Monday Morning Thoughts: Rape Case out of UCD Shows Administration Ill-Equipped to Handle Systemic Sexual Assault Issues

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Photo from Facebook event Page for “Rally Against Rape Culture”

These are the types of stories that bring down college administrations.  If it weren’t for two students in a University Writing Program (UWP) journalism course, this case would be unknown.  Across the country, cases of this sort have brought down university officials.

For instance, at Baylor University (Waco, Texas) an investigation a few years ago found, “There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct.”  They also found a “fundamental failure by Baylor” to implement Title IX or the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA).

The result was that highly successful football coach Art Briles was fired and Ken Starr, of Clinton-Lewinsky fame, was forced to step down as university president.

As reported in an article that appeared in The Aggie last week, a student, (named in the Aggie article, but we will not name her given the nature of the alleged crime), a fourth-year bio-psychology major who was newly-elected president of her sorority, during welcome week had a pre-organized party at a fraternity house.

She took shots with her friends downtown and then went to the party at Theta Xi.  At that point she blacked out and does not remember the rest of what happened that night.  However, the Aggie reports, “Through small flashes of memory and from what her friends told her, (the victim) pieced together that a Theta Xi brother who (the victim) was acquainted with had offered to walk her home from a bar in downtown Davis. Instead, he had walked her to his own apartment, which was significantly further than (the victim’s) place, and raped her.”

She reports being “unsure whether to report the assault, fearing (the) process could re-traumatize her.

“I just wanted to get a rape kit done, so at least I’d have some evidence in case I ever did want to report,” she said. “I just thought the reporting process was so strung out and long.”

The article reports that the students who have been sexually assaulted can report it to the school, the police, or both.  And most – if they choose to report it at all – report it to the school because it is a faster and less traumatic investigation.  Still, only about 10 percent report the crime.

The school cannot prosecute the perpetrators, only expel or suspend them.

Last year, the article claims that there were 110 reported cases of sexual violation.  “86 of those cases were closed due to insufficient information for an investigation by the Title IX Office. 10 cases resulted in suspension, and five in dismissal or termination.”

The Aggie reports that the victim sent a letter to her sorority.

“I was raped by a member of Theta Xi,” the letter read. “This was not and cannot possibly be the only instance of this occurring by the members of Theta Xi, and for those reasons, I have decided that we will be cutting off all ties to Theta Xi as a whole.”

The Aggie reports, “The letter was leaked to the Panhellenic Council, a panel of delegates from each member UC Davis sorority, and it soon sparked a Greek-wide boycott of all events involving Theta Xi.”

The key to the article: “The Greek community echoed (the victim’s) concerns by joining AXO in the boycott, but the university has taken little action to address the situation.”

The Aggie lays out that the major players in “a sexual assault investigation are Student Judicial Affairs, Title IX and Student Housing.”  The directors of each in separate accounts “all confirmed that there has never been a sexual assault case involving a fraternity, sports team or any student organization that has led to an investigation of the organization as a whole in connection with the assault over the span of their careers at UC Davis. The system has never found enough evidence in the investigation of an individual to suggest that their organization could be partially to blame for the assault.”

Under Title IX passed in 1972 by Congress, universities are now interpreted as required to investigate and resolve reports of rape.  That means determining whether classmates were responsible for the crime and what the punishment should be.

Colleges and universities are now on the hook if they do not handle reports promptly and fairly.  The Department of Education is charged with enforcing the law, and if reports are improperly handled, administrations may get blamed for violating the rights of victims and creating a hostile environment for learning.

The victim in this case made repeated attempts to get the university to investigate Theta Xi.  But Wendy Delmendo, the chief Title IX investigator for the university, explained to the Aggie that “due to the way the system is set up, the events surrounding a sexual assault are often investigated and disciplined in isolation, through different campus administrative organizations. So, even if a detailed report was filed suggesting that a frat’s use of alcohol at a party led to a sexual assault, the report would be investigated separately as a sexual assault by Title IX and an alcohol infraction through SJA.”

Meanwhile, Student Judicial Affairs made the decision to suspend the alleged rapist from the university for two and a half years.  The victim appealed the decision, wanting an increased sanction.

However, in May the university upheld the sanctions.

The Aggie reports that “there are specific factors that would warrant expulsion, including ‘use of force; a deliberate attempt to make someone incapacitated; whether there are multiple acts of sexual violence that occur over an extended period of time; non-compliance with a no-contact directive; or, presence of a weapon.’ Since the investigation did not find evidence of these factors in (this) case, (Donald) Dudley defended the initial discipline imposed by the university.”

“Donald Dudley said that he was basing the decision on previous cases, which kind of boggled my mind,” the victim said. “I was appalled at how you could rank a person’s rape.”

While IX has been interpreted as compelling the universities to handle sexual assault complaints should students file with the campus, many argue that the police rather than the university should be handling rape allegations.

A term that has sprung up is rape culture, defined by some as “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.”

In their petition to UC Davis administrators, the students point out, “Administrators have contributed to a culture in which survivors of sexual assault are genuinely afraid to come forth and report.”

In addition to asking for administrators and others to receive implicit bias training, the petition calls on changing the process of reporting sex crimes to “put the survivor in the least possible discomfort and retraumatization.”

They note, “Janet Napolitano’s 2014 victim centered interviewing reform made some progress in this field, but this work continues to fall short. It is unacceptable that survivors should ever be made to feel attacked and uncomfortable when they are brave enough to come forward. As a reminder: a sex crime is the fault of no one but the person who chooses to commit a sex crime.”

They also call on UC and Title IX to “track and document the organizations associated with sexual assaults and sex criminals. Numbers should be tracked on all reported crimes, even those without enough evidence to substantiate an investigation.”

Some will argue with the idea of tracking complaints that cannot be substantiated, but, from their perspective, if there is a pattern of complaints in a given organization, that also might be telling.

Therefore, “Organizations facing multiple sexual assault accusations must be faced with consequences and held accountable for creating a culture in which sex crimes can occur. Data must be collected and be used to create tiered consequences and systems of accountability for organizations whose members have perpetrated sexual assault.”

Furthermore, they argue, “Consequences for sex crimes must match the severity of the crime. The use of minimum sentences for sex crimes that the university agrees occurred is unacceptable. A two year suspension is not remotely adequate consequence for a sex crime that will affect the survivor for the rest of their life. Expulsions should be a common and accepted consequence for perpetrating sexual assault.”

A lot of these are reasonable requests in light of this specific incident. With better data collection, it is possible to find out whether specific organizations have a “rape culture” and to take reasonable steps to address it.

With the university refusing to look into the more systemic allegations, plus unwilling to institute a more appropriate punishment, confidence at this time would seem to be low.

The university needs to take steps to remedy this situation immediately, or this case has the potential to blow up nationally.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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6 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: Rape Case out of UCD Shows Administration Ill-Equipped to Handle Systemic Sexual Assault Issues”

  1. Tia Will

    I write the following with some trepidation that it may be construed as a defense of “rape culture” which it most certainly is not. I agree whole heartedly with the statement “a sex crime is the fault of no one but the person who chooses to commit a sex crime.”

    However, there are two persons rights and lives involved in any determination of whether or not a “sex crime” has actually occurred. So what I would like to focus on is risk reduction for both parties involved when there is the possibility of mixing alcohol with sex:

    1. Decide in advance of any alcohol whether or not sex will be a part of your evening. If you decide against that, choose a designated buddy. The two of you will stay together throughout the evening regardless of who seems too nice to do you any harm or offers to take you home. That is what telephone #s are for.

    2. Decide at what point you will have consumed enough alcohol and you are done. Preferably long before you are at the point of significantly lowered inhibitions. If your inhibitions are down, it is likely his or hers are too. If you are slurring words, uncoordinated or not making sense or understanding others fully, you are done and your buddy needs to reel you in and take you home, not pass you off to a relative unknown.

    3.  Mostly for guys but can be for anyone. If the object of your interest is obviously drunk, do not go anywhere alone with them. If you are genuinely worried about them, call an Uber or Lyfte. This isn’t the time to decide that she wants sex as much as you do once you get her home. Get her number. This can be a time of misunderstanding fraught with the possibility of a rape accusation if she cannot remember what occurred or does not recall having given consent.

    4. Ladies, if you cannot remember what happened, it is going to look to some as though you probably consented and will be loath to ruin a young man or woman’s life based on what you cannot recall.

    5. Everyone’s actions are their own responsibility. The perpetrator of a sex crime is 100% responsible for that act. What is often overlooked is that the setting that leads to the opportunity for that act is preventable in most circumstances not involving abduction and forcible rape. This should never be thrown in the face of a victim after the fact. However, I wish that every young man and woman would understand the possible life destroying consequences of their irresponsible choices before they walk out the door of their room. As an Ob/Gyn, I have seen many variations of both true and later recanted accusations. I have often heard ” I don’t remember what happened”. My bottom line to avoid all of the sometimes truly awful consequences is simple. Plan your evening before you go out and stick with your plan.

  2. Jim Hoch

    My question is why should the university be involved here. Quasi-judicial proceedings would have a place in allegations that are not criminal, such as plagiarism. For an allegation like this the police would seem to be the appropriate venue.

    1. David Greenwald

      The clear answer is that they are required to under current application of Title IX.

      The second answer is that perhaps they shouldn’t but that would take legislative changes.

        1. David Greenwald

          Under Title IX passed in 1972 by Congress, universities are now interpreted as required to investigate and resolve reports of rape.  

          What that means, you’ll need to research

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