Cal Poly launches own investigations in response to rape reports

Meanwhile, some express dismay that crime notice focused on what women could do to prevent attacks

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 18, 2011 

Cal Poly officials have opened their own investigations into the three rapes reported within nine days — and could take disciplinary action even if police do not have enough evidence to pursue a criminal case.

The university’s response is separate from the ongoing police investigation into the three alleged incidents, two reportedly in a campus dormitory and the other at an off-campus fraternity house.

University officials created a task force to discuss current programs and recommend ways to promote a campus culture that doesn’t tolerate sexual assault and minimizes alcohol and drug use.

In the meantime, a link to an online petition posted at change.org, which originated in part from the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, has started circulating via email among faculty, staff and students, with more than 400 supporters as of Tuesday afternoon.

It expresses dismay at the perceived tone of a crime alert issued by Cal Poly police on May 10 stating a woman had reportedly been raped at the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house that “focused on protective measures that women should take to avoid rape but did not mention actions that can and should be taken by bystanders to ensure that others do not commit rape or assault.”

The petitioners call on the university to “take all necessary and appropriate measures to convey to the community the gravity of the crimes of rape and drugging another person.” (Police said Tuesday they do not know whether drugs were involved in any of the alleged incidents.)

The petition includes 10 recommendations, such as:

• Creating and publicizing a system by which students, faculty and administrators can make an anonymous report electronically, and adopting a policy that does not punish those reporting a sexual assault for infractions such as underage drinking or recreational drug use at the time of the assault.

• Mandating all incoming students attend programs offered on sexual assault prevention during their first quarter through Week of Welcome and the school’s residential life office.

• Hiring an additional full-time position in the Gender Equity Center, which offers the SAFER program focused on preventing and responding to reports of sexual assault.

Title IX

Cal Poly’s responsibilities to address sexual violence are laid out in Title IX, which passed as part of the federal Education Amendments of 1972. It protects students from sexual harassment, including sexual violence such as rape, in an educational institution’s programs and activities.

New guidelines were issued last month by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to help schools better understand their obligations.

The guidelines remind schools not to wait for the conclusion of a criminal investigation to begin their own investigation, and that a law enforcement investigation doesn’t relieve the school’s obligation to investigate the conduct.

Cal Poly Dean of Students Jean DeCosta said the guidelines are a reminder and the university’s procedures are in line with the requirements.

Students receive information on the harassment policy through the university’s catalog, at student orientations and from organizations such as SAFER.

DeCosta said of the 6,000 students who live on campus, 3,500 are first-time freshmen.

“Most if not all live on campus their first year, so we’re able to reach virtually everyone through one venue or another,” she said.

University response

Adrienne Miller, director of Cal Poly’s Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, confirmed Tuesday that her office is investigating the three reports but couldn’t comment further on them.

In general, whenever her office receives a report of sexual misconduct, Miller meets with the victim to discuss the available resources and ask what he or she needs to be safe on campus. That could include switching classes or dorm rooms, or issuing a stay-away order, the university’s equivalent of a restraining order.

An alleged perpetrator of sexual misconduct can be subject to an interim suspension, and sanctions can include disciplinary probation, suspension or expulsion.

Miller said she has fewer than 20 stay-away orders, which remain in effect as long as the involved parties are at Cal Poly.

As soon as students register, Miller said she checks to make sure the involved students aren’t in the same class, and she can switch their schedules if necessary.

Miller’s level of proof in her investigation differs from law enforcement.

She needs a “preponderance of evidence” to move forward — the standard is that it is more likely than not that a crime occurred; whereas in criminal courts, prosecutors need proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.

“I’m not a mini-DA,” Miller said. “My job is to support the safety of campus and students while they’re going through their education.”

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