Students at the University of Southern California (USC) are alleging that their university routinely mislabels incidents of sexual assault in an attempt to artificially lower its statistics on rape and sexual abuse.
According to the Huffington Post, when USC senior Ariella Mostov reported being sexually assaulted in March, the school’s Department of Public Safety filed a crime report listing the incident as an “injury response.” Not labeling it as sexual assault meant that neither Department of Public Safety or the Los Angeles Police Department had to follow up on the case.
Mostov was told by USC police that her particular case was not labeled as rape because her rapist didn’t orgasm.
Along with other USC students who have been victims of sexual assault, Mostov filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education accusing USC of frequently failing to address sexual assault cases and misreporting incidents. According to the complaint, the school is “persistently underreporting sexual battery, sexual assault, and rape in the Annual Clery Security Report by … categorizing instances of ‘rape’ as ‘personal injury,’ ‘domestic dispute,’ and other less serious crimes or non-crimes.”
These could be blatant violations of the Clery Act, a federal law which requires colleges and universities to accurate report crimes. USC could be fined up to $35,000 per violation if the Department of Education finds that the school indeed violated that law.
Tucker Reed, a USC senior who organized the efforts to file the Clery complaint, told the Huffington Post that the university makes it very difficult for victims to speak out. “Victims are told by campus security that turning in their assailant can ruin the perpetrator’s life and that the investigation will be rough on them and traumatizing,” she said.
The Department of Education is already investigating the school — along with a host of elite colleges and universities — for violating Title IX, the landmark federal law that banned sexual discrimination. In recent months, students at numerous schools have filed formal complaints alleging their administrators aren’t taking sexual assault seriously. Students across the country have cited a reluctance to report incidents for fear of retaliation.
Organized student movements and legal actions are helping to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses, but results have been mixed. Many colleges still have lax policies toward rape and other forms of sexual abuse that enables assailants to evade punishment. Some progress is being made — but most schools have a long way to go.
University of Southern California officials issued a statement to ThinkProgress: “The university fully respects and supports the Clery reporting process. Only campus safety officers with state training in the issues of sexual violence can take a report from a complainant. Our officers receive training in accurately reporting and classifying Clery incidents and do so in collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Department, which is responsible for investigating all sexual assault cases. Clery classification is based on the facts available to DPS and LAPD. We welcome reviews of our reporting process.”
Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.