Tuesday, August 27, 1996

Sexual harassment suit
sends message

A federal jury's rebuke to a female plaintiff - who accused a University of Hawaii professor of repeatedly raping her - may seem like a setback for women suffering from sexual harassment in the workplace and classroom. It would be a mistake, however, to place that much significance on it. In this case, the jury found that Michelle Gretzinger's allegations lacked credibility, not that she should have tolerated what she insists occurred.

Gretzinger accused UH religion Professor Ramdas Lamb of forcing her to have sex with him 16 times in 1992. She sought up to $1.7 million in compensatory and punitive damages in federal court. Lamb flatly denied ever having sex with Gretzinger.

The jury decided after less than six hours of deliberation that it could not believe Gretzinger's accusations, and granted Lamb's counterclaim, ordering her to pay him $132,750 for defamation. Clayton Ikei, Gretzinger's attorney, said the verdict tells women that they should think twice before reporting being raped.

In fact, the verdict says just the opposite. Apparently, some jurors put a lot of weight on Gretzinger waiting until spring 1993 before reporting the alleged rapes, which she maintains occurred over a five-week period in fall 1992. Gretzinger said the delay was caused by her fear of retaliation, but it nevertheless undermined her credibility.

Ikei said the jury's explanation that the allegations were not supported by physical evidence was unsatisfactory to him. "I don't know of many rape cases where you have more than a woman's word," he said.

A check with the city prosecutor's office would find that the overwhelming majority of rape trials are supported by physical evidence. That is why victims are advised to report sexual assaults to police as expeditiously as possible, so that evidence can be documented and preserved. Alleged rape cases lacking physical evidence aren't likely to be prosecuted.

Legal attention may now be turning to the University of Hawaii. After paying $175,000 to Gretzinger in a settlement last spring, the UH faces a lawsuit by Lamb, who accuses the school of bungling its investigation of the complaint. State Deputy Attorney General Susan Gochros says the university has no intention of settling with Lamb; Ikei said Gretzinger plans to appeal the federal jury's verdict.

If any message is to be read into this case, it is that women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted by superiors, mentors or associates should strive to file their complaints immediately. The Gretzinger/Lamb lawsuit shows that the longer victims wait to formalize their accusations, the less likely their stories may be believed.

Tents for prisoners

TENT-LIKE structures are being sought by the state Department of Public Safety to ease overcrowding in Hawaii's prison system. They could be a worthwhile experiment. The structures envisioned for a prison camp at Waiawa are sturdy enough for the task and could be ideal in Hawaii's mild weather. They should not, however, be considered a permanent remedy to the state's burgeoning population behind bars.

UH tuition hikes

FEWER students returned to classes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa yesterday, with some "dropouts" attributing their no-show status to the higher cost of higher education. According to university officials, the early impacts of a 50 percent tuition increase at UH-Manoa are a 15 percent drop in enrollment and a 66 percent rise in financial aid applications from the previous academic year. In these tough economic times, everyone must dig deeper - just as taxpayers did for the UH in the past.

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