Sydra Gianassi | Courtesy Photo

*Warning: The following article contains graphic content that may be considered disturbing to some readers.*  

A Cal Poly student who was accused of at least seven incidents of sexual assault was found not in violation of campus policies on sexual misconduct for at least one incident. However, he was expelled from his fraternity, Delta Tau Delta (DTD), for reasons related to the accusations.

Animal science junior Sydra Gianassi said she filed a complaint in late May after she was sexually assaulted by the student the night of March 11.

The alleged assailant denied that sexual and physical activity between him and Gianassi was non-consensual.

Gianassi is one of three women who filed Title IX complaints against the same student regarding sexual assault. These three formal complaints are among at least seven that have been brought forward to Safer.

Title IX is a federal law that mandates universities receiving federal funding to investigate sexual misconduct and discrimination. Safer is Cal Poly’s confidential resource for sexual assault, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking.  

Gianassi’s Title IX investigation began June 6 and was conducted by Liz Paris of Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation, retained by Cal Poly.

Gianassi provided Mustang News with a copy of her Investigation Report compiled by Paris, as well as emails between her and Cal Poly’s Title IX Coordinator Brian Gnandt. Gianassi talked with Mustang News at length about the ordeal.

The language of the report refers to Gianassi as the “Complainant” and the accused assailant as the “Respondent.”

*Graphic content below

Gianassi’s story

Gianassi told Mustang News she attended a party with the alleged assailant March 11. Prior to the party, Gianassi texted him, saying she had left her keys at his house and asked him to bring them to the party. At the party, he gave Gianassi her keys and the two continued to talk and hang out with one of Gianassi’s friends.

Gianassi said the two flirted throughout the party.

“It was very flirtatious and I was fine with that. I was being flirty back,” Gianassi said.

Gianassi said they started kissing and her friends asked her if she was OK. She told them she was fine and the individual asked her if she wanted to go back to his apartment. She agreed. Gianassi said they both had been drinking, but she was not drunk.

Once inside his apartment, Gianassi said things escalated quickly.

“I was fine with having sex with him,” Gianassi said. “It was just the abuse part that came after [the consent to sex].”   

During the intercourse, Gianassi said he became increasingly violent.

“There was hitting, there was choking, there was grabbing,” Gianassi said.

According to the Investigation Report, Gianassi said:

“Then it started to get worse and worse. At one point I think I even said, “Ow,” and it didn’t stop him. He didn’t respond. And then it escalated into choking, to the point where I could not breathe. You could hear a gasp of air, and then he would stop for a second, and kept going. It was really painful.”

In her interview with Mustang News, Gianassi also said she wanted to yell, but nothing would come out. She said he bit her neck and lips and pressed especially hard on her sternum.

Gianassi said the two had intercourse almost nonstop for about three hours.

“I remember multiple times where I was trying to leave,” Gianassi said.

According to the Investigation Report, she said when she tried to leave, he would grab her wrist and pull her back onto the bed. In the report, Gianassi said when she tried to leave the first time, the individual directed her to perform oral sex on him:

“When I tried to leave the first time, he pulled me back on the bed, and he told me to [perform oral sex]. I think he said, “Give me head,” and then took my hair and kind of threw my head down. I think I was down there for like 20 minutes. At some point I moved, and he threw me back [on the bed] and he got on top. I remember gagging at multiple points. He didn’t say or do anything.”

Gianassi told Mustang News once he fell asleep, she grabbed her clothes and ran out the door.

“The next day, there was bruising all over my breasts, my lip was swollen, my sternum was bruised so I could barely breathe. I couldn’t run,” she said.

That same day, she took photographs of her injuries. The photographs showed bruising around her breasts and her lips swollen.

Gianassi said following the assault, she would frequently see him on campus.

“I would see him on campus all the time and it made me really anxious, like I wasn’t leaving my house. I wasn’t going to class,” Gianassi said.

Gianassi said her anxieties about seeing him still persist today.

“It’s still troubling now because I can’t go to class. I can barely go anywhere sometimes,” she said. “If he was not on campus, it would make my life a lot easier.”

According to the Investigation Report, the accused assailant denied all sexual misconduct alleged by Gianassi. He said he verbally verified all escalation of sexual activity with Gianassi and she verbally provided affirmative consent.

The fraternity’s investigation

Before Gianassi came forward, the alleged assailant was under investigation by DTD regarding multiple allegations of sexual assault. Gianassi did not report her incident until members of DTD’s Executive Board told her about the other allegations involving the individual.

From there, she provided a written testimony to DTD’s judicial council, who determined whether the individual be removed from DTD.

According to the Investigation Report, “Respondent was part of the Delta Tau Delta (“DTD”) fraternity from winter 2014 to spring 2017. He was removed from the fraternity for reasons related to his encounter with Complainant. When the Executive Board at DTD became aware of the allegations against Respondent, they conducted a judicial council meeting, and voted to remove Respondent from the fraternity.”

DTD president Sam Rastovich declined to comment when asked by Mustang News.

Cal Poly’s Title IX Office was informed of the investigation conducted by DTD. Gnandt reached out to Gianassi multiple times after this, saying a mandated reporter had informed him she had been subject to sexual misconduct. Gnandt told Gianassi May 22 that the Title IX Office would most likely move forward with an investigation with or without her participation.

Gianassi then filed a Title IX complaint.

Results of the report

In the Investigation Report, Paris wrote that she did not sustain the alleged misconduct for:

  • Omissions in Gianassi’s recounting of the incident; (Paris came to believe Gianassi likely used drugs that night based on testimony from the Respondent and witnesses, although Gianassi never admitted to drug use.)
  • Conflicting accounts of the incident by a witness who had talked to both Gianassi and the alleged assailant after the incident;
  • Gianassi’s romantic relationship with a member of DTD heading the fraternity’s investigation against the alleged assailant;
  • The fact that Gianassi maintained relationships with mutual friends of her and the alleged assailant after the incident.

Paris concluded Gianassi provided affirmative consent for both sexual intercourse and “escalated physical activity, including choking.”

According to the Investigation Report, Paris concluded no misconduct occurred:

“… I do not sustain Complainant’s allegations that Respondent engaged in non-consensual sexual intercourse with her, nor do I sustain that he inflicted physical injury on her without her consent.”

In the report, Paris also noted that she was charged with investigating two other, separate cases against the individual but said she analyzed Gianassi’s case independently.

“It is concerning that three separate complaints were brought against the same individual. I carefully considered this in my analysis,” Paris wrote.

Paris declined further comment when contacted by Mustang News.

In her interview with Mustang News, Gianassi said she felt like the investigation centered around her actions following the incident, such as continuing relationships with members of DTD and mutual friends of both her and the alleged assailant.

“I felt very victim blamed and I didn’t really appreciate that,” Gianassi said. “When I read it, it felt like ‘Oh because she still kept hanging out with his friends … it was like ‘Oh obviously I wasn’t affected by it and I don’t believe it.’”

Gianassi said she considered appealing the decision, but she was fed up with the Title IX process after so many months. She said the investigation gave her more anxiety surrounding the incident.

“It almost made it more dramatic,” Gianassi said. “I went through almost eight months of ‘Is it going to happen? Do I still have to go to school with him? Should I drop out? Should I not go to this school anymore? What should I do? Should I leave SLO?’”

University spokesperson Matt Lazier said Cal Poly is prohibited from discussing or acknowledging Title IX cases, when contacted by Mustang News.

On Sept. 27, Mustang News reported that the Title IX Office was investigating at least two sexual assault allegations regarding this same individual. Both of these investigations have concluded, but Mustang News has not learned their outcomes.

Including the formal Title IX complaints, at least seven sexual assault allegations have been brought forward to Safer.

Mustang News learned of this information after Safer Coordinator Kara Samaniego addressed the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at a chapter meeting May 14, telling the chapter that Safer had received multiple complaints about a repeat sexual assailant.

Title IX

Title IX investigations are different from criminal investigations. For example, they can’t result in criminal convictions and do not require the same procedural protections and legal standards.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “a school has a duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably and to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students, free from sexual harassment and sexual violence.”

The CSU’s Title IX investigation process can take up to 120 days to complete.

If the alleged conduct is found to have occurred, sanctions can be placed on the perpetrator. These sanctions that are directly related to the complainant “include, but are not limited to, requiring that the perpetrator stay away from the complainant until both parties graduate, prohibiting the perpetrator from attending school for a period of time, or transferring the perpetrator to another residence hall, other classes, or another school.”

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