Calif. College Betrays Own Sexual Assault Policy


Earlier this year a coalition of students and faculty at my institution, Occidental College in Los Angeles (an alma mater of President Obama), convinced the administration to make several changes to its sexual assault policy. One of these changes involved adding sexual assault reports to our OxyAlert system.  This meant that any time there was a report of a sexual assault, the college community would receive an email saying so, just as we now get alerts of all other crimes that are reported to have occurred in the vicinity.  The administration agreed to do this.

Last week the students learned of a report of a sexual assault secondhand (from the media), simultaneously discovering that the administration had declined to send out an OxyAlert in response.  Considering this a betrayal of their agreement, the students organized a marchpetition and Tumblr.

In response, the president of Occidental College, Jonathan Veitch, wrote a letter to the campus community. In it, he confirms what the students of Occidental fear: He is inclined to disbelieve students who report sexual assault.  He writes that OxyAlerts in cases of reports of sexual assault are not “possible or desirable” because:

In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.

By suggesting that “incidents like these” need vetting, Veitch is reproducing a bias against sexual assault victims that feminists have been trying to eradicate for decades.  He is saying that sexual assault reports must be “sort[ed] through,” but reports of all other crimes can be taken at face value.  In other words, there is nothing wrong with the OxyAlert system per se–he just doesn’t think that women who report sexual assaults should not necessarily have access to it. This is unacceptable.

In fact, all crimes can be falsely reported. The sparse research about sexual assault crime reporting is inconclusive: Some finds that sexual crimes are more often reported falsely, some finds less.  So Veitch is on shaky ground in suggesting that the college has a right to treat reports of sexual assault as hypothetical.  Moreover, the OxyAlert system is not judge and jury.  In all cases—whether it informs the community about a mugging, a stolen car or a sexual assault—it simply states that there has been a report.

While I will admit that sexual assault is often complicated, this is a very black-and-white issue.  Sexual assault is a crime, Occidental has a system for alerting people to reports of crime, so when a person reports the crime of sexual assault that report should be included in this system.  To do otherwise is to allow college policy to be driven by the belief that women are uniquely untrustworthy and prone to malicious lies.  That is bias against women, plain and simple.

Crossposted from Sociological Images


  1. Shawna Alpdemir says:

    Students need to be aware of danger, whether it is in the form of an individual with a gun, a natural disaster, or a rapist. It is always better to be wary of danger and take that extra precaution of spreading news, than to ignore reports of danger and risk having other students fall victim.

  2. Why should this campus refuse to provide its students with alerts related to reports of sexual assault? Why treat those differently from any other type of crime report? There can only be one reason: Oxy doubts the reports of those who claim to have been sexually assaulted or threatened in a way it doesn’t doubt the reports of those who claim theft or other crimes, because it doesn’t take their word for it but subscribes to the notion that women frequently lie about sexual assault. It probably assumes that many of the cases reported are “date rapes” that took place as a result of “crossed signals.” Well, even if they are, why should the campus not be informed of them? Don’t students have a right to know if someone is overstepping boundaries and not taking no for an answer? Why is there still that line of demarcation between this form of violence and others, and why is the victim still doubted or blamed?

  3. While I agree with everything that was said in the article in general, I couldn’t help but notice that you that this was a bias against women. I’d like to point out that, even though we might not hear about it as often, men can become sexual assault victims, too. While I believe that the president’s comment is extremely innapropriate and biased, and, according to statistics, this inaction on the University’s part does put more women than men in danger, I just wanted to point out that, by saying that “this is a bias against women”, you seem to expressing another bias- the idea that only women can become sexual assault victims.

    • I think people need to start taking rape seriously. Less than 1% of rapes are falsely reported. I agree with yo that there is somewhat of a bias, however, the age old stereotypes placed upon women like their weak, their stupid, they lie, they only want attention, causes this separation to happen.

  4. Heather says:

    Nat – proportionately, sexual violence is a crime committed by men against women. Around 20% of women will be subjected to sexual violence by men. Around 5% of men commit the vast majority of all sexual offences, about 6 attacks each.
    In contrast, about 3% of men will be victims. Around 1 in 10 victims are male.
    Virtually all perpetrators are men.

    It serves no useful purpose to treat this as if it is a gender neutral problem. It clearly isn’t.

  5. I applaud the work of both Lisa Wade and Caroline Heldman with the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition — their resource page is exceptional: Also, feminist faculty may want to consider applying for a federal grant, “”to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program”:

  6. A mugging is a little more straightforward than a he-said-she said date-rape situation.

  7. The abuse and injustice you described in the article are an all too common pattern and pracitce of evil used by big corporations and corrupt government agencies:-(

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