Title IX Questioned after Rape Claim Settlement

Former Professor Héctor Perla involved in student sexual assault claim

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Trigger warning: This article contains references to sexual harassment and assault.

A rape claim filed by a UC Santa Cruz student against former Latin American and Latino Studies professor Héctor Perla Jr. has reached a settlement against the UC Board of Regents for $1.15 million. The settlement sparked campuswide debate into the proceedings of the Title IX Office. Perla had at least two relationships with UCSC students, according to multiple sources.

The UC regents failed to address sexual harassment and sexual violence involving its faculty, according to a statement by the student’s attorney John Kristensen of Kristensen Weisberg, LLP. The claim states that UCSC administration knew that Perla was in violation of the faculty code for years before the student was raped in June 2015.

“The University was deliberately indifferent to claims by students of sexual harassment by faculty,” according to the statement from Kristensen Weisberg, LLP. “There was no investigation and no attempt to protect subsequent students, including [the] Plaintiff, from [this professor].”

In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 30 staff and 22 faculty involved reports made to the UCSC Title IX Office — categorized as sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking or other prohibited conduct. Of these reports, nine staff investigations and three faculty investigations related to sexual harassment were initiated, said Title IX director Tracey Tsugawa in an email.

On a national scale, there are 306 sexual violence cases at 225 postsecondary institutions — including two at UCSC — which remain under investigation by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for issues related to Title IX compliance as of Jan. 25, 2017.

Though UCSC offered support to the community through the Sexual Violence Prevention & Response Office in a statement on Jan. 31, they did not disclose the student or professor’s identity nor any systematic changes in Title IX proceedings.

The Title IX Office has brought on three additional members in response to the increasing number of reports and cases —  last academic year the office received 233 reports and opened 46 formal investigations. So far this academic year, the Title IX Office has received nearly twice the number of reports than this time last year, according to UCSC news.

“As soon as these allegations were reported, the campus acted swiftly to address the victim’s claims, which appeared to be clear violations of the UC Santa Cruz policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment,” said Chancellor George Blumenthal and interim Campus Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor Herbert Lee in a joint email to the UCSC community.

During the year-long period that he was under investigation by Title IX, Perla was placed on involuntary paid leave as per UC policy.

The email also stated that after the Title IX investigation was completed, and after the campus began a formal disciplinary proceeding, an unnamed professor tendered his resignation, effective June 1, 2016. According to the UCSC 2016-17 Senate Faculty Roster, Perla was the only one listed as separating from the university on June 1, 2016. According to Perla’s CV, he relocated to Washington D.C. to take a job on the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) as a senior research fellow before joining the American Political Science Association as a congressional fellow.

“Prior to the revelation of his actions at Santa Cruz, COHA had never been informed of any allegations of misconduct against Dr. Perla or that he was subject to any irregular alterations to his employment status with his university,” according to a COHA statement.

The statement issued by Kristensen Weisberg, LLP said the lack of timely response and disregard for alleged past sexual predation on UCSC’s part encouraged Perla’s behavior, and is reflective of negligence and universities not complying with their own policies.

“No amount of money will make her whole. No apology will come close to being considered sufficient,” John Kristensen said in the statement. “[…] This case is emblematic of the crisis of sexual assault on female students at our nation’s institutions of higher learning.”

City on a Hill Press will continue to cover this story as it develops.