Erick Aragon Alvarado
Content Warning: This article contains various references to sexual violence.
In 2022, particularly during the winter and spring quarters, as UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) came back from the pandemic, so did sexual violence in the community. Accounts ranging from stalking to attempted kidnapping point to an almost age-old epidemic of interpersonal violence that predominantly affects non-male identifying people in our community. However, aside from these stories covered in the press, little is known (or arguably done) about these concerns if they are not already downplayed. The Bottom Line (TBL) reviewed the stories that made it to print and gathered how cases were conducted, who was affected, how it continues to impact students’ lives and why, in retrospect, the cases of assault may not reach justice here in Isla Vista (I.V.).
On Feb. 15, 2022, the I.V. Foot Patrol arrested fourth-year UCSB student Justin Asinobi, for placing hidden cameras in a survivor’s restroom. After this became public, UCSB students on social media began sharing their own experiences with hidden cameras. Two harassment cases were filed against him, but they were both dismissed by Judge Stephen Foley. Over a year later, on Feb. 27, 2023, Asinobi pleaded not guilty to 26 misdemeanor counts of electronic peeping.
On March 5, 2022, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office detectives arrested 30-year-old Michael Auclair. He was subsequently “charged with six counts of indecent exposure with a prior conviction, sexual battery, and attempted kidnapping with the intention of rape or robbery,” all of which he did in I.V. The attempted kidnapping he was charged with happened outside of the Santa Catalina residence hall and was one of many of his attempts to kidnap someone. Auclair, a resident of Port Hueneme, was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and Judge Pauline Maxwell issued 12 criminal protection orders for the survivors that will last for 10 years.
On May 31, 2022, sheriff deputies arrested 25-year-old Santa Barbara resident Samuel Johnson. Over the previous three months, he had stalked and sent threatening text messages to several women in I.V. According to county court records, he was charged with two counts of stalking for which Judge Adams sentenced him to 113 days in county jail, with the opportunity to serve 57 days. The records also show that five criminal protective orders were filed.
It is important to recognize these cases as the anomalies that they are, because only about 30% of sexual assaults are reported nationally, of which 5% lead to an arrest, 3% lead to a conviction, and 2.5% lead to incarceration. This means that about 97% of perpetrators will not face justice for their actions.
Survivors often decide not to report their assaults for various reasons, including trauma, guilt, fear, and embarrassment. We live in a society that not only normalizes sexual violence but also often punishes survivors for reporting it.
Alluding to Auclair’s kidnapping attempts and the reporting of them, now UCSB alumni Amelia Meyer told TBL, “I remember that a lot of the girls were saying that there were people in the community who really weren’t supportive of it. [There were] guys who were going around making really creepy noises at girls and following them around saying, ‘Are you really threatened by this?’ And there wasn’t much that anyone could do besides put it on Facebook and be like ‘Hey, just be careful. This person is kidnapping women.’”
In the case of Asinobi, his alleged crime became widely known because the survivor found the cameras, which also happen to be hard proof that can be shown to others. Michael Auclair’s crimes were known because they were many, concentrated in one region, and were perhaps more obvious than most sexual violence (in the case of the attempted kidnappings).
As for Johnson, it was one of the survivors who spotted him, called 911, and brought him to justice. This particular case is consistent with the UC Police Department’s (UCPD) spotty record on sexual violence. Only after Johnson had been active for three months and the community was already well aware of the crisis did any law enforcement take action when on May 30, 2022, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office assigned a deputy to investigate the situation. The next day one of the survivors identified Johnson at Del Playa.
The press release from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office read, “Through his investigation, Deputy Hunter learned that a suspect … had stalked several women in the Isla Vista area over the past three months.”
In the aftermath of Johnson’s arrest, TBL sat down with two fourth-year UCSB students who had had encounters with him. Amelia Meyer was in Del Playa with her friends when they came up to Johnson who was displaying a “free life advice” sign near a CSO tent.
“People in I.V. always do silly stuff like this … so we thought it was harmless,” Meyer told TBL. “[He] started talking about how he works for a company and his company deals with NFT’s and they have some sort of personality tests. All you have to do is sign up with your name and your phone number or your email” through a link that he had handy.
Meyer’s account suggests that this could be at least one of the ways in which Johnson was able to get the information of the women he messaged and stalked.
Holly Collins, now a UCSB alumni, had a less direct encounter with Johnson when she spotted him on a walk in I.V. as he brandished a folder labeled “Top Secret.” TBL asked her for her thoughts now that she knew who he was and what he did.
“There have been so many instances like that [in I.V.], where you’ll find out that this random person that you probably have maybe interacted with, or just like share a street with, [has] a warrant out against them and they’re sexually assaulting people or trying to kidnap people or things like that. We live in a pretty dangerous community. … [and it feels like] UCSB and the police don’t really give a fuck if people are being stalked in I.V.,“ Collins told TBL. “As students who are supposed to be listened to and protected by the university, I don’t feel like it’s our responsibility to try to not get stalked and killed where we live.”
Meyers told TBL, “It’s kind of like an unspoken thing that every woman that you know personally or don’t know personally has had some sort of experience with someone that they find threatening or has made an advance on them that they felt uncomfortable with … I feel like I haven’t had a week this entire year where someone or myself hasn’t experienced or brought up one of these situations.”
Meyers expressed with TBL that their wish was that “people weren’t so awful” and were communicative and understanding about the conversation on assault, especially to survivors.
“I wish that this campus and this community had a lot more of the like ‘We are also your community. We also are going to protect you. Not just women helping each other,’” they stated.
The cases highlighted above are only the tip of this iceberg of interpersonal violence, and Collins’ and Meyer’s accounts represent a much-needed peak beneath the surface of the water revealing the true scale of the problem. However, the ubiquity of the issue also means everyone can play a part in solving it – from the individual to the community to our institutions.
How these situations are handled at the local police department level, as well as the actions of the police themselves, are to be expanded upon in an upcoming article with TBL.