Allegations against UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng for attempted rape have been silenced by authorities in Orange County, who dropped charges against the UC Irvine student due to lack of evidence.
Cheng was arrested on suspicions of misdemeanor sexual battery on Nov. 4 – nine days after his accuser reported the incident. He is currently still under additional investigation by UC and UC Irvine officials, but maintains that he is innocent and will not step down as student regent.
“I’m innocent,” said Cheng, who is the only voting student member on the UC Board of Regents. “All the evidence has been reviewed by the DA and police. They concluded that there’s no evidence.”
The accuser, who wished to be identified as Laya, brought forth e-mails in which Cheng admitted to assaulting her. The two dated for nearly a year, and they maintained contact after Cheng ended the relationship.
“It was a bad breakup and a messy situation,” Cheng said.
In a statement released Monday, Cheng responded in detail to the allegations Laya and other media outlets made against him. He claims that he and Laya engaged in consensual physical contact in the three times they saw each other after the breakup.
“She demanded that I write e-mail apologies to her, specifying exact language that she wanted to see in those e-mails,” he said in the statement. “Exhausted, I sent out those e-mails. What I said in those e-mails are not true and did not reflect my behavior, but I thought that by adopting her language and meeting the standards she set out, we could both move forward.”
In response, Laya told The Daily Californian that she could not believe that Cheng denied an assault.
She added that she was reluctant to report an assault because Cheng’s friends convinced her not to talk about it. This reluctance is common among victims of sexual assault, said Marisa Messier, victim advocate at the Campus Violence and Protection Agency.
Though Messier could not comment on Cheng’s case, she noted that the majority of sexual assault reports are true, but rarely reported.
“It is solely up to the District Attorney’s office to determine whether or not a case is charged,” Messier said in an e-mail interview. “Sexual assault cases are very difficult to prosecute and just because a case is not picked up by the DA’s office does not mean that it did not happen.”
Alison Tanner, ASUCD senator, echoed this sentiment in response to Cheng’s statement. She cited the procedure required by the DA to pursue the case as a major issue in cases such as Cheng’s. For example, if non-consensual sex acts are not visibly violent, or if a woman does not submit a rape kit exam within 72 hours, a DA will not pursue the case because they cannot “prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to the National District Attorney’s Association.
“The situation deserves further investigation than the current legal system is willing to provide,” Tanner said in an e-mail interview.
Cheng expressed concern that students will lose trust in his character and leadership as a result of the allegations, despite the fact that authorities have confirmed his innocence. Several student groups have expressed their mistrust in Cheng upon hearing the news, such as the Mariposa Center for Change and The Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization and Marginalization. The UC Students Association declined to comment on the allegations against Cheng.
Cheng stated that the situation sheds light on the way women are often treated at the expense of what he called male privilege.
“Just because I’m innocent doesn’t mean violence against women doesn’t happen,” he said. “These are very serious allegations, and I will continue to stand against violence against women.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.