Wednesday, May 22

Karishma Daibee: UCLA must improve handling of sexual misconduct cases

Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin

Kelly Brennan/Daily Bruin

With alleged sexual predators walking freely both on campus and in the Oval Office, tensions surrounding women’s rights and sexual health are higher than ever.

The political rhetoric as of late has been saturated with debate over the utility of protesters “disrupting” Gabriel Piterberg’s class while the prospective effectiveness of a new systemwide Title IX coordinator is still up in the air. Consequently, many women on campus, especially sexual assault survivors, are feeling more targeted than ever – an issue only exacerbated by the fact that both the University of California and UCLA administrations don’t seem to sympathize with their concerns.

Instead of pitting students against one another by trying to silence their protests, the UC must provide a just and speedy trial to address any and all allegations of sexual assault, and enact a zero-tolerance policy for any staff member or student found to be in violation of sexual misconduct policies.

The UC system has an embarrassingly subpar record when it comes to dealing with sexual assault. Many times, it has neglected to try cases of sexual misconduct in court, and often has ruled in favor of the assailant when the cases have been tried. Recent data from eight UC campuses shows that from 2012 to 2015, only one-fourth of the 141 sexual assault allegations were investigated – meaning that at this rate, the investigations will be completed by 2027, allowing 11 more classes of students to graduate before the UC has the time to look into all of these cases.

On top of that, reports released early last year show that since 2011, 19 of UC Berkeley’s employees were found to have violated sexual misconduct policy. While these allegations were varied in their nature, seven of them involved sexual assault against UC students. When coupled with data from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center that says one in five women and one in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college, it becomes jarringly clear that the UC board needs to take stronger action to prevent sexual assault from taking place and to protect its survivors.

[ Related: The Quad: The ins and outs of Title IX procedures]

Though it is the most recent and visible to current UCLA students, the Piterberg situation is only one in a depressingly long series of sexual assault allegations being handled poorly by the UC. Just last year, UC Regent Norman Pattiz came under fire for sexual misconduct after the release of recordings in which he asked to fondle a coworker’s breasts. And disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the UC allowed a man of such unsavory moral character to continue serving on its board.

UCLA showed a similar lapse in judgement by meeting with Piterberg’s students to address the pressing issue of class disruption over student safety. Failure to seriously try these cases elucidates that the UC cares more for its own reputation and the protection of its tenured sexual predator than for the well-being of its students.

The UC system needs to operate like the United States judicial system when dealing with these kinds of cases – via a speedy, public trial held by competent committees that can deal with the issue. By refusing to prosecute or punish sexual assailants, the UC shows a disheartening lack of regard for its students and their safety. A zero-tolerance policy for any staff member or student found in violation of sexual misconduct policies can show the school board cares about our sexual health and safety beyond a superficial lecture about consent at orientation.

UCLA needs to prosecute any faculty member accused of something as serious as sexual assault, whether they are tenured or not, lest the UC sets the wrong precedent for such a grave matter. When it comes to sexual assault, “just once” is indeed too much. UCLA has a responsibility to keep us safe from its own employed staff, and confining Piterberg’s office hours to a glass box like a zoo animal is less a guarantee of student safety than it is a confirmation of the fact that Piterberg is unsafe to be around.

Futhermore, if UCLA is going to continue employing a man who sexually assaulted his students, the administration should at least inform his prospective students of these allegations by including warnings when students attempt to enroll in his classes. UCLA may claim that students should have seen Piterberg’s sexual assault case in the news and therefore should know better than to enroll in his class if they are uncomfortable with it, but this would be both untrue, as many students didn’t know about the allegations against their professor until they saw the protests, and uncouth, as it would essentially be blaming the victim.

Though the UC system has been touting its newly appointed Title IX coordinator, the administration’s plans have been vague and will be ineffective should the system refuse to prosecute further sexual assault cases. The administration may find it in its best interest to actually listen to the protesters’ concerns rather than try to threaten them with police presence or an “investigation” should things turn heated.

This is not political. This is about basic human rights. The women on this campus should feel safe and supported by their school, rather than have their classes taught by men with a history of sexual misconduct. When examining a history of the UC system’s handling – or mishandling – of sexual assault cases, it is clear that a new standard must be set against the toleration of any kind of sexual misconduct.

If this is such an immensely respected institution of higher learning, then our students deserve better treatment. World renown doesn’t mean anything in the face of students feeling unsafe or targeted by the school’s own staff or administration.

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Daibee was a columnist during the 2016-2017 school year.

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  • zaladbar

    You refuse to prosecute when there is not enough substantial evidence to do so. You can’t derail peoples careers and lives over an accusation.

    Why is everyone these days in college campuses obsessed with sexual issues? The entire greek life system is a giant form of sexual misconduct.