Indifferent Institutions

root - Posted on 26 May 2008

One woman's struggle for justice in a sexual assault case at City College in San Francisco

by Sam Drew/PNN

I tried to make my voice sound as upbeat, pleasant and non-threatening as I possibly could when I asked a San Francisco City College official about the college's handling of a recent sexual assault case. The response was measured and bureaucratically remote as representative of Affirmative Action icily explained, "That's a police matter you’ll have to get in touch with them."

I decided to call City College after meeting with Sandra Thomsen, a former student whose life was turned upside down after she reported an attempted sexual assault by a teacher. Instead of receiving care and respect, she was made a pariah for protesting the way her case was being handled by the school.

I made a second call to the office of the dean. This time the official said that if a student disagrees with the college’s findings they have the right to file a complaint. He went on to let me know about the improvements that have been made to assist students who report sexual assault. But when I asked him about Sandra's case his openness changed as he quickly responded, "I can't comment on that case."

Well, I can comment on her case. Sandra's problems began while she was working to acquire her AA degree in Criminal Justice. "I wanted to get a degree in Criminal Justice to inspire the youth," she said.

"I was weak in Geometry so a math teacher offered to tutor me," she continued, "He said we would have to go back to his place to study...that is where he attempted to rape me." Her eyes filled with sadness and rage as she remembered how she was treated after reporting the attempted assault

"I reported the incident to Affirmative Action and then I went to the Chancellor, later they sent me a letter saying that they hired an investigator but they couldn’t substantiate my charges," she said.

Sandra still keeps the letter with her other papers about the case. But this denial of justice only spurred Sandra on to push harder for the truth. Due to her complaints to the Chancellor’s Office, Sandra was put on disciplinary probation, and eventually was suspended indefinitely for speaking out at a meeting of the Chancellors.

Despite each of these setbacks, Sandra is still positive about her case. She has always been a champion of the underdog and dispossessed. Her passion for the neglected was born out of her own hardships.

"I have a past, I came out of the Foster Care System and later got into juvenile hall...I then got involved with gangs [and] spent six years at Chowchilla Prison for involuntary manslaughter. I didn’t do it but I was convinced to take a polygraph test. I was young and wasn’t educated about my civil rights, But I've changed my life," she said passionately. Sandra was scheduled to graduate in the Spring of 2008 with a high G.P.A. before she was suspended.

Sandra is not just thinking about her own case, but also the many other women facing similar hardships. "A lot of other students on campus mention that instructors have done this to them too, but there is no support for students on campus," she said.

According to the 1992 study, Rape in America by the National Victim Center in Virginia, "College age women, 18-24 years old, are more likely to be raped than at any other time in their adult life...many women do not come forward because they feel embarrassed or wrongly blame themselves."

Without a victim friendly reporting system and sensitive and caring administrations, those brave enough, like Sandra, to report sex crimes will continue to suffer as victims of an overloaded bureaucratic monster.

"Sandra's indifferent treatment by the administration is the reason why on campus student run organizations like the Betty Shabazz Family Resource Center, the Multicultural Students Organization and OurStories Club are so important, because they actually understand the needs and serve students like Sandra who need support" said Tiny co-founder of POOR Magazine and former student at City College.

Although Sandra has found support in other organizations and community members, she is still fighting for the right to be heard as a victim and demanding justice in her case.

Sam Drew is a poverty scholar and staff writer at POOR Magazine for more of his powerful work go on-line to To support Sandra please call POOR Magazine at (415) 863-6306


Sign-up for POOR email!