is an independent facilitator and remains impartial when listening to the concerns of others. All conversations are confidential. Students may talk to her about personal matters at any level. Talks are unofficial, and she has no legal obligations to investigate any sexual harassment or assault claims. However, she is willing to act as a mediator during discussions in a meeting between a victim of sexual assault and the accused individual.
Oxy’s resources for students provide support and education about sexual assault and harassment. The key is knowing where to look.
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