The Problem With USC’s ‘Booty Bandit’
by Sophia Li
It was 6 p.m. on Friday the 13th, and spring break was close enough to touch. USC sophomore Sarah Hansen was walking less than two blocks away from campus, where she had just finished dance practice, to her apartment on 30th Street. Hansen felt someone passing her from behind and turned to see a stranger at her back.
“Hey baby,” the man groaned in an exaggerated, deep voice. Before she could process what was happening, he hit her buttocks, hard, and took off running.
“I think I started laughing, just because that stuff never happens,” she said.
READ MORE: Open Letter To My Sexual Harasser
Hansen wasn’t planning on reporting the crime until a witness encouraged her to come forward. She agreed.
Later that March night, four squad cars from USC’s Department of Public Safety pulled up on her lawn. She spent the night filling out clipboard after clipboard of paperwork.
Even though DPS treated the incident seriously, Hansen took it “really lightheartedly” at first.
“In the moment, it didn’t seem like sexual assault,” Hansen said.
But in fact, Hansen’s sexual battery was a case of sexual assault — one in a long series of what the Clery Act defines as “forcible fondling.”
In the weeks that followed, more and more women were groped or slapped on the butt. The Los Angeles Police Department have alleged that the same man attacked 12 different women near USC’s campus from late February to mid-April.
Although DPS first notified the USC community about these incidents via a crime alert on March 6, sexual battery is not a new problem at USC.
“Female students being slapped on their behinds is not an uncommon occurrence here around the University Park campus,” DPS Deputy Chief David Carlisle said. “What made this year unique is the frequency and the number of reports we had had. I know we had at least 16 reports of the same type of sexual assaults.”
According to Carlisle, the reason DPS notified students of some crimes but not others is because the Clery Act mandates that institutions must send out warnings to students specifically when a crime occurs that “presents an ongoing threat to students.”
Following every assault that was reported to DPS, USC’s Center for Women and Men reached out to the students and offered additional support and resources. Center Director Ekta Kumar called many of the victims personally, which Hansen appreciated.
“It’s good to know that if something more serious did happen, I trust this school and I trust Ekta, because of the care that she showed,” Sarah said.
See Also: Inside The Mind Of The USC Girl Mafia
Not everyone, however, responded to the sexual batteries with the same level of concern.
“I told some friends and they laughed, because the [assailant] had become this mythical legend at USC,” Hansen said. “Now, looking back, the fact that people think a stranger slapper people’s butts is funny is kind of sad. It’s an invasion of privacy at the least, and it’s disrespectful, and on top of that it is sexual assault. That’s not funny.”
Perhaps the most infamous response to the sexual assaults has been the “USC Booty Bandit” video, created by former USC student Tristan de Burgh.
In the video, which has over 8,000 views on Youtube, De Burgh approaches random students and security ambassadors on the street and tests their knowledge of the assailant, nicknamed the “Booty Bandit.”
Although Hansen claims she was not offended by the video, directors of both the CWM and Women’s Student Assembly found it problematic.
“This video trivializes the type of crime which is occurring,” Kumar wrote in an email. “I have heard concerns from [survivors] about how their peers respond to the instances of sexual battery by trying to ‘normalize’ this experience or poke fun at it, when in fact, it is a crime and form of power/control.”
WSA co-director Yesenia Menendez found the video disrespectful, particularly one scene where De Burgh tries to use a woman as bait for the “Booty Bandit” and instructs her to “stand there and look sorority-like.”
Even though Carlisle did not think the video hurt the investigation, he emphasized the gravity of the situation.
“I realize on a college campus that a slap on the rear-end may be interpreted by some as humorous, but DPS takes it very seriously, the federal government takes it very seriously, the university takes it very seriously and the victims are offended,” Carlisle said. “We look at it as a criminal matter.”
De Burgh defended his video by claiming his goal with his snap stories is to “use comedy to draw attention to serious issues in hopes of engaging the young adult and teen demographic,” however declined to comment further.
While the video certainly brought attention to the sexual batteries, critics agreed that it also made light of the crimes.
“I think the video highlights the disconnect between the culture of care that we have on this campus versus what is actually being done,” Menendez said. “When we laugh at these things, we’re laughing at someone’s autonomy being violated.”
Even people who were trying to take the situation seriously did not always respond appropriately.
Hansen said that when she was telling LAPD what happened, the officer started laughing on the phone and kept cracking up.
“I was like — why are you taking the serious steps but treating it like a joke?” Hansen commented.
Both the police and her parents told her that she should not walk alone, even though multiple victims were attacked while with other people. Hansen’s friends jokingly asked her what she was wearing when the incident happened.
“I answered ‘pants,’ but that had nothing to do with [the attack]” Hansen said.
The implicit connection between a woman’s appearance and her likelihood of getting assaulted is nothing new, and it’s referenced multiple times in the “Booty Bandit” video.
Three minutes in, one student tells De Burgh that her roommate was attacked. He cuts her off and asks what her roommate’s booty looks like. She responds “Well it’s like, voluptuous,” while nodding and making cupping motions with her hands.
“It’s kind of sad how [the video] pretty much said if you’re a pretty girl with a big butt, sorry, it could be you,” Hansen said. “When the conversation changes from what the man was doing to what the woman looked like, that’s a huge problem because they’re not related at all.”
Even though LAPD announced last week that they had arrested 21-year-old Javier Cardoza for the alleged crimes, the incidents have had a lasting effect for some survivors.
Hansen is highly conscious of whenever someone’s behind her and now carries pepper spray. For a while after her assault, she had a “weird flinch reaction” anytime she heard a bike behind her.
“[The attack] affected me in ways that I didn’t expect it to,” Hansen said. “They’re not huge aftereffects, but in little ways, it’s changed the way I perceive the safety of this campus.”