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Rape at Occidental College: Official Hush-Up Shatters Trust 

Thursday, Jun 27 2013
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That's not good enough for critics, who point to what happened last fall. "The term 'too pushy' came up," alleges Caroline Heldman, an assistant professor of sociology who was involved in Dirks' effort, in describing a September 2012 meeting with dean of students Avery. Heldman says Avery told her, "I admit my staff has been basically rejecting all of your ideas because faculty are too pushy on this issue."

At that time, the position of the school's brass appeared to be that the mostly female victims were exaggerating a sexual encounter they allowed to unfold, or wrongly describing aggressive sexual play during drinking.

Veitch tells the Weekly he's been giving the college's past handling of such incidents "a lot of thought. I think I was slow to respond initially. In truth, I thought I was doing the right thing."

click to flip through (4) PHOTO BY TED SOQUI - Occidental professor Danielle Dirks: "People have the idea this college is kind of idyllic."
  • PHOTO BY TED SOQUI
  • Occidental professor Danielle Dirks: "People have the idea this college is kind of idyllic."
     
 

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For many, that's a disturbing take on alleged sexual assault at this 125-year-old bastion of progressive thinking, which prides itself on its Presbyterian founders' liberal agenda and thirst for knowledge. The peaceful, 120-acre campus is lined with lush trees; a tranquil, green quad sits at its entrance. With about 2,100 students, the school is known for annual traditions such as a neighborhood birthday party and a water balloon fight pitting seniors against the college president.

Yet evidence suggests that officials' reluctance to take action on rape allegations allowed a criminal and social problem to become a crisis, creating potentially profound legal and political problems, and something equally foreign to Occidental — a permeating sense of distrust and unease.

When Carly Mee, now 22, finally decided in her junior year to report a sexual assault she says happened when she was a freshman, she says she was told that she was mistaken in thinking her assailant capable of rape.

"When I spoke to an administrator," she says, refusing to name the female official, "I said, 'I've been feeling really unsafe and worried that he will attack me again,' and she told me that she met with him and didn't feel like that was something he would do, so I didn't have to worry."

Mee's alleged assailant, incredibly, was the same male student who attacked Capranica. He was found by Occidental, in secret proceedings, to have been responsible for attacking Mee. The unidentified male, whom Mee refuses to publicly name out of fear, was suspended but not expelled.

"When I met with an administrator to ask why" he wasn't expelled, Mee says, "they said it was 'extraordinary circumstances,' and that it was a 'messy case.' "

Audrey Logan, now 22, mustered the courage in her sophomore year to report that she had been raped on two separate occasions in her freshman year — by a young man she considered a friend. She says the administration made repeated errors in handling her report, yet her assailant admitted he assaulted her.

"It wasn't a situation where someone says something happened and the other person says nothing happened and then they're trying to figure out who's telling the truth," Logan says. "It was an agreement on the events, and then the administration trying to figure out if that 'violated' the sexual-assault policy."

Logan's assailant was found by Occidental, in closed-door proceedings, to have attacked her. He was expelled. Logan refuses to name him publicly after, she says, having faced retaliation from her social circle for pursuing a case against him.

According to Logan, administrators asked her to consider a settlement that might allow her assailant to return to school. She refused.

"I felt like I personally cared more about the safety of this community than a lot of the administrators," she says.

Despite the recurrent themes in these cases, it wasn't until this February that brewing anger over complaints about sexual assault at Oxy came to a head. One night, while walking near campus, an Occidental student was raped. This time the incident wasn't stifled by Oxy's leaders or by a traumatized victim — it was reported to LAPD.

Rather than hear first from school officials about the attack, the campus community learned of the crime from CBS2 News. The local news channel reported that the incident occurred at about midnight on Feb. 24 in the 4900 block of Range View Avenue, which leads directly into campus. "People were upset," says Ryan Meltzer, a 21-year-old track and field athlete at Oxy. "Students were responding, [asking] how did the news get to this first?"

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