Three young women who filed a legal complaint against the University of Southern California last May announced this afternoon that the U.S. Department of Education is launching a federal investigation into the school's "gross mishandling of rape and sexual assault cases."
This marks the third time USC has been under investigation for inadequate policies regarding sexual assault on campus.
The 110-page legal complaint brought against the school by Tucker Reed and 13 other named plaintiffs, outlines the ways the university "misreported, misconstrued, mishandled, or discounted entirely" the instances of sexual violence on campus, says Reed. In the past year, similar lawsuits claiming that a university has violated Title IX laws, have been filed against Occidental College, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Amherst College .
Speaking to reporters Monday on the edge of USC's campus, Reed says she was raped by her boyfriend of two weeks in December 2010. Ten months later, in the fall of 2012, Reed filed a report with the Los Angeles Police Department. "I was in denial about it for a long time," Tucker says. The LAPD alerted the university of Reed's complaint. She was then contacted by the university's Student Judiciary Affairs and Community Standards Committee, a two-person panel employed by the University to investigate all matters of student misconduct.
No one on the panel has any specialized training in sex crimes or criminal justice. Most of the panel's investigation deals with issues of plagiarism and cheating on school tests.
To meet the preponderance of evidence standard set by the the Student Judiciary Committee, Reed turned in four separate recordings she made of her ex-boyfriend admitting he raped her. "I was assured I could expect a speedy handling of the matter," Reed recalled. The investigation into the alleged rape dragged on for six months and ended with the committee's decision to close the case because Reed failed to provide enough convincing evidence. "The process made me feel raped a second time," Reed says. The committee has not given Reed access to their findings.
After the school rejected her claim, Reed posted pictures of alleged rapist's picture and transcribed portions of the her recordings on her Tumblr. Reed wrote on the blog XO Jane that her rapist is now countersuing her for being libelous.
Ari Mostov, a 20-year-old screenwriting major, says she was raped by a classmate during her sophomore year at USC. She reported the rape to the University's Department of Public safety a few months later. Mostov claims the Center for Public Safety misquoted her statement to police — reporting that when Mostov told her attacker to stop that he complied, which Mostov says is the exact opposite of what happened.
While the Student Judiciary committee investigated Mostov claim's over the course of four months, Mostov had to continue going to classes alongside her alleged rapist five days a week.
Committee investigators interviewed "witnesses" in Mostov claims, even though, she says, "there was nobody else in the room when it occurred." In May of this year, USC's Department of Public Safety told Mostov that neither they nor the LAPD would pursue further action on her claim, because her alleged assailant "did not orgasm" when he raped her. According to California Penal code, any
penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime.
"I was hurt. I was outraged. I was raped," Mostov says. "The Department of Public Safety was entirely in error when they decided that five to 10 minutes of forceful penetration did not count because my rapist was too drunk to climax."
Alexa Schwartz, 21, co-founder of the 70-member group Student Coalition Against Rape (SCAR) was raped by a classmate in 2010. She did not report the assault until a fellow classmate was also raped and Schwartz was interviewed by the Student Judiciary Committee about her friend's assault.
"All of sudden, I realized that this is something that also happened to me too and I went to the University to find out what my options were." Schwartz went to the University's Center of Women and Men, she told a counselor about her assault in February of this year and asked the counselor if the University could tell her if the student was still enrolled at school. The counselor agreed to find out the student's status and report back to Schwartz. Three months went by without word from the Center or any of of its counselors. When Schwartz followed up with the counselor in May of this year, the counselor told Schwartz never looked up the attacker's status because "she forgot."
Schwartz's alleged rapist has already graduated. "But I'm still here," Schwartz says, and I'm going to fight for other women to feel safe and supported on this campus."
In response to today's announcement, Jody Shipper, Title IX coordinator and executive director of the Office of Equity and Diversity, released this written statement:
"The university is strongly committed to upholding all aspects of Title IX. We have received a letter from the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education notifying us of a complaint by two USC students alleging Title IX violations. The opening of an investigation is an expected step in the process, and the OCR states that 'opening the allegations for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination with regard to their merits.'
"We look forward to working with OCR to address any concerns and review our protocols as needed. The university, working with the Women Students Assembly and other groups, updated our sexual assault reporting guidelines in 2011-12. More recently, and prior to the filing of this complaint, USC began an ongoing review of policies and procedures in light of updated federal guidelines. The university remains vigilant in addressing any issues promptly and fully as they arise."
Calls made by BuzzFeed directly to USC's Student Judiciary Committee regarding their violent felony investigation practices were not returned.