College Sexual Harassment, Assault, Takes Center Stage at Start of School Year

Nearly a dozen current and former students at Occidental College have reached a settlement with the school’s top brass following a federal complaint alleging the school had improperly handled allegations of on-campus sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Anaheim sexual harassment attorneys had been closely watching the developments of this case, as several similar cases throughout the country prompted federal authorities with the U.S. Department of Education to issue a controversial “blueprint” for campus sexual harassment policies.

With the new school year now underway, Occidental and a number of other higher education institutions have overhauled their response to complaints of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

USA Today reported last month on ongoing federal investigations of sexual assault and harassment negligence at a number of universities.

One example given occurred at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. In one instance, a junior reported sexual harassment by a fellow student. The administrator reportedly responded by repeatedly asking what the victim had done to provoke the male student and then laughed when she told the administrator that her aggressor had broken into her dorm room. Other school officials reportedly told her she was overreacting.

Still under federal investigation and intense public scrutiny, Swarthmore has enacted a host of new policies, which include the addition of a new administrator who will serve as an advocate for victims of sexual harassment and violence, as well as on online training course for students and staff on how allegations of sexual misconduct should be handled.

In Connecticut, students from Southern Connecticut State University held a rally last week, demanding the removal of a music professor accused of sexual harassment of a female student. In a lawsuit filed by the 2012 graduate, it is alleged that the professor called her “sexy” and made sexual advances toward her when the two were alone in a windowless storage room, as he blocked the only exit. The professor remains employed at the school, while some 2,100 signatures demanding his dismissal have been collected.

The complainant in that case said that when she reported the incident to school administrators, they kept asking if she was sure she wanted to file a complaint and reportedly attempted to dissuade her from such action.

At Occidental, the total number of complaints has reached about 50, with some of those made by faculty members. A federal investigation is set to begin soon, despite the confidential financial settlement agreement reached with some of the current and former students who had complained. The complainants had indicated that the college purposely discouraged students from reporting sexual assaults, misled students about their rights during campus-led investigations of such crimes and retaliated against those who blew the whistle when the college fumbled handling of the cases.

Some have deemed Occidental a “hostile learning environment.” The students who settled are barred from speaking publicly about their cases.

Although awareness of these issues has increased, the problems have yet to subside. Victims of on-campus sexual harassment, either by teachers or fellow students, should know that it is not something which they must endure. Contact an experienced sexual harassment attorney to help you learn more about your rights.

Victims of sexual harassment in Orange County may contact Houman Fakhimi trial attorney at (888) 529-2188.

Additional Resources:
Occidental College settles with students in sexual assault case, Sept. 18, 2013, By Jason Felch and Jason Song, The Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
College Adviser Sexual Harassment Alleged by Student, July 10, 2013, Anaheim Sexual Harassment Lawyer Blog

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