UC sexual assault cases expose university’s apathy toward victims

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Jimmy Lai/HIGHLANDER

A scathing report published Feb. 28 by UC Berkeley’s Daily Cal reveals at least 124 cases filed over the past three years involving University of California employees’ violations of the UC sexual violence and harassment policy. Documents obtained by the Daily Cal further detail the extent of this problem, showing repeated occurrences of unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate comments and physical assaults, spanning from Jan. 1, 2013, to April 6, 2016. Astonishingly, about a third of these violators remain employed by the UC system.

Perhaps beyond all else it is that last line which presents the largest problem. Not only do these documents affirm the long-suspected fact that sexual misconduct is a rampant issue among UC campus culture but it, as it appears, is a culture allowed to persist courtesy of the lax repercussions handed down to violators by university officials and poor measures in place to discourage such acts from the outset.

For example, UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Sujit Choudhry was one of 19 Berkeley employees revealed in an April 2016 report by the Daily Cal to have violated the sexual misconduct policy since 2011. Documents showed that Choudry repeatedly kissed and hugged his executive assistant Tyann Sorrell in their time working together. As a result of Choudry’s unwelcome advances, Sorrell’s physical and mental health began to deteriorate, which ultimately caused her work performance to decline.

Choudry’s punishment, meanwhile? He was forced to write an apology letter to Sorrell and attend counseling. His salary was docked 10 percent for one year and he lost his position as dean, but he remains a tenured faculty member on campus. Sorrell remained on administrative leave before returning to campus in November of 2016 to alleged retaliation from campus administrators. Evidently, the severity of Choudry’s punishment is not equivalent with the amount of distress Sorrell has suffered.

This case and the university’s response is just a microcosm of the system’s poor handling of sexual violence claims throughout campuses.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency given to such occurrences from a university system which is proud of its diverse and inclusive campus culture is significantly troubling. Sure, there is a potential downside to exposing the cases, potentially further traumatizing the victims who brought them forward. However, to continue to sweep such cases under the rug provides absolutely no closure for said victims and no awareness of the threats that exist on campus.

Nevertheless, the university continues to make such transparency difficult through its bureaucratic filing system. As it stands, when a sexual assault case is filed by a student, it has to go through a plethora of different levels for review, which dramatically slows things down and allows cases to be ignored or forgotten. When it probably takes six months to handle a case (which will probably end unfavorably for the victim anyway), that is a lot of time to prepare countermeasures to make the situation less bad for the accused and to maintain the image of the university.

What the rampant rate of these acts further expose is the lack of measures in place to inform and enforce a campus environment. It is important and fair to recognize that sexual misconduct is not solely a UC problem, but one persistent within broader society, sure. This, however, does not excuse the UC from allowing these instances to continue.

Beyond not having measures in place to be quick and responsive to reported sexual violations (which, without repercussions, there is little fear instilled in perpetrators), the system apparently lacks measures to properly inform on the dangers of sexual misconduct.

In order to at least lower the incidence of sexual misconduct cases, the UC system needs to implement harsher sets of penalties for the perpetrators when they are found to be culpable. Obviously, there are different degrees of sexual misconduct, so there is no one-size-fits-all penalty that should be put in place. For less severe cases (i.e. not felony-level crimes), punishments ranging from docked pay to loss of tenure (when applicable) are appropriate; for felonies, anyone affiliated with the university — in any capacity — must be fired, without exception. This is the only way that the UC system can demonstrate that they truly support the victims and are willing to sacrifice prestige for justice for these victims.

Furthermore, the UC system should take an active role in aiding the recovery of those victims which it has so often ignored. At the very least, irrespective of the severity of the trauma, the UC should bend over backward to provide any emotional or psychological care that the victim needs. This ensures that the victim of any sexual misconduct will be able to return to some degree of normalcy in their life. In more severe (i.e. felony) cases, the victim should be monetarily compensated, either by the perpetrator directly, or from whatever pay that person was receiving (prior to being fired, of course). Money might not equate to closure for the victim, but at least it quantifies the level of physical or emotional damage they have suffered.

Sexual misconduct cases are automatically a blight on any university’s record. If the UC system wants to attempt to make amends for the damage they have allowed to happen, then they must reverse their previous courses of action in such cases, which vastly helps the perpetrator, and instead focus their energy on bringing justice for the victims. Only in this way can they make up for years of past failings and truly reflect the inclusive campus culture they continually propagate.

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