A sexual harassment lawsuit filed Thursday by a UC Berkeley student against a former Tang Center employee and the UC Board of Regents raised concerns among the UC Berkeley community regarding recurring allegations of sexual misconduct on campus, particularly pertaining to employee misconduct.
The lawsuit was filed anonymously by a UC Berkeley student, who is referred to in the complaint as Justina Roe. The complaint alleged that Roe was sexually harassed and emotionally abused by former Tang Center employee Eric Samuels, who at the time of the alleged incident was a postdoctoral fellow at the clinic assigned to her case.
Samuels is a member of the LGBTQ Psychotherapist Association, according to his Psychology Today profile. The profile also states that he suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, a nervous system disorder that causes various forms of tics, including lack of impulse control.
Samuels declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus could not comment as of press time since it had not yet been served with a complaint. A UC spokesperson also could not be reached for comment as of press time.
John Winer, Roe’s attorney, said the case will go to trial in about a year and half if it is not settled. He alleged that the campus’s “serious problem” regarding sexual abuse and sexual harassment stems from insufficient education, monitoring and hiring of employees.
“(Samuels) should’ve been instructed to maintain appropriate boundaries — that’s all part of the appropriate training for therapists,” Winer alleged.
Winer said he has been an attorney for more than 1,000 cases involving therapist abuse across California over the past 35 years.
The campus has been “trying to get (a) handle” on sexual harassment over the past year, according to Laura Nelson, a campus associate professor of gender and women’s studies. She said the campus has been focusing on education about sexual violence and increasing accessibility to resources for victims, but she added that she is uncertain as to the effectiveness of the campus’s measures.
“To be really honest, I think that violence will happen at some rate in all human societies, but I think that as communities we can make things much less likely by increasing awareness and changing cultures and changing structures that facilitate abuse,” Nelson said. “I’m hoping that what the university has been working toward will be effective.”
Nelson said there are no concrete statistics regarding the prevalence of sexual misconduct involving medical professionals, making it difficult to determine how often such incidents occur.
“All of us, I think, would say that most medical professionals are unlikely to engage in (sexual misconduct),” Nelson said. “But the impact of it when it does happen is probably extremely devastating because of the vulnerability of patients in that context.”
Kim Thuy Seelinger, director of the Sexual Violence Program at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Human Rights Center, expressed concern about patients’ vulnerability. She said in an email that healthcare providers should be aware of their potential to do harm.
“This is clearly not just about sexual assault at fraternity parties or inappropriate advances by professors,” Seelinger said in an email. “We also need to look at all areas of staffing, including those working in support services.”
Campus senior Rosa Kwak, an ASUC senator last year, said her office organized the Sexual Violence Conference in April, a discussion about sexual violence that brought together various student groups on campus. She said that when she was a senator, the ASUC tended to show solidarity with victims of sexual misconduct through bills in statement of support. ASUC, she said, aims to ensure that various student groups can “make noise on campus” and “make their frustration visible.”
Based on her personal experience, Kwak said she believes a bill about Roe’s case will be raised or at least discussed at upcoming ASUC Senate meetings.
Kwak added that while the lawsuit saddens her, it does not surprise her because of the number of sexual harassment allegations that arise among campus students each year. Last spring, The Daily Californian obtained hundreds of pages of documents that revealed 124 cases of sexual misconduct across the UC system between 2013-16.
“I think it’s really hard and tiring to hear consistent stories where UC Berkeley tries to be the front-runner when it comes to handling sexual violence and sexual assault cases. But every year there’s cases,” Kwak said. “There is sort of a disconnect when it comes to different actions and initiatives to combat this.”