Trigger Warning: The content of this article may upset survivors of rape and sexual assault, with links to detailed stories.
More than 20 survivors have named University of California Berkeley student Nicholas Zhao as the instigator in several sexual assault incidents.
Michelle Chan* felt compelled to share her story so that more survivors can come forward.
“It’s just upsetting how it took one person to allow so many voices to speak up,” Chan told NextShark. “I just really wanted to spread awareness and to allow sexual assault victims to speak up.”
Chan shared her story in a six-page Instagram highlight titled “NICK ZHAO” under her account. Chan began with a screenshot of Zhao’s profile, which has been set to private.
They arranged a time to meet at a mall in Palo Alto when things took a turn for the worse.
“During the ride there, it was just casual talking and stuff until he grabbed my hand and held it,” she wrote. “But like [I don’t know] I thought it was weird b/c I thought I thought it was a casual hangout.”
The situation escalated when Zhao indicated for Chan to go to the back of his car once it was parked. Chan described Zhao trying to force himself on her and how uncomfortable she felt. She claimed Zhao had also taken a photo of her without permission.
After speaking with another friend, Chan began receiving messages from multiple girls who had similar encounters with Zhao. They allegedly confirmed a pattern of behavior and gave her permission to share their stories anonymously.
One of the stories recounted Zhao allegedly choking one girl at a fraternity party during their freshman year. They said that Zhao had threatened their life if they continued to share what had happened at another party.
“Stop telling people I choked you it never happened,” they recalled him saying. “If you keep telling people I’ll make you regret it.”
Zhao had responded to a friend in a direct message on Instagram, Chan shared in Stories. She wrote that one person he was with did not complain about the interaction, implying that she was playing “hard to get.”
He was described by many of the survivors as emotionally manipulative. Chan told NextShark that she has not heard anything from the university in response to the allegations.
Twitter user @Ybonbon_ shared Chan’s story, along with other survivors, on Twitter to spread awareness.
While sharing the stories are empowering, they also bring forth her own emotional trauma, she told NextShark.
“It gets me through it knowing that I’m helping survivors have a voice of their own,” she said. “I just want the abusers to hold themselves accountable for their actions whether it be by apologizing or by just becoming a better person. There are some in my thread that definitely need jail time though and I hope they get it one day.”
Many on the social media platform have called on UC Berkeley to take action. A petition, which has since garnered over 100,000 signatures out of the 150,000 goal, was started to demand the university to expel Zhao.
The allegations allegedly started while Zhao was in high school, according to the petition page. Zhao is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Economics and Data Science as part of the class of 2022, according to his LinkedIn profile. He will be a junior in fall 2020.
The university has a page dedicated to Sexual Assault and Harassment in the community.
“The University of California is committed to providing an environment free from sexual harassment and sexual violence,”according to the page.
All incoming students are required to take online training about the prevention of sexual violence and harassment, as outlined by the university.
There were reportedly 66% of undergraduate students who were perpetrators of sexual assault, according to a 2018 survey that gathered experiences on sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus.
A campus spokesperson at UCB told NextShark that the school is aware of the sexual assault allegations against Zhao.
“The campus is aware of reports made on social media alleging a Berkeley student committed acts of sexual violence. Sexual misconduct is a violation of University policy and it has no place in our community, or anywhere.
We are precluded by federal and state laws from discussing specific students or sharing their information. However we can explain our process: UC Berkeley students who are found to have engaged in sexual misconduct may be disciplined under our student conduct code and, of course, under the law. Reports of sexual misconduct involving UC Berkeley community members may be made to the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination at: [email protected].
While the campus can only discipline current students and employees, there are other reporting options for individuals that are not current, enrolled students or current employees. We strongly encourage survivors and individuals seeking assistance, to contact the PATH to Care Center or local, confidential rape crisis center or domestic violence agency to explore campus as well as criminal and civil legal options. “
NextShark has reached out to Zhao for comment with no response as of this writing.
*Some names of survivors have been changed to protect their identity.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault or know someone who is, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline online at 1-800-656-4673.
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