Retracting the Retraction: Occidental College, The Los Angeles Times, and the Firing of Jason Felch

Caroline Heldman is the Chair of the Politics Department at Occidental College and a co-founder of the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition (OSAC). She is also the lead complainant on the Clery and Title IX complaints filed against Occidental College on April 1, 2013 and April 18, 2013, respectively. Dr. Heldman is one of eleven people that reporter Jason Felch used to source his stories on Occidental College’s ongoing issues with sexual assault/rape. She was the primary source for Felch’s December 7, 2013 article asserting that Occidental College failed to report 27 cases of sexual assault/rape in 2012.  

The Retraction

On March 14, 2014, The Los Angeles Times issued a retraction of an article in which reporter Jason Felch stated that Occidental College failed to disclose 27 sexual assaults in its 2012 Annual Security Report (ASR). The retraction states that “Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law’s disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.”

However, The Los Angeles Times did not perform due diligence in their investigation of the numbers, and they never should have issued a retraction. Felch had incontrovertible evidence that the College did not include anonymous cases in their 2012 ASR and had verification that the college could not lawfully account for 27 missing cases.

Given the evidence, The Times should issue a mea culpa, and especially after Occidental spokesperson Jim Tranquada recently admitted to the LA Weekly that Dean of Students Barbara Avery ignored federal Clery reporting requirements that year. “In 2012, out of concern for student confidentiality, the Dean of Students office did not always communicate to Campus Safety when a student initiated the sexual-misconduct process or otherwise reported a sexual assault.”

Due to the complexities involved, it is easy to see how institutions are able to dissemble with data. To really understand how the College and The Times have failed in their duties, we must pay close attention to several key dimensions: the specific demands of the Clery Act, the multiple and contradictory reporting numbers given by College officials, and the multiple and contradictory reasons provided for the reporting gap.

The Clery Act

The Clery Act was passed in 1990 in response to the rape and murder of Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery. Clery is intended to increase transparency about crime on and around campus, but many schools continue to distort their crime numbers.

Clery’s two primary reporting documents are the Daily Crime Log and the Annual Security Report (ASR). The ASR is published on October 1st of each year, and it includes crimes reported during the previous calendar year (January – December), regardless of when the crime occurred. The ASR includes statistics on eight crimes — homicide, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, motor vehicle theft, arson, and hate crimes.

Schools are only required to report incidents that occur within the Clery reporting area, which includes the campus proper, property immediately adjacent to campus, and non-adjacent property that the campus owns or controls (e.g., fraternity houses).

For Clery, reports of a crime must be included in the daily crime log and the ASR, even if a formal complaint or police report is never filed, and even if the crime is not upheld in an adjudication proceeding. Additionally, student privacy laws cannot be used to circumvent Clery reporting requirements. Lastly, Occidental College is required to include reports of sexual assault/rape it receives through its anonymous reporting form if the crime occurred within the Clery reporting area.

The Number 27

In December, 2013, Felch wrote a story claiming that he had uncovered “27 additional sexual assault allegations made in 2012 that have not been disclosed. Dozens more may have been ignored by the dean of students’ office since 2009 because they were made anonymously, records and interviews showed.”

How did Felch arrive at the number 27?

He subtracted 7 (cases reported in the 2012 ASR) from 34 (cases reported by the Dean of Students to have occurred in 2012).

So the key number here is 34. This number was taken from the federal Clery complaint that we filed on behalf of nearly forty Occidental students, faculty, and staff on April 1, 2013 (a full eight months before Felch began an “inappropriate relationship” with one of his eleven Oxy sources that led to his firing).

Our federal complaint included this number because Dean of Students Barbara Avery stated that her office had received 34 complaints of sexual assault/rape in 2012 during three official meetings with the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition on this issue:

  • Monday, May 21, 2012, 10 a.m. (Barbara Avery, Caroline Heldman, Danielle Dirks, six administrators, and three students were in attendance.)
  • Thursday, September 27, 2012, 3 p.m. (Barbara Avery, Caroline Heldman, Danielle Dirks, and the Dean of Faculty were in attendance.)
  • Friday, October 19, 2012, 3 p.m. (Barbara Avery, Caroline Heldman, Danielle Dirks, and the Title IX Coordinator were in attendance.)

During the first meeting where the Dean reported the 34 cases (May, 2012), Avery asked us (the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition) to revise the sexual assault policy because her office was “buried” under the 34. Avery clarified in this meeting that she was referencing cases that had come in since January, which made this statistic even more staggering because the reporting year was not yet half over. And there was never any question that the 34 referred to sexual assault/rape cases since we were there to discuss this specific crime, not motor vehicle theft or arson or cyber harassment.

During the second meeting where the Dean discussed the 34 cases (September, 2012), Avery confirmed that her office had received 34 reports of sexual assault/rape “that year.” When we pressed her about why this number did not match the crime log, she replied that only 13 of the 34 had gone to adjudication, suggesting that only formal complaints need to be reported (a violation of Clery reporting requirements). The College has since established that Dean Avery did not lawfully report these cases in 2012 (see above).

During the third meeting where the Dean discussed 34 cases (October, 2012), we again pressed her about the inexplicable gap. Avery and the Title IX Coordinator gave two concrete reasons for the gap: 10 anonymous reports that were not included in the ASR (a blatant violation of Clery), and two cases involving Oxy students that occurred at other campuses. When I noted that the numbers still did not add up, the Title IX Coordinator made a vague reference to “non-sexual cases.” In other words, the Deans were not able to lawfully explain the gap, they admitted to violating Clery by excluding anonymous cases, and they provided a set of “explanations” that differed from those that would later be given to the Los Angeles Times (see below).

We repeated the number 34 in about a dozen private and public meetings in 2012 and 2013, including a campus-wide informational session on October 25, 2012 with President Jonathan Veitch in attendance and the Faculty Meeting on November 13, 2013 where this number was entered into the meeting minutes. The number 34 was common knowledge on campus, and not a single administrator ever challenged it in a year and a half.

A few days ago, college spokesperson Jim Tranquada told the LA Weekly that Dean Avery was “speaking informally” when she repeatedly reported 34 cases, despite the fact that Avery presented this statistic in formal meetings on sexual assault/rape in her professional capacity as the head of the office that receives these complaints. Tranquada also responded that Avery was referring to the 2011/12 school year, not the 2012 calendar year, but even if this were the case, it still does not add up since the total number of cases reported in 2011 (11) and 2012 (7) equals 18 – far short of the 34.

Felch’s Due Diligence

Jason Felch worked for nearly two months on his December 7, 2013 story on the 27 cases. He spoke with sources from the federal complaints who confirmed that Dean Avery could not legally account for the 27-case gap. The more evidence we provided, the more Felch seemed convinced that the College was purposefully covering up cases. Furthermore, Felch contacted Tranquada on multiple occasions for clarification on whether anonymous reports were included in the 2012 ASR, as documented in Felch’s statement of March 19, 2013:

Regarding the Dec 7th story, I began seeking information and comment from Occidental on Oct. 14th. Suspecting the 27 cases may not have been disclosed because they were reported anonymously, I wrote the college spokesman Jim Tranquada on Oct. 14th: “I’d like some details on Oxy’s sexual violence anonymous reporting form. When was the system first put in place? Who administers the system? What is the process for including reports submitted here into the Clery data? Has that process changed in recent years? In addition, please provide me with a copy of all data submitted through the form for the past five years, excluding the name of the accused. Finally, has this data been accurately reported in Clery Act reports in years past?”

On Oct 18, I received the following statement from Tranquada: “Given the two investigations currently underway by the Department of Education, we believe our students will be best served by the conclusions reached through these comprehensive, thorough, and public reviews. In the meantime, Occidental continues to move ahead with its efforts to improve its policies and procedures to ensure the College is a national leader in dealing with sexual misconduct.” I immediately followed up with another email: “Jim, my understanding is that none of the complaints filed through the college’s anonymous reporting form were being included in Clery reports. This oversight was discovered in the spring of 2013. So: How many reports have been made through the anonymous reporting page since the page was created in 2009 (the date of creation you provided in our conversation today)? Were all of those reports included in Occidental’s annual Clery reports in a timely way?” His reply: “Our statement will have to stand as is.”

I continued to press Tranquada during October and November, including the claim made in the federal Clery complaint that the Dean of Students’ office had received 34 reports of sexual assaults in 2012, while Occidental only reported 7 of them. Tranquada said he had not seen the federal complaint and could not comment beyond his earlier statement. He requested a copy of the confidential complaint and I declined. Instead, I described the story in detail and requested interviews with three administrators who would be named in the story. He declined to provide any of them, and they did not return calls to home and work over several weeks. When pressed repeatedly on and off the record about the discrepancy in Occidental’s reported statistics, Tranquada conceded the college had made reporting errors, without specifying what they were. To reflect this admission, he agreed to be quoted saying, “Clery reporting is clearly an area where we need to improve.”

Felch was right to focus on missing anonymous reports since the Deans admitted they excluded these cases during our October 19, 2013 meeting. Also, the College had previously acknowledged that they failed to report 19 anonymous cases in their 2010 ASR to a Huffington Post reporter. Campus Safety Director Holly Nieto was quoted in Felch’s story saying that a rapid jump in sexual assault reports in the daily crime log in 2013 “came from an anonymous reporting form that we — the institution, bigger than me — now understand need to be included in our stats. So we caught up, if you will.”

Zero Anonymous Reports in 2012

Setting aside Dean Avery’s repeated report of 34 cases for a moment, our federal complaint includes hard evidence that Occidental College did not report a single anonymous case in 2012, evidence that I shared with Felch last fall. The 2012 ASR includes a total of 7 cases, and our federal complaint includes a total of 7 students who reported this crime in person to the Dean of Student’s office that year. This means that the 2012 ASR includes zero cases from the anonymous reporting system in 2012.

(As an aside, it is highly unlikely that our federal complaints would include all of the assaults/rapes that occurred on campus in 2012 since we only included cases that were woefully mishandled. If the College’s ASR number is accurate, this means that 100% of survivors reported that administrators mishandled their case in 2012.)

So just how many anonymous cases did the College fail to report in 2012? We cannot know for sure since the College refuses to release this information, but we can generate an estimate based on a December 19, 2013 email from Jim Tranquada that the College averages “between 5-6 online anonymous reports per month.” Using unrealistically conservative assumptions (5 reports per month during the 8 months students are on campus, and assuming that only half occurred within the reporting area), we can confidently estimate that College failed to report at least 20 anonymous cases in their 2012 ASR.

The Retraction

Last month, Oxy representatives from the crisis management PR firm G.F. Bunting met twice with Los Angeles Times editor Davan Maharaj. (President Veitch hired Bunting because of the firm’s professional ties to The Times and personal ties to Felch. Senior Executive Ralph Frammolino is Felch’s co-author and arch-enemy due to a contract dispute.) Bunting representatives convinced Maharaj that the College was not legally required to disclose any of the 27 cases to the public. It remains a mystery as to why they came forward now with information that the College has had for nearly two years but has repeatedly refused to share with others.

College representatives presented a new set of explanations for the gap — 18 involved sexual misconduct but not sexual battery, assault, or rape; 6 occurred off-campus; and 3 cases had already been reported in the 2011 ASR. They made no mention of the missing anonymous cases. The College has refused to release the PowerPoint presentation to reporters and the Oxy community, even to a committee that President Veitch established to improve sexual assault issues.

A week after The Times’ retraction, a College representative furnished a fourth, contradictory explanation for the gap — that some of the 27 cases were explained away because the adjudication process found them to be consensual. This criterion is a clear violation of Clery reporting requirements.

So how did Occidental representatives convince the leadership of The Los Angeles Times to issue such a drastic response to Felch’s story given that the numbers do not add up? The red herring revelation of Felch’s “inappropriate relationship” with an Oxy source undoubtedly backed Maharaj into a corner. The relationship is a red herring because the source in question was one of 11 sources, and any information she provided was duplicative of the federal complaints and other sources. I advised Maharaj that he had been misled about the numbers in a March 17, 2014 email, to which he never replied. But beyond the relationship, it is apparent that Oxy representatives played upon ignorance of Clery reporting requirements. For example, when faculty asked what information was provided to The Los Angeles Times, President Jonathan Veitch claimed that “people” were confusing “Clery reportable numbers” and “Title IX reportable numbers.” There is no such thing as “Title IX reportable numbers.”

In conclusion to a story that is far from over, Occidental College administrators have given conflicting explanations for the 27-case gap in the 2012 ASR, and some of their explanations are blatant violations of federal Clery reporting requirements. Furthermore, we have hard evidence that the 2012 ASR does not include a single anonymous report. Oxy under-reported its 2012 sexual assault/rape numbers, and The Los Angeles Times should not have issued its retraction. And if the numbers played any role in Felch’s firing, The Times has an ethical obligation to reconsider this decision as well.


Related Stories

Los Angeles Times Retraction and Firing of Jason Felch

Los Angeles Times and Its Fired Investigative Reporter: A Critical Look

Jason Felch Statement, and a Clarification on Occidental College

Inside the Sexual Assault Civil War at Occidental College

Break-Ins and Cover-Ups at Occidental College? LA Times’ Felch Firing Raises More Questions

Occidental Controversy Intensifies with Allegations against Longtime Athletic Trainer





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Patricia Esparza: Victim on Trial

*** Trigger Warning for Violence, Including Sexual Violence***


Dr. Patricia Esparza

39-year-old Patricia Esparza embodies the fabled American Dream. She spent the first five years of her life in El Taray, a small farming community in Southern Mexico with no running water and unpaved streets. Her mother migrated to the United States where she worked long hours in factories and as a janitor. Esparza’s exceptional academic abilities and hard work landed her a merit scholarship to the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Pomona College and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from DePaul University. Esparza was hired as a professor at Webster University Geneva and works as a consultant for the World Health Organization.

Yesterday I watched as Esparza was hauled away in handcuffs, charged with a murder she did not commit.

The Rape: “Colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students.”

Rewind two decades, back to when Esparza was a 20-year-old Pomona College sophomore. On March 25, 1995, she met Gonzalo Ramirez, an older (24), married man at a bar while visiting her sister in Santa Ana. The following morning, Ramirez met up with Esparza, Esparza’s sister, and a friend for breakfast. Ramirez then offered to drive Esparza and her friend back to her dorm room. They dropped off the friend first, then Ramirez asked to come into Esparza’s dorm room for water where he raped her. Esparza went into a state of shock during the ordeal.

Esparza, a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her father from the age of five until twelve, could not turn to her family and felt too humiliated and afraid to go to the police. She sought help at the Pomona student health center where the nurse blamed Esparza for her rapist’s criminal behavior and offered her little help and no resources. Pomona College spokesperson Cynthia Peters recently denied that this happened, stating that if Esparza had gone to the nurse after her rape, it would have been reported to authorities. The problem for Pomona is that this interaction with the nurse was so re-traumatizing that Esparza kept the official medical record proving the visit. The nurse recorded her rape as “unprotected intercourse.” As Esparza shared in our recent interview,

I remember the nurse’s reaction like it was yesterday. She gave me the morning-after pill to ensure that I did not get pregnant and she walked away. It sent a strong signal of shame. If only that college nurse would have helped me that day, the horrible series of events that took place would have been prevented. Colleges and universities have a responsibility to their students, especially when they are most vulnerable.

Beyond not helping Esparza in her time of dire need, this nurse violated the federal Clery Act and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights by not reporting Esparza’s rape or offering her support services.

The Murder: “These people were dangerous, and I needed to stay quiet.”

On April 15, 1995, two weeks after the rape, Esparza’s ex-boyfriend Gianni Van visited her, hoping to rekindle their previous relationship. (Esparza and Van dated for only six months, during which time they saw each other about twice a month.) Esparza needed a shoulder to cry on, so she accepted Van’s visit.  She was obviously distraught and Van stayed for hours trying to coax the story out of her. She finally broke down and told him about the rape. Then Van exploded. He verbally attacked Esparza for not stopping the rape. He also told her that he wanted her back, even though she had been “dishonored.”

Van quickly hatched a revenge plan that involved four friends – Kody Tran, Shannon Gries, Diane Tran and Julie Ann Rojas. A week after Esparza confided in Van, he bullied her into going to the club where she first met Ramirez to identify him. Esparza testified that Van was “insisting, yelling, telling me that I had to point out the rapist, point out the attacker. And at some point Gonzalo Ramirez walked by, and I cringed and I told Gianni that that was the person.” Esparza told a grand jury that she believed that “the worst that would happen is that [Van] would rough [Ramirez] up.” 

When Ramirez left the bar, Van’s friends rear-ended Ramirez’s truck and kidnapped him. They took Ramirez to a transmission shop owned by Tran and beat him bloody. During the beating, Esparza was taken against her will to another bar by Rojas at the direction of Gries, then called back to the transmission shop by Gries about an hour later.

At the shop, Gries ordered Esparza to come upstairs to see the bloodied Ramirez. Esparza noted that the attackers were armed. Gries then threatened to do the same thing to Esparza and Rojas if they “fucked him over.” Esparza recounts her terror that night:

I retreated downstairs to a corner and stayed quiet. I was trapped. I was out-numbered by four older and bigger people. I was four feet 9 inches, 98 pounds, and I was miles away from my home late at night in a non-residential area. I had no car and didn’t even know how to drive. I feared for my life and felt that the only thing I could do was to submit. All I knew is that these people were dangerous, and I needed to stay quiet. 

While [Van] and [Gries] took my rapist away, the other man, Kody Tran, explicitly threatened me and added he would also hurt my mother if I said anything about what I had witnessed. “This was done for you. You better not turn against us, or we will get you,” he said. I believed him too. He had shown me what they were capable of doing.

Van drove Esparza to her mother’s house that night and told her they had let Ramirez go. The next day, Irvine police found Ramirez’s body on the side of the road, hacked to death with a meat cleaver. Esparza was not aware that Ramirez was dead until two months later when police questioned her.

(As an aside, there is no question that Ramirez raped Esparza because Ramirez boasted to his roomate that he had raped a girl. And the only reason the police even questioned Esparza was because they were going through Ramirez’ phone records to find the person he had raped. Esparza was one of many girls and women that the police contacted to follow up on this lead.)

Esparza feared for her life from Kody Tran and Van, and was forced into marrying Van to prevent her testimony against him (which, according to police, successfully prevented Van’s prosecution in 1995/96). Esparza returned to Pomona to complete her last two years of college. She and Van never lived together, they never lived in the same city, and they have not spoken since 1996. This sham marriage was dissolved through attorneys in 2004. Several people involved in the case confirm that the marriage orders came from Tran, the leader of the group who had cornered and threatened Esparza that night.  “Tran was scary. He was violent (he died recently in a shoot-out with the police). I did not want his fury turned against me.”

The Arrest: “I cannot accept because it would essentially be a lie.”

Esparza stayed quiet about this crime because she feared for her safety and her family’s safety. In 2010, when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas re-opened this cold case with new DNA evidence linking Ramirez to blood found at the transmission shop, Esparza cooperated fully with the investigation. Authorities told Esparza on multiple occasions that they “were not interested” in her and that she “was not a target.” Because of Esparza’s testimony, they were able to file murder charges against Van, Gries, and Diane Tran. (Kody Tran committed suicide in 2012 and Rojas was granted immunity in the case.)


Top: Patricia Esparza, Gianni Van
Bottom: Diane Tran, Kody Tran, Shannon Gries

But everything changed in October, 2012, when police arrested Esparza at the Boston airport on her way to an academic conference. She was charged with special circumstances murder during the commission of a kidnapping that could carry the death penalty in California.

Despite a murder charge, Esparza’s bail was set at $300,000, and for eleven months, she was free and able to travel between the states and her home in France. It is simply unheard of for people charged with murder to be out on bail and allowed to keep their passport, a clear indication that the Orange County DA did not actually think Esparza committed this heinous crime. Yesterday, Esparza was taken into custody after rejecting a plea bargain for voluntary manslaughter with a sentence of three years in prison. “I cannot accept because it would essentially be a lie.”

According to Susan Kang Schroeder from the DA’s office, because Esparza rejected the plea deal, “She’s no longer cooperating with police and we believe that she’s a flight risk.” This statement does not ring true given that Esparza had nearly a year to flee to a country without an extradition treaty, and she willingly travelled to the Orange County courtroom yesterday knowing that the odds were not in her favor. Esparza made three trips to California to assist authorities during this time.

The Today Show Coverage of Case

Local CBS News Coverage of Case

If Esparza was truly a murder accomplice, why would the perpetrators have her taken to another location during the violence, then force her to view a bloodied Ramirez in order to threaten her into silence? If she was an accomplice, why did Kody Tran feel the need to threaten violence against Esparza’s mother? If she was an accomplice, why didn’t she know Ramirez had been murdered until months after his death? And if she were an accomplice, why did Kody Tran force her into a sham marriage with Van in order to maintain her silence? Setting aside Esparza’s claims that she was a victim in this case, the actions of others leave little doubt that Esparza did not willingly participate in this crime.

Esparza told me that, while Ramirez hurt her terribly, he did not deserve to die. “A life is never to be taken by another human being, under any circumstances.” Esparza’s compassion for Ramirez does not fit with a murderous revenge motive.

The Questions: “All I knew is that I wanted to survive.”

 Some question why Esparza did not report her rape to the police, a query that efficiently serves the dual purpose of challenging her victim status and her credibility. Esparza’s actions, however, are the norm. Most rape survivors say that reporting to the police is “the last thing they want to do right after being attacked,” which is why only one-third end up filing a police report. Esparza not reporting her rape to law enforcement is in no way an indicator that the rape did not happen. Rape has a false reporting rate of only 2%, and Esparza’s behavior at the time (“shutting down”) is consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and disassociation as a coping mechanism after years of childhood sexual abuse. It is incredibly difficult for most rape survivors to come forward given the societal stigma and victim-blaming associated with this crime.

As a side note, challenges to Esparza’s rape claim are primarily coming from those who are arguing for her guilt in the murder, but this is inherently contradictory because the revenge motive evaporates without the rape.

Others question why Esparza did not come forward to report the crime once she relocated to Europe. She was asked this question at a recent press conference where she clarified that Van and his friends also directed threats at her family who still reside in Orange County. She lived in fear of Van, Kody Tran, and Gries (a.k.a., “Jailbird”) for years: “All I knew is that I wanted to survive.” Esparza was unwilling to jeopardize her family’s safety, an especially prudent choice considering the brutality of Ramirez’s murder and Tran’s violent record (up until he committed suicide in 2012 as a SWAT team surrounded his estranged wife’s home that he had broken into).

The Betrayal:  “Shield her from the pain of this experience.”

Esparza’s story is a classic story of institutional betrayal. She was betrayed by her father and the repeated sexual abuse shattered her sense of safety. She was betrayed by college officials who failed to properly and legally respond to her rape (which is still a problem today, hence the new national campus sexual assault movement). Now she is being betrayed by a legal institution that is sending a chilling message to survivors that they will not be believed.

The inconceivably traumatic events in Esparza’s life quieted in the last decade. She completed her Ph.D., married neurobiologist Jorge Mancillas, landed a job in Geneva and bought a home in a neighboring French town. In 2009, her daughter Arianna was born. Esparza was “filled with hope, thinking of how different her life would be to mine…. After years of hard work, I was now poised to pass on to my daughter everything I had achieved.” As they placed Esparza in handcuffs yesterday, she implored her husband to “take care of our daughter Arianna and to shield her from the pain of this experience.”

Patricia with Arianna Patricia with Jorge

In her professional biography, Dr. Esparza writes that she lives by the Chinese proverb, “Keep a green bough in your heart, and the singing bird will come.” As she sustains her green bough in the face of grave injustice, we must all be her chorus of singing birds.

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Emily Yoffe is Helping Campus Rapists Hide in Plain Sight

By Caroline Heldman & Danielle Dirks

On October 15, Slate Dear Prudence advice columnist Emily Yoffe wrote a piece titled, “The Best Rape Prevention: Tell College Women to Stop Getting Drunk.” A crowd of critics harpooned Yoffe for her victim blaming approach (Jezebel, Feministing, Huffington Post, The Atlantic, Salon, and even Slate’s own Amanda Hess). On October 18, Yoffe responded to the backlash by digging in her heels, citing data on the correlation between survivor intoxication and rape and admonishing her critics for silencing those who want to give “practical advice” to young women. Just last week, Southern Methodist University student Kirby Wiley penned a similar piece in the school newspaper encouraging women to drink less, writing that, “of course the perpetrators are the one’s responsible for the crimes, but to solve the problem they can’t be the only ones taking blame.”

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Campus Activism Calling Out Victim Blaming

Beyond the implied victim blaming in Yoffe’s pieces and the blatant victim blaming in Wiley’s piece (rape is the only crime where the victim is put on trial), both of these authors are terribly misguided in thinking that they are offering practical advice. The fact is, rape reduction tips for potential victims are just not effective. (Only perpetrator and bystander interventions have shown some effectiveness.) The idea that sexual assault survivors could have controlled the criminal actions of others reflects a profound misunderstanding of how perpetrators operate.

The reality is that campus rapists’ principal weapon is alcohol and they are able to hide in plain sight within a male-dominated party culture where men provide the venues, parties, and drinks to women, often with the explicit purpose of hooking up.

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Activists Exposing Victim Blaming

While the vast majority of rapists are men, the vast majority of men are not rapists and cannot identify with rapists’ mindsets. Research shows that rapists exhibit high levels of hypermasculinity and anger toward women, they need to dominate women, and lack empathy, including sex offenders on campus. Dr. David Lisak’s research on undetected rapists finds that just 4% of young men on campus are the serial rapists who commit nine out of ten rapes on college campuses, with an average of six rapes over the course of their college career. According to Lisak, undetected college rapists:

• are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;

• plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;

• use ‘instrumental’ not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;

• use psychological weapons – power, control, manipulation, and threats – backed up by physical force, and almost never resort to weapons such as knives or guns;

• use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

Virtually all rapes on campus are perpetrated by these calculating criminals, but despite this evidence, many people continue to blame alcohol for rape rather than rapists. These same people likely have a difficult time imagining the profile of a white, well-heeled, and college-educated sex offender who is not only cold, but calculating in seeking out his victims. Lastly, these individuals tend to ignore the overwhelming data that rapists rape sober women too.

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Activists in India Taking a Stand Aainst Victim Blaming

When people like Yoffe and Wiley blame alcohol rather than rapists, they make it easier for rapists to hide (and continue) their crimes by perpetuating the idea that rape on college campuses is simply an alcohol-fueled miscommunication.

In fact, Yoffe and Wiley are mirroring the same bogus “blame it on the alcohol” rationales that two-thirds of college rapists use themselves to excuse their acts of forced sex! Perpetuating a national discourse that blames alcohol for rape simply emboldens college rapists to continue to use their weapon of choice – alcohol – with full license and with impunity.

Such misguided voices also serve to intensify women’s self-blame and nearly guarantee women’s silence in the aftermath of rape. This intense self-blame makes women less likely to:

confide in friends or loved ones;

seek much-needed professional assistance; and

• report their rapes to law enforcement or their schools – perhaps the most effective way to expose and prevent the 4% of mostly undetected college rapists from raping again.

In short, messages to women that blame them for their rape rather than the criminal perpetrators function as a silencing machine that enables rape to remain a mostly hidden national epidemic.

Beyond the damage inflicted by Yoffe and Wiley’s victim blaming, their argument is also logically flawed. As any student in an introductory statistics course can recite, “correlation does not equal causation,” so a correlation between intoxication and rape does not mean intoxication causes rape. In fact, nearly all college students consume alcohol, just under 40%  are heavy drinkers, and male students drink more often and more heavily than female students. Logically, then, if victim intoxication were a primary cause of rape, then men would be raped more often than women, but they are not. So untangling Yoffe and Wiley’s “logic,” drinking isn’t the problem: being female and drinking is the problem. The implication is that women should not be allowed to participate in campus party culture (or their everyday lives) without paying the penalty of rape.

So why, in 2013, are writers for prominent publications still engaging in barefaced victim blaming when it comes to rape? We believe that the lion’s share of blame lies with editors. When news sources publish a piece on Syria of the growth of job in the high tech industry, editors call upon experts, typically with advanced degrees, who have been thinking and writing about their subject for years. But when it comes to incredibly complex gender issues like sexualized violence, editors too often engage in outdated identity politics and assign stories to the nearest available woman. This is how we get mainstream “news” stories about gender issues from veritable laypeople, like Yoffe or Hanna Rosin or Caroline Kitchens, who have not spent a sustained period of time reading, researching, and writing about gender, and don’t bother to use the work of those who have. Having collectively spent three decades doing just that, we have learned that gender is a remarkably intricate system of power that takes decades to gain even a slim grasp on how it functions and operates. Our society will remain in the Neanderthal cave in our common “knowledge” about rape as long as uninformed public figures continue to recycle inaccurate, sexist myths packaged as “helpful” advice.

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Alcohol Used to Excuse Stubenville Rape in Social Media

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Jerry Heldman: Good Samaritan, “Jazz Wizard,” My Dad


My father died last Friday. Pneumonia finally took him, and despite two years to intellectually prepare for his death, it hits in emotional ways that are simply not possible to prepare for. Jerome “Jerry” Heldman was born on February 24, 1937, in Fargo, North Dakota, was raised in Seattle, lived in southwest Washington starting in the early 1970s, and died on October 11, 2013, in Yacolt, Washington.

My dad was different from other dads I knew. He was an ill-fitting transplant in rural, isolated Yacolt where he settled down at the foothills of Mt. Saint Helens to raise six kids. He told stories of travelling the globe during his stint in the Air Force (1955 – 1959), playing the drums nearly every night at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, hitchhiking the West Coast as a hippie musician, and running the fabled underground Seattle jazz club The Llahngaelhyn (1965- 1968). I would only later come to understand that my dad had played with some of the biggest names in jazz — bassists David Friesen and Gary Peacock, guitarists Ralph Towner and Larry Coryell, horn players Nat Adderley and Jay Thomas, wind players Joe Brazil, Carlos Ward, and Cannonball Adderley, and pianists McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea, to name a few. In Paul de Barros’ book Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle (1993), he writes that “The Llahngaelhyn scene is a kind of missing link in Seattle jazz history. For a while it was a hotbed of avant-gardism and free jazz, the music played there also remained grounded in blues, bebop, and swing tradition.”

Baker Street Station, London Underground, 1950 Something

Baker Street Station, London Underground, 1950 Something

My dad was a high school dropout who got caught smoking cigarettes a week before graduation and opted to quit school rather than tell his dad. He joined the Air Force that same year and was stationed in various Europe countries during reconstruction under The Marshall Plan. President Truman had desegregated the Armed Forces in 1948, and my father learned his first jazz licks from African American soldiers in his squadron. He was discharged from the Air Force after getting visibly upset at the racist mistreatment of an African American soldier in his squad.

When he returned home to Seattle, my dad opted for a desk job over a patrol beat with the Seattle Police because of the open racism demonstrated by patrol officers. He was still working for the Seattle PD when he started managing jazz clubs, and officers would often come by and harass him for playing “n***** music.” Eventually, his boss gave him the ultimatum that he could have a club or be a cop. It was an easy choice.

My dad’s first steady gig in Seattle was with The Seattle Jazz Quartet (with dad on bass, Dick Dunlap on piano, Joe Brazil on reeds, and Rick Swann on drums) at Larry Coryell’s sessions at the Queequeg. He would also have steady gigs with The Playboys during that era. When Coryell left for New York, my dad took over these sessions and eventually moved into new digs at the south end of University Bridge. The Llahngaelhyn was born.

The Llahngaelhyn Coffeehouse

Jam sessions at The Llahngaelhyn sometimes went all night long. In an interview in 2001, my dad recounted that “After hours, we locked the front door and left the back door open. We played sometimes until 6 or 8 in the morning. One night Roland Kirk came in and set out all of his horns on the table. Our piano player didn’t show up, so Roland got up on the drums, then switched around to the vibes, bass and piano. He played everything except his horns.” Jimi Hendrix also played at The Llahngaelhyn a few times, a fact that made my dad seem uber cool when I was a kid. McCoy Tyner, legendary jazz pianist and man of few words, once said “there was no place like the Llahngaelhyn.”

Collage of Happenings at The Llahngaelhyn by Cary Tolman, Seattle PI. Julia (Selvidge) Heldman Top Left.

My dad met my mom, Julia Selvidge, at The Llahngaelhyn. She was a young student at the University of Washington who performed children’s theater with Howard Thorsen, Bill Billings, and my mom’s best friend, Peggy Bull (who would tragically die in the 1997 Heaven’s Gate cult’s mass suicide). My mom and dad married on December 18, 1965, and the first of six kids, Clara, would come along within a year. My siblings and I – Clare, Christian, Sarah, Caroline, Kathleen, and Joy – are spaced about two years apart. My dad nicknamed us Peanut, Po, Pea, Poo, Plum, and Puffin, respectively, and would sometimes run through this entire list and our seventeen cats’ names before calling us by our proper names. I definitely got the short end of the stick on the nickname.

By the time I came along, there were only rare glimpses of my dad’s former life – dad’s jazz playing, Lamborghini-driving friend paying a visit to our drafty two-story house and leaving a $100 bill in the family bible;  my first exposure to public nudity at a Rainbow Gathering; being somewhat envious of dad’s musician friend Heather Hammond who visited with her kids on the colorful bus they called home; and the occasional visits to performance artist Jesse Bernstein’s house. Bernstein once had a conversation with a rodent in his mouth. He assured my wide-eyed toddler self that the mouse had crawled up his sleeve and into his mouth of her own volition.

Jesse Bernstein, Sans Mouse

When his family started to grow, my dad gave up his dream of “making it big” in New York as so many of his friends had done, but it was difficult to find employment as a high school dropout during a recession. Aside from playing music, his favorite job was working as a temp through President Jimmy Carter’s CETA (job training) program under Howard Pearson with the Ridgefield Parks and Recreation Department. He would take us on hikes through the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge like a pied piper, playing one of his handmade Shakuhachi flutes and mesmerizing humans and water fowl alike. His next and last “day job” would not be so rewarding.

For three decades, he worked the night shift as a janitor at the technology firm Tektronix/later TriQuest where he was routinely mistreated. Aside from all of the nasty class-based mistreatment that janitors receive all the time from people who need to feel “better than,” TriQuest paid him almost nothing, refused to move him to the day shift when he suffered health problems from his sleep schedule, and laid him off a few months before his thirty year mark so they could deny him a full pension (as they had done to the previous head janitor). Since he was relegated to the night shift, my siblings and I would sometimes help my dad at work when he was sick so he would not lose his job.

On the weekends, dad would load his upright bass into the car and drive to gigs in Portland, Seattle, and everywhere in between. He had a standing gig with pianist Tony Klugel at the Colombia Gorge Hotel for years that fed his musical soul, and he continued to record on studio albums. Some of my dad’s fellow janitors respected his musical brilliance and came out to support him at shows, but it was apparent that the white-collar employees at TriQuest did not know or appreciate my father. It is important to mention this because he suffered in silence for three decades while managing to home school us and put half of us through college.

Because TriQuest did not pay a living wage for one person, let alone a family of eight, we managed through government assistance (Food Stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, free cheese, and Financial Aid) and dad’s incredible couponing prowess. On a good shopping day, the supermarket would pay him for items. On a so-so day, he would walk out with a few boxes of cereal and cans for which he paid only pennies. We survived on his couponing, dented cans, expired food, and a summer garden out back. When we ran low, dad would throw together flour, salt, and water to create massive, mouth-watering biscuits he would smother in butter. Like my other siblings, I was eager to contribute to the household income, so at fourteen, I had my first job through the Summer Youth Employment Program… as a janitor.

My hippie-cum-Evangelical parents did not allow a television in the house, although we wheeled one of the garage once a year or so to watch “Roots” and classics on Masterpiece Theater. For entertainment, my dad recreated the jam session environment at home with us kids, giving each of us parts to play on various instruments and turning us loose. I accompanied dad by playing the bass line on the piano, and later sang with him for six years in the Christian rock band, Selah. After relocating to the East Coast, I worked for months on various jazz standards before each visit so I could sit in with him. Dad was exuberant whenever his kids or grandkids played songs we had written or shared YouTube videos of live performances: Joey on guitar, Nettie and Tristan on piano, Christian and I in various band projects.

The Christian Rock Band, Selah

The Christian Rock Band, Selah

Perhaps the most lasting remnant of my dad’s early hippie lifestyle was the thousands of hitchhikers he brought home to stay for a few days, sometimes longer. Since dad worked the night shift, we would often wake up in the morning with a new “stranger” on our couch. He never forgot how hard it was on the road when motorists would speed by and not think to pick up the cold, hungry hitchhikers with their thumbs out. This steady stream of travelling folks included professional bubble blowers, a member of the Harlem Globetrotters (who had missed the tour bus departure), missionaries, Beatnik poets, a gentleman with a van full of monkeys, musicians of all stripes, and Jorge Gallegos, who lived with us for years and offered me my first marriage proposal at age fourteen. (Despite the fact that he played a mean bar guitar and had beautiful “bad boy” tattoos, my dad was not amused.)

At some point in the 1960s, my parents became born-again Christians, and my dad mixed hippie sensibilities with Jesus’ words, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). This was his mantra, so despite our abject poverty, my dad never passed a motorist or hitchhiker in need, and always assisted homeless individuals with money, clothing, food, and sometimes a roof over their heads. When we drove past accidents, he would fervently clutch his hands together and tell us to “pray for the people.” His remarkable generosity was evident in the little things, like the fat sandwich bags full of candy he passed out at Halloween with those bible tracts that would remind the kids about the eternal damnation that comes with sins (gluttony, among others).

Because of my father, I grew up constantly concerned about and praying for the well-being of people I had never met. He truly was a Good Samaritan who harbored none of the petty fears most people have of the downtrodden. I try to emulate him as much as I can by picking up hitchhikers, stopping at accidents, and frequently communing with homeless individuals and street musicians. I refuse to live in the cold, fearful world of “strangers” that we have created because my dad has shown me (and so many others) an alternative reality.

While my father taught us not to live in fear of strangers, he himself was trapped by irrational fears from undiagnosed mental health issues during a time when mental illness was even more stigmatized than it is today. He self-medicated for years, and ended up leaving Seattle to get away from the drug-infused lifestyle. My dad’s mental health issues mostly manifested through paranoia. He wore a tin foil hat and put aluminum foil over the windows to “ward off evil vibrations.” Late in life, he admitted to me that he heard and spoke with voices, both of angels and God, and was fixated on the end of the world as laid out in the book of Revelations. He had our family collectively read at least an hour from the Bible each night, and to this day, I can quote the Bible better than the most devoted of the protesters at Planned Parenthood. Like many of his gifted musician compatriots, despite mental health challenges, my father was able to accomplish extraordinary things during his living years. His quirkiness simply made him more interesting than ordinary folks, a fact I would not appreciate until I grew up.

And my dad was an interesting cat. He was a political leftist who was vehemently pro-life. He loved Jimmy Carter and had no kind words for his successor, although he prayed for President Reagan a lot. He also loved his Dr. Pepper and bear claws and jojos and Doritos and microwavable burritos. He was a heavy smoker (Kool menthols) for decades, but I never saw him with a cigarette in his mouth. My dad took great pleasure in cruising around in his 1989 white Firebird, and he did not age like the rest of us, in spirit or body. He still looked 45-years-old when he was pushing seventy, and passed away with a full head of thick, dark hair. He sported a floppy mustache for most of his life that he thought looked really cool and could conjure up Bible verses like a computer. He used to cover for me when I would sneak home from church to watch Sunday auto racing with him. (Sorry Mom.)

My father gave me many gifts, not the least of which is my love of coffee (although he favored the instant flavored “coffee” granules know as Café Francis). My father also gifted me my feminist sensibilities by being an unrepentant, but ultimately failed, misogynist. He did not let the girls in the family cut their hair or wear pants until we were teens. He refused to listen to “chick musicians” but was exceedingly proud of his different daughters’ musical accomplishments. He rebuffed “chick authors” but was beaming when I published my first piece. He refused to let me enroll in martial arts training, but when I secretly did, he was not-so-secretly happy about my tournament trophies. In other words, he constantly undermined his overt sexism by being a proud and supportive parent, and it is no surprise that all of his daughters are feminists.

Jerry, Julia, Kathleen, Sarah, Caroline, Joy, Christian, and Clara Heldman

In his final years, my dad was a doting grandfather to his seven grandchildren – Jonathan, Jordan, Joey, Zaid, Jennette, Tristan, and Declan. He supported their music lessons, collaborated with them on compositions, and doled out lots of candy (notice a theme here?). He also ran services at the Yacolt Full Gospel Community Church after Pastor Hannes and Anita Wirkkala’s passing. My father’s services were rich with ruminations on Revelations and groovy music featuring dad on bass/piano and grandson Joey on guitar.

59-year-old Jerry with grandsons Joey, Jordan, and Zaid.

In 2001, my dad worked with accomplished musician Heather Hammond to host a Llahngaelhyn reunion that brought back many of the original players: Eric Apoe, Ronnie Pierce, Pete Leinonen, Jay Thomas, Dale Evans, Dick Dunlap,  and others. It was an amazing event, brimming with love and good food and great music. Whitey Black wrote “It took a spirit like Heldman’s, free of greed and vanity, to bring jazz back to Seattle. Now let us return the favor and keep it here.” Members of the press described my dad as an “all-around inspiration” and a “jazz wizard.”

“This wizard never slept, and played extraordinary jazz bass and piano, from dusk till dawn. Every night, his friends – many of whom would later become famous musicians – came to play with him.”

We’re still playing, dad, but we’re missing the bass player.

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Support Young Voices in Indy Media

Almost half of the world’s population is younger than 25 years old, and it seems like everyone is talking about the Millennials but not talking to them.  And it is even rarer that we hear from them.  The generation gap is not a new concept, but when media reduce the multitudinous experiences of an entire generation to social media and laziness, it is high time they be included in the conversation.  We all benefit from politically-minded, active, and knowledgeable youth who understand the forces that shape politics and media and know how to articulate and fight for what they believe in.

A group of young activists, organizers, and writers are elevating the voices of passionate, educated young people through an innovative new youth-led independent media project called {Young}ist.  While the site hasn’t officially launched, they’ve already begun publishing pithy political and critical analysis and narrative journalism by and for young people around the world on their Tumblr.  I encourage you to check it out, and if you believe in what they’re doing as much as I do, please support them by donating to their Indiegogo campaign.  {Young}ist has almost met their fundraising goal of $12,000, but if they fall even $1 short, they’ll lose it all.  Thanks in advance for your support of this important cause!

Dear Kelsey Weaver and Gianna Anile,

[Trigger Warning]

Your former best friend is the victim in the Steubenville, Ohio rape trial. She was very drunk and refused to leave that party with you last August when you were concerned about her safety. Three witnesses (who have received immunity) testified that she was so drunk she didn’t know what was happening to her that night. So drunk that she passed out. She was unaware that her incapacitated body was being carried around like a rag doll.


She was unaware that she would be raped in a car, then raped again when she was “passed out, naked, and face down on a basement floor.” As witness Anthony Craig put it, “She wasn’t moving, she wasn’t talking, she wasn’t participating.”

Your former best friend was so incapacitated in fact that party goer Michael Nodianos put on a 12-minute performance of mysogynistic masculinity where he talks about your former best friend as a “dead girl” (“deader than OJ’s wife”), describes students urinating on her, admits she was raped (“she is so raped right now”), and continues to joke about her being raped even after a concerned young man says “they raped her” and asks “what if that was your daughter?”

Your former best friend woke up naked in the basement the next morning and said she didn’t remember what had happened. Her conversations and text messages in the days following the incident confirm this.

Kelsey and Gianna, at the trial this week you testified against your former best friend, reporting that she has a history of drinking and telling lies, as though these facts somehow make her worthy of rape. When did you stop being her best friend? When did you decide that you would side with the alleged perpetrators in attacking her character, as though her actions somehow justified these heinous crimes?

Rape survivors often lose their friends when they “go public” with their experiences because they do not want to be branded with the social stigma that survivors face. According to Golden et al., “The continued judgment of, or distain for, victims of rape is a form of social stigmatization. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for victims of rape or sexual assault to suffer not just from the attack but also from their treatment by their friends and relatives afterwards” (The Truth About Rape, 2010).

Kelsey and Gianna, you live in a football town where two football players have been charged with rape, and, thanks to the work of Anonymous, we know that coaches, school leaders, town leaders and law enforcement officers have circled the wagons around the alleged perpetrators. You live in a town where people routinely blame your former best friend for crimes perpetrated by others. As one coach put it, “The rape was just an excuse, I think …What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that?”

It takes courage to stand with a friend when some of the slut-shaming and victim-blaming filth thrown at her will land on you. It takes bravery to public admit that even imperfect girls can be raped. It takes a certain brand of loyalty to stand with your best friend when you know she’s been wronged, even if it means you’ll lose male attention and other friends, and face ridicule at school.

But it is vitally important that the survivors of sexual assault and rape know they are not alone: 1-in-33 men, 1-in-10 people in prison, 1-in-6 women, 1-in-4 women in college, 1-in-3 women on reservations. I can only imagine the awful pressures you are facing right now, but I hope that you will soon find the courage, bravery, and loyalty to stand with your former best friend.

Things that Cause Rape

Anonymous Protest in Front of Courthouse

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My TED Talk on the Lie that Sexy = Empowering

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