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09/15/2013 09:24 am ET | Updated Sep 19, 2013

USC Alumna Says University Botched Handling Of Her Rape Case 20 Years Ago

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When news broke in July that the University of Southern California was under federal investigation for allegations it failed to adequately handle reports of on-campus sexual assault, one woman saw remarkable similarities between the latest accusations and how the school handled her own case two decades ago.

The former student, who asked to remain anonymous, said she recently spent several hours explaining her story to one of the federal investigators in California. She said because of errors made by a university disciplinary panel tasked with reviewing her case, the student she accused of sexually assaulting her received little punishment.

It took several months for her to feel comfortable reporting the sexual assault she said she experienced in the fall of 1993. But the alumna said she joined a student who was in an abusive relationship with the alleged assailant and filed a report with the university in 1994.

To start the process, she called the Office for Women's Issues at the end of the spring semester. An official there told her not to tell campus or city police about the assault, and instead to wait until the fall semester to file a report with the university, the alumna said. The official promised that the review by a disciplinary panel would be a fairly quick process.

According to the campus police report, officers were contacted by the Office for Women's Issues to take a report on a "date rape" and they met once with the student in an on-campus office during the fall. The alumna said an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department also was at the meeting.

She said she found the USC officer dismissive, saying that he kept asking why she didn't resist, to which she repeatedly insisted she did, and noted "I was too drunk to understand or process it." She told him that she did exclaim, "stop," multiple times at that.

usc sexual assault

When the university disciplinary panel held a hearing on her case that semester, she said it had some of the details in her case wrong; the biggest error was that she and the accused student engaged in consensual sexual acts the night of the assault. She maintains the entire encounter lacked consent.

The accused student was found guilty of several student code of conduct violations in the end, according to a copy of the panel's findings from 1995. He was found responsible for endangering the health and safety of others, causing physical harm to another person, engaging in behavior that disrupts normal university activities, and committing an act that could be charged as a violation of federal, state or local law.

The copy of the findings was given to HuffPost by the alumna, who provided 70 pages of documents related to the case. The panel's report stated that the university did not find him guilty of rape or sexual assault, but that the accused student had a "lack of understanding about healthy sexual behavior."

It cited a lack of physical or medical evidence, and noted that since they believed there was no physical resistance, it could not conclude a sexual assault occurred. It did find that she endured "pain" and "distress" and that the events were "traumatic."

The alumna disagrees, scribbling in the margins of her copy of the disciplinary results, "how could consensual sex be traumatic?"

The accused student received probation for the remainder of his time at USC, took counseling sessions and had to write a 10- to 15-page reflective paper.

"Clearly in the 90s the burden is on a male to know that when a woman is drinking caution must be exercised and consent should be explicit at each stage," one member of the university's panel said at the time, according to a copy of the findings.

The former student said the panel made her feel "like I was very cheap to USC."

"They didn’t act like that when they were trying to seduce me to go to their school as a high school student," she said.

The federal laws that would've been relevant to her case 20 years ago have not changed, experts say, and are the same ones students accuse USC of violating over the past two years.

Brett A. Sokolow, an attorney and president of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, said the federal government would likely have been "less than thrilled with that response, then or today." Telling a student who said she was raped to delay reporting could represent a "failure of promptness," Sokolow said.

Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security On Campus, noted that in a 2011 "Dear Colleague" letter to all U.S. colleges, the U.S. Department of Education highlighted the need for quick responses to sexual violence reports.

Jody Shipper, executive director of the Office of Equity and Diversity and Title IX coordinator at USC, said the school could not discuss specifics of individual cases.

"We can assure our campus community that our goal today, as it was in the past, is for our policies and procedures on sexual assault to reflect the latest developments in the law and in best practices," Shipper said.

Despite the complaints from the alumna and a group of current students at USC, Sokolow said school officials have assured him "many, many cases ... have been handled within the letter and spirit of the law," and he called Shipper "a national leader in the field."

USC's response to sexual violence is currently under review by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. If department officials find fault with USC's sexual violence procedures, they could require the university to rewrite policies or they could refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some of the same students whose complaint sparked the investigation filed an additional claim in August, alleging violations of the Clery Act campus safety law, but federal officials have not said whether they would investigate those allegations. The Clery Act requires universities to accurately track and disclose campus crime statistics, including sexual assault.

"Rape is a violent crime that robs a human being of their human rights. It is not a sexual misadventure," the alumna said. "And these women deserve a school that understands that and acts accordingly."

The events of that period 20 years ago profoundly affected her life, the alumna said, and delayed her quest to get her degree while her alleged assailant graduated on time, not long after the disciplinary proceedings ended. She said she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the encounter forever altered her dating life.

"Twenty years later, I am not the person I would have been," she said. "The administration and [university] president must consider the question, 'don't you want USC to be better than this?'"

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