Target: Occidental College President Jonathon Veitch
Goal: Apologize to Occidental students for the administration not properly reporting a sexual assault, and promise that all future sexual violence cases will be reported through the channels the school previously agreed to
The leadership of Occidental College in Los Angeles has come under fire for its handling of sexual violence incidents. The college had recently agreed to make important changes to its sexual assault policy by including sexual assault cases in the system the college uses to alert the campus community about crimes in the vicinity of the school. Now, sexual assault reports would go through the school’s “Oxy System,” sending an e-mail to the college community when a student reports a sexual assault, just like is done with all other types of crimes.
However, at the end of February students learned that a sexual assault had occurred through a report of the local media, and not the school administration. The college’s leaders did not go through the proper channel of sending out a report through OxyAlert after learning of the crime. Students were outraged and created a blog, petition, and organized a march. Many students claimed that several sexual assault cases had not been properly reported.
The school’s president Jonathon Veitch wrote a letter, and rather than offering a meaningful apology, ended up reinforcing dangerous biases against sexual assault victims. Veich said, “In the first few hours, days or even weeks, it is not always clear what has happened in incidents like these. Investigators need time to sort through conflicting accounts in order to provide a clear narrative of what took place.”
Using the phrase “incidents like these” minimizes the gravity of sexual assault, rendering it somehow less important or believable than other types of crimes. This is a dangerous mentality that women’s rights activists have been working to eradicate for decades. It leads to dangerous assumptions that sexual assault victims are often lying or less trustworthy than victims of other crimes.
Ask Jonathon Veitch to apologize for not informing the community of a sexual assault through proper channels, and promise that all reported sexual violence incidents will be shared with the community right away.
Dear Jonathon Veitch,
As the leader of an academic institution of higher learning whose own mission statement talks about a “deeply rooted commitment to the public good,” your response to the lack of an appropriate report about a sexual assault was upsetting. Rather than ensuring students that the incident was an anomaly, and all future reports of sexual assault will follow protocol, you defended the school’s decision to circumvent its own policy. Even more saddening was your rhetoric surrounding the crime of sexual assault, inferring that victims of sexual violence are not as reliable as other victims. This is a dangerous stereotype that has led to the dismal statistics regarding prosecution of sexual violence perpetrators, and exacerbated dangerous rape culture on college campuses.
Please set an example to your college community and ensure that Occidental will use the system it agreed to for reporting sexual assault to students. Not only may it help prevent future violence, but more importantly it will communicate to your students and school-wide community that sexual assault must always be taken seriously and responded to swiftly.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: UNE Photos via Flickr, under Creative Commons