Addressing Sexual Assault
October 29, 2021
Dear USC community,
Sexual assault is a serious problem at university campuses across the country, and it is a problem at USC. When it happens, the entire university is impacted. We share in the anger at this violence and compassion for those who are harmed. It strikes at the heart of the community and the care we owe each other.
If a sexual assault occurs at USC, a critical service we provide is the confidential advocacy and counseling through Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Services (RSVP). It allows for individuals who have experienced harm or who have seen harm committed to seek confidential support and assistance. RSVP counselors support the students who contact them, including helping them make formal reports if that is desired. Absent exceptional circumstances, information shared with RSVP remains confidential and is not elevated.
In late September, RSVP received between five to seven confidential disclosures of possible drugging and possible sexual assault at a fraternity and took the exceptional step of sharing that information more broadly. We now know that there was a troubling delay in acting on this information, and specifically in evaluating it for notification to the community. This has highlighted for me the gray area in our processes when reports come into RSVP, and the challenge of marrying a highly confidential support service, which may have limited details, with the need to inform and warn the community.
As president, I came to USC with the promise to confront what is wrong and lead the effort to fix what is broken. As we learn more, there will be some things we can do quickly and others that will take more time. This is too important to not get right.
To provide the latest information on what we know, we’ve tried to answer the questions we’ve been asked and have prepared the FAQs below. They also describe how we currently prevent and respond to sexual assaults and explain our legal and privacy obligations. There are many pieces in this complicated situation, and we urge you to read these FAQs. We will be updating them in response to new information and questions.
Finally, if there are questions we have not yet addressed, please let us know by reaching out to QandA@usc.edu. Keeping you informed is also part of my promise to you.
Carol L. Folt
1. The university sent campus-wide communications on October 20, 22, and 23, 2021. What are the underlying facts?
The Timely Warning-Crime Alert that the university issued on October 20, 2021 was connected to two separate sets of events involving the same fraternity house. To understand the underlying facts and timeline, it is helpful to address those sets of events separately.
During a period from September 25, 2021 through September 30, 2021, students disclosed to USC’s Relationship and Sexual Assault Violence Prevention Services (RSVP) program, a counseling and advocacy service in USC Student Health, that between five to seven students may have experienced drugging and possible sexual assault in connection with a fraternity party.
RSVP is a completely confidential counseling resource available to survivors to help them access support resources, navigate crisis, and guide them on how to formally report an incident if they choose to do so. Without the confidential services of RSVP, many individuals might not feel comfortable getting the support and referral information they need. The university is committed to protecting their confidentiality and required by law not to share the information outside of Student Health. For that reason, absent exceptional circumstances, information from RSVP is not shared with USC’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) or the Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX (EEO-TIX).
On September 30, 2021, based on the nature of the concerns, RSVP made an exceptional decision to share a general summary of the information, while still maintaining the confidentiality of the individuals, with DPS, Student Health, Student Affairs, and the office of Campus Wellbeing and Crisis Intervention. We are still investigating what occurred next, but there was clearly uncertainty regarding how to assess and process the information, and it was not immediately escalated to the Clery Office or others. Instead, the groups that received the RSVP information shared the report with the EEO-TIX Office and began working to determine how to proceed. A meeting was subsequently scheduled for Monday, October 18, 2021.
On Saturday, October 16, 2021, a student reported to DPS that she had been sexually assaulted by an individual member of the same fraternity. Both DPS and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) immediately responded. The university provided all available information to LAPD, which has complete jurisdiction over criminal investigations of sexual assaults on campus. The university’s EEO-TIX Office also initiated an investigation into this matter under the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation, which is ongoing.
By Wednesday, October 20, the Clery Office had received information about both the October 16 report, as well as the summary of information shared by RSVP. Because the information in each source involved the same fraternity, the university issued a Timely Warning-Crime Alert that included both sets of information on the evening of October 20 and encouraged people to share additional information.
We recognize that it was upsetting to receive this information late in the evening, but once we determined that it raised serious and ongoing concerns about campus safety, we wanted to get the information to our community. We are examining how to better convey information like this in the future.
On the same day as the October 20 timely warning, the university placed the fraternity in question on interim suspension. The following day, the Interfraternity Council (IFC) voted to voluntarily cease social activities at all IFC fraternities, and the university issued a directive suspending all social activities at IFC fraternities until further notice. Students and fraternities who fail to comply with this directive will face disciplinary action under the Student Conduct Code.
On October 22, 2021, President Folt and Monique Allard, acting vice president for student affairs, sent a community-wide letter providing additional information about the October 20 timely warning, explaining that investigations were underway, and again encouraging people to share additional information and report.
On Saturday, October 23 2021, we issued another safety notification because we received additional reports of sexual assault, as well as additional reports of drugging or drugs being placed into drinks without consent, including some at additional fraternity houses this fall, as well as conduct from previous years.
REPORTING SEXUAL ASSAULT
2. What options do students have to report a sexual assault?
To file a formal report, there are two options:
- Students may make a report to USC’s Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX. If a formal complaint is filed, a trained investigator will conduct a prompt, thorough, fair, and impartial investigation on whether the alleged conduct violates the university’s Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation. Both parties are provided an equal opportunity to participate, including presenting witnesses and evidence, and are offered supportive measures. This is not a criminal investigation and resulting sanctions are limited to measures within the university’s authority, up to and including suspension and expulsion.
- Department of Public Safety/ Los Angeles Police Department are where students may file a file a criminal report (LAPD has jurisdiction over sexual abuse cases) for investigation by law enforcement. Based on the evidence, the LAPD may refer a case to the A. County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. For nonimmediate reports, call the USC Department of Public Safety at (213) 740-6000 for the University Park Campus (UPC); (323) 442-1000 for the Health Sciences Campus (HSC); or (213) 485-6571 for the LAPD Southwest Division.
To seek confidential support – which will not be shared publicly with EEO-TIX or law enforcement – you can refer to a full list of USC and external resources available to students, staff, and faculty at this link. These confidential resources are in place to help survivors seek support and to provide information about formal reporting options.
As has been mentioned, one such program that is important to many survivors is RSVP, a counseling and mental health services unit within USC Student Health. It provides a confidential advocate team for 24/7 response in situations of gender- and power-based harm (including sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking). RSVP can assist with academic and other accommodations even if an individual chooses not to report.
The RSVP program has expanded rapidly over the past four years, tripling in size and adding a 24/7 victim advocate program in January 2020. RSVP has also hired dedicated RSVP violence prevention staff to provide training, outreach, and the required campus prevention education modules.
3. What is a “rape kit”? How can survivors obtain one?
The term “rape kit,” is commonly used to refer to a Sexual Assault Resource Team (SART), Sexual Assault Nurse Examination (SANE), or a Forensic Exam. SART/Forensic Exams are performed at designated SART centers within the community. These centers are staffed with specially trained, trauma-informed forensic nurses who are able to collect and preserve any evidence available from the incident and provide medical care. In Los Angeles County, SART/SARC (Sexual Assault Response Teams/Centers) are required by law to operate in conjunction with a licensed general acute care hospital, a licensed basic emergency department or a hospital sponsored program clinic that has met specific requirements approved by the County of Los Angeles to receive patients who are victims of sexual assault/abuse. Services at SART Centers are confidential and can be anonymous. There is no cost when anyone accesses SART Center services.
While USC Student Health can offer testing for sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STI/STD) or birth control, including Plan B, it cannot conduct forensic exams. USC Student Health provides follow-up care at no cost to survivors.
If you are considering a SART/Forensic Exam, please contact a confidential Advocate through RSVP who can help you explore your options, arrange transportation and go with you to an exam, if desired — Survivors can also include support persons of choice. Advocates are available 24/7. by calling 213-740-9355 (WELL).
4. What should students do to get tested if they think they have been drugged?
Testing should be done as soon as possible as these drugs leave the system very quickly. Testing for illegal drugging (such as Rohypnol, ketamine, and GHB) is recommended to be completed as part of a report to law enforcement. Students who believe they may have been drugged should contact DPS.
Students who do not wish to report to law enforcement can arrange testing through USC Student Health by calling (213) 740-9355. Tests are performed at Student Health and after hours at the emergency treatment center at Keck Hospital. Results of these tests can guide individual health decisions and be shared with campus authorities but are not collected for purposes of investigation.
NOTIFICATIONS TO COMMUNITY
5. What kind of alerts does the university send to warn community members of safety concerns?
There are different types of alerts that the university may send, depending on the circumstances. These include Emergency Notifications about significant emergencies that pose an immediate threat to our community’s health and safety, Timely Warnings and Crime Alerts about crimes that represent serious or continuing threats to our community, and Community Safety Advisories that advise our community about important but non-urgent incidents. Many of these alerts are made through TrojansAlert, a notification system that uses text messages and emails to communicate with students, staff, faculty, and any other individuals registered with the TrojansAlert system. The university’s Policy and Procedures for Issuance of University Alerts is part of its Clery Act Policy.
6. Who receives these alerts? Can I sign up for them if I’m not receiving them?
Students, faculty, and staff are automatically registered for TrojansAlerts. Other members of the USC community, including parents and regular visitors to campus, may sign up for TrojansAlerts.
Timely Warning-Crime Alerts are distributed via email to all current students, faculty, and staff. There is currently no option for others to opt into these notifications.
7. The notifications the university sends sometimes contain sensitive language. Is there a reason for providing so much detail?
Some notification messages, known as Timely Warning-Crime Alerts, are required by the Clery Act, a federal law, and must contain specific information related to the reported crime, as well as safety tips and resources for crime prevention.
The university understands and is committed to communication with its community beyond the Clery notifications it is legally bound to share. USC will continue to keep its community informed with follow-up communication, like the President’s message which was distributed to the community on October 22.
8. Why are you providing safety tips in your Timely Warning-Crime Alerts? Aren’t these incidents wholly the responsibility of the perpetrators?
The perpetrator is the only person responsible for the abusive and/or criminal conduct. The use of alcohol or other drugs to incapacitate and disarm another individual is both a crime and a violation of university policy.
Recognizing that some members of our community may need immediate access to information, USC includes alerts, precautions, resources, and/or preventive measures in its notifications, as required by law, so that all members of our university community can take steps to potentially reduce the possibility of experiencing a crime.
While we seek to find balanced and neutral language that integrates the need to comply with our regulatory requirements and provide the information our campus community needs to be safe, we understand that it will not be universally received in the way it is intended. We continue to look at ways to improve the language in these alerts and welcome feedback from campus community members.
PROCESS & CONSEQUENCES
9. What kinds of consequences can perpetrators of sexual assault and drug-facilitated sexual assault face?
Perpetrators can face a range of consequences from the university or the justice system. Both law enforcement and EEO-TIX require an investigation and fair and impartial due process before criminal charges or disciplinary actions can be imposed.
While an investigation is pending, the university has the ability to remove someone on an emergency basis from campus if the reported conduct and context meet certain criteria. The removal is tied to analysis of safety and risk for the campus, not a finding of responsibility. By law, the university cannot discuss details of events or incidents that are under investigation by law enforcement or EEO-TIX.
Upon the completion of a university investigation, students found culpable by the university face a range of penalties, up to and including suspension and expulsion. Perpetrators may face additional sanction if they are charged with a crime – a decision that rests with the LAPD and L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. In some cases, the investigative process may not yield the answers or resolutions that may be desired.
10. In the cases that have been reported recently, is USC working with law enforcement?
The university has reported all known information about these matters to the LAPD and is cooperating fully with their investigations.
TRAINING & SAFETY
11. Does USC currently require sexual violence prevention training?
We require sexual violence prevention training at the start of every term for incoming students. Building a culture of consent is a fundamental step in eliminating sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and gender-based harm in our campus communities.
Every member of our USC student community is expected to understand that clearly obtaining consent in relationships and intimate encounters is the norm. Respect for others, including respect for self-identified genders, and sexual respect and acknowledging boundaries, is how Trojans treat each other.
Prevention programming is primarily provided by USC Student Health in an integrated partnership with other campus offices, including USC Student Health’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services (RSVP) and Office of Health Promotion Strategy. The Office of EEO-TIX, Human Resources, the Athletics Department, Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development, Office for Residential Education, and the Department of Public Safety also provide educational and awareness programming for students, staff, and faculty.
Overseen by our EEO-TIX office, all incoming and transfer undergraduate and graduate students complete the Sexual Assault Prevention module, as part of orientation. The covered topics included: what constitutes sexual harassment, including sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking; and how to report instances of sexual harassment.
RSVP also provides required Prevention Education Modules (PEMs), a three-tiered curriculum aimed at reducing campus sexual violence, creating a culture of consent and support for survivors, and increasing the likelihood of upstander intervention. Modules are 120 minutes and offered in person and via Zoom.
12. Students have reported feeling unsafe staying in housing on or near 28th What is the university doing?
The university is in regular contact with students residing in this area. DPS has increased patrols in the neighborhood to help secure the safety of residents. Students who continue to feel unsafe residing in this neighborhood should contact DPS, the Office for Threat Assessment and Management, the Office of Campus Support and Intervention (CSI) and/or EEO-TIX.
In addition, we have advised the property owners and landlords (IFC housing corporations) to work with USC’s Office of CSI to identify temporary, emergency housing for students who request it.
The university is also strongly encouraging the housing corporations to accommodate requests from students who wish to terminate their leases before the end of the semester.
13. Are commercially available testing strips for date rape drugs effective?
There is no one drug used when it comes to the spiking of drinks. Benzodiazepines (such as Rohypnol, Ambien, or other sleeping medications), Ketamine, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) are common. Ecstasy (MDMA) is also associated with drug-facilitated sexual assault. The drugs can be in a pill, powder, or liquid form. Users should be aware which specific drugs are being tested in any testing strips. Testing strips also vary in their sensitivity or ability to detect a drug if it is present. Testing may create a false sense of security (false negatives). A negative test does not mean that a drink is safe to drink.
14. Is the university offering academic accommodation to students in light of these troubling reports?
USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski has asked faculty to work out appropriate modifications that enable students’ coursework to be completed. For undergraduates, this includes:
- Pass/No Pass: As we did the last two semesters, the university will reinstate this grading option for Fall 2021. Undergraduate students will have until December 3, the last day of classes, to select this option;
- Incompletes: As of Monday, October 25, undergraduate students may request an Incomplete from their faculty in a course, rather than waiting until after Week 12;
- Withdrawal: As we did the last two semesters, the university will extend the Withdrawal deadline until December 3, the last day of classes;
- USC Academic Advisor Connect: Students are likely already speaking with their academic advisor about their academic options for the Fall semester and registration for Spring 2022. If students feel that they need additional support with advisement, advocacy, or help navigating institutional resources, USC Academic Advisor Connect is a new triage service ready to assist. Advisors are available to help students understand the academic options and institutional resource offerings available to them. The university encourages students to work with an advisor to evaluate those options that might work best in their specific circumstance. In more complex scenarios, advisors are able to advocate on a student’s behalf with other campus partners. Visit USC Academic Advisor Connect for FAQs and further information.
PAUSE ON FRATERNITY ACTIVITIES
15. If the incidents were isolated to only one fraternity house, why are you suspending activities for the Interfraternity Council?
Since the university issued a Timely Warning-Crime Alert on Wednesday, October 20, additional reports of sexual assault and/or drugs being placed into drinks without consent were received. The new reports involve a range of conduct from this fall and from previous years at additional fraternity houses, as well as at an unknown location.
The university has a responsibility to safeguard its community. After the Interfraternity Council (IFC) voluntarily voted to pause social activities, the university issued a formal directive to “cease all official and unofficial chapter activities, including but not limited to social, recruitment, initiation, service, and travel activities” indefinitely.
16. One fraternity has been placed on interim suspension, but other fraternities have been implicated in similar behavior. Why haven’t they been suspended as well?
At the time the university received additional reports of sexual assault and/or drugs being placed into drinks without consent at additional fraternity houses, the suspension of social activities for all fraternities already had been issued, which is the equivalent of the interim suspension. Students and fraternities who fail to comply with this directive face disciplinary action under the Student Conduct Code.
17. You have suspended all social activities for the Interfraternity Council, but are students still living in fraternities under the IFC?
Yes. IFC fraternity houses are not owned by the university, and students have private leases with each IFC fraternity’s housing corporation. The IFC housing corporations are not owned or controlled by USC.
18. Will the fraternities named in recent reports be permanently banned?
The university has permanently banned or delisted fraternities in the past, and will do so again if warranted. At this stage, however, the university’s primary focus is to investigate these incidents fully and to ensure students, including reporting parties and individual and organizational respondents – as well as our entire campus community – have access to the resources they need during this difficult time.
COMMITMENT TO CHANGE
19. What has USC done to enhance institutional response to Title IX in light of the university’s February 2020 Resolution Agreement with the Department of Education?
Over the past three years, USC has engaged in multi-disciplinary and university-wide efforts to transform its Human Resources, compliance, and Title IX programs, incorporate lessons learned, and drive change through a commitment to care, culture and compliance. The university has also continued to work collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), producing data and information to OCR as required under the February 2020 Resolution Agreement. Despite the practical and fiscal challenges that have resulted from the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has remained steadfast in its efforts to transform campus culture to prioritize integrity; excellence; diversity, equity, and inclusion; well-being; open communication; and accountability. The university’s efforts to rebuild trust and live its institutional mission are available on the university’s Commitment to Change: Continuous Efforts to Enhance University Responses webpage.
LEGAL PROCESS AND CONSEQUENCES
20. Student organizations have made a number of requests to identify individuals and organizations potentially involved in this investigation. How is the university responding?
The university is committed to open communication and accountability. However, student privacy and campus safety laws impose strict limitations on what information can be shared publicly concerning student conduct matters. State and federal laws require certain protections be provided to students accused of wrongdoing and the university abides by those principles. We will not expel a student or disband a fraternity without a fair and equitable process, nor provide lists of students who are members of organizations.
Students and student organizations found responsible individually or as groups for violations of the Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation, or for violations of the Student Conduct Code, face disciplinary sanctions up to and including suspension, expulsion, and (in the case of student organizations) derecognition and permanent ban. The university will not circumvent these processes.
While we are aligned with our entire community in our zero tolerance for sexual misconduct, we are equally resolute about the need to respect the integrity of campus and criminal law enforcement processes. Both the law and university policy prohibit retaliation, intimidation, threats, and violence. More fundamentally, our unifying values and principles of community demand that we treat one another with respect.