Sexual crime stigmas halt victim from legal action

Culture of silence produces shame, fear of ‘snitch’ label

By Lorenzo Morotti, Associate Editor

Many college students are not sure how to define, report or prevent sexual crimes — from assault to harassment — because cultural stigmas may prevent victims from coming forward or bystanders from intervening.

While Contra Costa College has had just one case of rape since 2009 according to the district’s Crime Awareness Report, the report does not include code of conduct referrals to the dean of student services or sexual crimes that go unreported.

The most recent conduct referral to the dean was a possible sexual harassment incident on March 10.

Coincidently, the investigation conducted by Dean of Student Services Vicki Ferguson spilled into Sexual Awareness and Harassment Awareness Month.

Ferguson said that because the person accused of the violation was suspended, and the victim did not want to press criminal charges, the investigation is closed.

“Each situation is different, but due process is given,” Ferguson said. “The main thing is that we protect the college community.”

According to the police report, a male student slapped a female student’s buttocks in the Bookstore or Library and Learning Resource Center. The report was filed by a professor on March 15, Police Services Corporal Tom Holt said.

District Police Services Officer David Sano said he wrote down the statements from those involved. Sano said the female student said it happened in the Library while the accused said it happened in the Bookstore.

“It is not a crime (if charges aren’t pressed by the victim),” Holt said. “I don’t have the authority to decide if it’s sexual harassment because it’s a (student) code of conduct violation so it’s up to the victim or dean (Ferguson).”

Shielding victims                    

According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Holt and Ferguson are not able to disclose any identifiable information about the victim, the accused or the professor who reported the incident.

FERPA, in this case, protects the victim, witness and professor from possible retaliation from the accused. Holt, however, was able to give general information regarding the incident.

While Ferguson refused to release any information using FERPA as a shield, Holt said the female student had engaged in consensual conversation with the accused before she was slapped, and, besides having her buttocks slapped, nothing else happened to escalate the situation.

He said, “(The victim) said nothing really happened. She said it got reported (to the police) and blown (out of proportion).”

Holt said the report was filed by a professor after being approached by the victim’s friend. But when the female student was approached by Police Services, she did not want to press charges.

“She didn’t want the police involved,” Holt said. “She didn’t want to talk to us or (The Advocate) about what happened.”

Zarinah Bell, a political science major who was not involved in the incident but offered her opinion when approached by an Advocate reporter, said as long as consent is given then it is not a problem, but the behavior described in the police report should not happen on a college campus.

“If I’m just getting to know someone then that should not happen,” Bell said. “But if he is my boyfriend or I am (dating) that person, then I guess it’s fine. But not at school. Don’t slap my ass at school.”

Sheril Kumar, another student uninvolved in this event who is a biology major, partially agrees with Bell.

“It could happen with anyone. It is not always a stranger who could sexually harass you,” Kumar said. “It could even happen with your boyfriend. If it makes you uncomfortable, then it is sexual harassment, especially at school.”

Ferguson said, on average, she investigates one or two conduct referrals of a sexual nature annually.

She said that she has to adhere to the district conduct policy despite the victim or the accused pleas to not issue a conduct referral. Any further action, however, is dependent upon whether the victim wants to take legal action or not.

“As a conduct officer, I have to uphold the district code of conduct,” Ferguson said. “I meet with both students — no different than any other conduct referral meeting — and I have to show there was ample discussion. The district doesn’t tolerate that behavior in an environment of learning.”

She said, however, many incidents go unreported because of societal pressures and stigmas that make the victim feel ashamed because of public scrutiny. And there is always the fear that the accused may react with hostility toward the victim.


While there is a public forum and screening of “The Hunting Ground” to bring attention to sexual assault, harassment and stalking in LA-100 on Tuesday at noon, there are other measures planned to educate students about the complex nature of sex crimes, Ferguson said.

To prevent these sexual offenses in the future, Ferguson said high school students enrolling at CCC will be required to complete a “Not Anymore” online orientation beginning at the start of the 2017 spring semester.

According to its website, “Not Anymore” helps students become informed about sexual assault, harassment and stalking, and prevention measures to meet Title IX mandates of gender equity.

ASU President Nakari Syon said, “I think (“Not Anymore”) is a good thing. Not only will it provide quality education (about sex crimes), but students will know the code of conduct and that they are protected.”

College Vice President Tammeil Gilkerson said she helped bring the “Not Anymore” online program to the college to help students understand that sexual crimes are common, but are often suppressed by cultural stigmas.

“Gender roles show how pervasive (sex crimes) are, culturally,” Gilkerson said. “For men, there is the sexualization of what being a ‘real man’ means and it is difficult to cope with that. I think it’s the same for women. There are particular messages that say it is OK to cat call or stalk someone, when it is not.”

Inter-Club Council President Safi Ward-Davis said it has become more difficult for students to get help.

Ward-Davis said since the Student Activities Building was demolished in 2013, the campus has been without a Wellness Center that functioned as a safe place for sexual assault or harassment victims to talk to counselors.

“(The college) needs to bring the Wellness Center back,” she said. “Because a lot of the time (sexual assault) stays within culture. You are a snitch if you tell and are told you are not cool. We can’t have that. We need a place with people who will advocate for (sexual assault or harassment victims).”

Anthony Kinney, a journalism major, said no one should be afraid to report a sex crime, but it becomes an issue when our culture promotes silence.

“The stigma of being labeled a snitch runs deep,” Kinney said. “But at the same time sexual assault cuts just as deep. She should have the courage to come forward, but it is a tough situation.”

Austin McDonald, a communication major,  said while he has never been sexually assaulted, he has been harassed by a stalker off campus.

“It’s uncomfortable,” McDonald said. “It makes me feel anxious knowing when you go out you could possibly run into them. Confrontation is one way (to deal with a stalker)  because if you don’t say anything they won’t stop.

“But then again, you never know how (the stalker could) retaliate.”

Gilkerson said, “These are all pieces of the degradation that happens to people on a daily basis. It’s unfortunate that we do not have a strong culture that says no, it is not OK to slap someone on the ass.”