Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Original Story: patch.com

Three women who claim they were sexually assaulted while students at the University of California at Berkeley filed a complaint in Alameda County Superior Court today alleging the university’s response was inadequate and discriminatory. A Georgia education lawyer is reviewing the details of this case.

The three women, Sofie Karasek, Aryle Butler and Nicoletta Commins, all claim to have been assaulted in separate incidents while students in 2012 and separately reported the assaults. Two of the assaults involved fellow students and one involved a lecturer.

But university officials, they claim, were indifferent to their allegations, failed to protect them and other students from potential future assaults, and did not adequately warn students about the dangers of sexual assault on campus. A Columbia education attorney assists education clients in developing policies for student safety and risk management.

Among other allegations, the women contend that the university’s inadequate response is gender discrimination under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

According to the complaint, Karasek was assaulted while on a school-sponsored trip to the California Democratic Party Convention in San Diego as part of her work with the Cal Berkeley Democrats Club. She stayed in a hotel room sleeping in the same bed with three other students the night of Feb. 10, 2012, and awoke at about 3 a.m. to another student massaging her legs, back and buttocks, according to the complaint. She froze during the assault and it continued for the next 30 minutes. In April or May of that year, Karasek met with university officials along with three other students who said they were also assaulted by the same student. She filed a formal written complaint with Center for Student Conduct representative Hallie Hunt on May 15, according to the complaint. But communication from the university over the matter stalled for months while the student remained a member of the club. Karasek learned through club leadership that they were advised not to remove him but could pressure him into leaving of his own accord, according to the complaint. She then learned in November that the student was scheduled to graduate a semester early after meetings between him, the Cal Berkeley Democrats Club leadership and the administration. The administration advised her in an email in December that the issue had been resolved through an “early resolution process” but she was not informed of any disciplinary action taken. A Memphis sexual harassment lawyer has extensive experience representing victims of sexual assault.

Butler was allegedly assaulted while working for a UC Berkeley Ph.D candidate at the Wrangell Mountains Center in Glennallen, Alaska, during the summer of 2012 as part of a university program. While in the dining hall there, a center board member and guest lecturer for the program approached her from behind, pushed her against a table and put his hands in her underwear, according to the complaint. She reported the assault to the graduate student, who specifically asked if the particular board member had assaulted her. The assaults continued. Butler was approached by the board member in the library and he whispered in her ear, “It’s so good to have such a beautiful woman around.” Later, he approached her from behind in the kitchen, reached under her shirt but was startled by a loud noise. He whispered, “You have such a beautiful voice” and left the room. Butler again reported the incident to the graduate student employer, who advised Butler to leave while she was out of town for a few days. When Butler’s employer returned, they discussed it but the employer said she hadn’t reported the assaults, according to the complaint. As Butler finished her employment, the graduate student told her she had spoken to the board member, and thought he “really gets it this time.” When Butler got back to UC Berkeley, she reported the assaults to the school’s Title IX coordinator Denise Oldham. According to the complaint, Oldham implied the reports were false and the school conducted no investigation.

Commins alleged she was assaulted by a fellow student she met through the university’s Tae Kwon Do team. Commins invited the student to her apartment in January 2012, but while there he forced himself on her, performing oral sex without her consent and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him. She reported the assault at a student health center, where they conducted a cursory exam but did not perform a rape kit, according to the complaint. Commins then went to the city of Berkeley Police Department. Staff at Highland Hospital in Oakland performed a rape kit exam and found evidence of trauma. The university was alerted to the police investigation and contacted Commins but said their investigation would not get underway until the police investigation was completed, despite her pleas for the investigation to begin immediately. In March of the following year, she was advised the student was suspended until the Fall of 2015, the semester after she was scheduled to graduate. She wishes to continue her study at the university as a gradate student, but does not want to attend school while he is on campus, according to the complaint. An Atlanta education lawyer is following this story closely.

All three women allege their academic performance has suffered because of the assaults and they have dealt with psychological issues stemming from the trauma. “The utter lack of immediate and adequate response by university officials to these and other complaints of sexual violence experienced by its students is reprehensible,” their attorney, Alex Zalkin, said in a statement. “Rather than stepping up and doing the right thing morally and under the law, UC Berkeley has deliberately shirked its responsibilities which has served to injure and re-victimized its students,” Zalkin said.

It is not the first time the university has been accused of inadequately addressing the issue of sexual assault on campus. Last year, 31 women filed a federal complaint alleging that the university’s failure to adequately respond to sexual assault allegations dates back to at least 1979. The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights has an open investigation into the allegations. A state audit released in June of last year found that university staff were not properly trained in responding to allegations of sexual assaults, even university employees who would be the first point of conduct for such allegations. University officials said the school has implemented new and better training since the report was issued and taken other measures to address sexual assault and harassment on campus. However, the auditor also found in a review of individual case outcomes that they were reasonable given the severity of the incidents, according to the university.

UC Berkeley officials said they had not yet seen the complaint and declined to comment.

“At UC Berkeley we are committed to creating a campus community where sexual assault is not tolerated,” university officials said in a written statement. “Working with students, faculty and staff, we have made great strides on this front and we are dedicated to building on those efforts.”

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