The #MeToo Era: Challenges in Reporting Sexual Assault at UC San Diego

Rishi Deka / The Triton

Content Warning: This article mentions sexual assault

UC San Diego joined universities from all over the nation in honoring the 2019 Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Yet, the problem of sexual assault seems pervasive as ever, with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) recently reporting that over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assaults to authorities.

The Triton sat down with representatives from different campus offices throughout the month of April to discuss barriers that sexual assault victims at UCSD may face.

It’s On Us at UCSD was founded in 2018 as a chapter within the Obama Administration’s national movement against sexual assault. The organization seeks to engage the UCSD student body in combatting sexual violence and harassment. Gia Pedro and Eshita Garg, the two executive board members of It’s On Us, believe that the survivors’ cultural, social, and economic backgrounds can pose significant barriers in the reporting process.

“Many people grew up in cultures that don’t take sexual violence seriously. Others don’t have the financial means to access quality sex education or legal services,” Garg told The Triton. “Although every experience is different, most victims feel shamed, doubted, and ostracized. As fellow students, we want to reach out to all groups on campus through education and social support to ensure that every voice can be heard.”

The two student leaders also recognized that UCSD needed to make the reporting process more efficient. Speaking from her own experience as a survivor of sexual assault, Pedro revealed that it was difficult for her to move on from the trauma due to the lengthy procedures involved in her case.   

“I filed a report with  OPHD [Office for the Prevention of Harrassment and Discrimination] a year ago, but the investigation is still ongoing today,” Pedro said. “When you’re constantly reminded of something that you never thought would happen to you, you question your own self-worth and become withdrawn from daily routines and relationships. I think that the reporting process has to be improved because the prolonged feelings of guilt, distrust, and suspense can drastically weaken a student’s ability to thrive in their academic, social, and personal life”

Vrinda Chauhan / The Triton

OPHD has faced some criticisms. The Triton reported last year that the office has not released an annual report in three years. These annual reports are critical for providing transparency regarding matters reported to OPHD during the fiscal year.

The current OPHD Director, Cherie Scricca, acknowledged that the current personnel shortage and bureaucratic nature of OPHD made it difficult for many students to see the office as a reliable resource. However, she wanted the campus community to understand the crucial role of OPHD in helping every party reach the right conclusion in the reporting process.

“When people seek help from OPHD, they are often not in a good state, mentally and emotionally,” Scricca explained. “While we try our best to take into consideration their grievances, our job is to remain neutral, objective, and thorough in the process. This can make victims feel disheartened in many ways, but at the end of the day, communication with OPHD always provides an opportunity for resolution.”

Scricca also stated that sexual misconduct in academia is prevalent, especially within the graduate community. However, survivors often decide to drop their cases in fear of either facing retaliation or getting someone they know into trouble. She recommended that survivors looking for an ally should consult with Campus Advocacy, Resources, and Education at the Sexual Assault Resource Center (CARE @ SARC), located on the 5th floor of the Student Services Building.

CARE @ SARC is an independent campus resource that educates the UCSD campus community on sexual assault prevention and offers advocacy to victims through confidential counseling and crisis intervention services. Nancy Wahlig, Director of CARE @ SARC, has been working in the office for over 30 years.

“I’ve talked to so many survivors who have said that to me, why didn’t I report it to the police? … And then they say that that was the last thing [they] wanted to do. ‘I didn’t want to, I didn’t know if I’d be believed.’ So there’s still a lot of education around the sense of people needing to choose what is the best option for them,” Wahlig told The Triton.

Wahlig explained that some of the delay in the reporting process is due to the investigators’ lack of authority. Most of the investigators are attorneys, so they do not have the authority to question accused parties as police would; investigators are only able to invite the accused to tell their side of the story.

Wahlig, who works one of the 24-hour hotlines to CARE @ SARC, shared that the office has seen an increase in the number of reports of domestic violence over the last few years and a general spike during the peak of the #MeToo movement, when many famous figures shared publicly about their own experience in workplace sexual harassment.

Last year, the Graduate Student Association asked the Chancellor to fund a new graduate student outreach position in order to build more sexual assault prevention resources for graduate students. This year, CARE @ SARC is looking to add another position for faculty and staff.

Vrinda Chauhan / The Triton

The current political circumstances in the US have not been supportive of sexual assault survivors. In 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court despite multiple sexual assault allegations against him.

Under Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Education Department recently released the new Title IX regulations, limiting the definition of sexual misconduct to “conduct … that is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” The new regulations also allow universities to use the “clear and convincing” standard of evidence, which is stricter than the previous  “preponderance of evidence” standard used in most civil cases. These changes, along with others made by DeVos, foster an atmosphere that is more difficult for victims to report sexual misconduct.

When asked about her plans to motivate students to keep speaking up against sexual assault in the face of obstacles, Scricca highlighted the need for more awareness and collective action in order to prevent the perpetuation of the problem.

“We should set higher expectations for ourselves, starting with small behaviors in our daily life,” Scricca said. “Ignorance is never an excuse, and everyone should learn to hold each other accountable early on so that we can change the public attitude towards this issue.”

If you are in need of support services, please consider calling the following resources:

CARE at the Sexual Assault Resource Center, (858) 534-5793 or sarc@ucsd.edu. After hours: 858-534-HELP

CARE at SARC is located on the fifth floor of the Student Services Center and is available to UCSD students, faculty, and staff.

Center for Community Solutions (CCS), San Diego County’s rape crisis and domestic violence agency, (888) 385-4657

National Sexual Assault Hotline, (800) 656-HOPE

Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD), UCSD’s Title IX office tasked with investigating sexual harassment and sexual assault between students. You can report incidents anonymously by using the report bias web form, calling (858) 534-8298, or emailing ophd@ucsd.edu.

Thi Nguyen is a Staff Writer and Vrinda Chauhan is an Assistant News Editor for The Triton.

Update: This article was updated with a content warning on May 1, 2019 at 11:37 p.m.