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UC System Receives Sexual Assault Policy Recommendations

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The Wednesday, September 17 Regents meeting, convened in UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay Conference Center, finally saw the presentation of recommendations for the future of the University of California’s sexual assault policies.

The task force commissioned in July by UC President Janet Napolitano presented its findings regarding best practices moving forward regarding sexual assault prevention and response.

Meghan Warner, one of the student representatives on the task force, preceded the presentation’s Wednesday morning agenda item by speaking during the public comment section.

“Without real funding increases, these recommendations are simply a PR stunt that will not make a difference in student safety.”

Warner, a Berkeley student, survivor of sexual assault and contributor to the Title IX and Clery complaints filed against Berkeley for mishandling of sexual assault cases, reminded the regents of her comments at the July meeting, when she said that the policy recommendations would require significant funding increases to all UC campuses for sexual assault programs.

“Relying on federal grants, which are hard to get, will not provide enough stability and autonomy for the schools to best help their students,” Warner said.

Sheryl Vacca, chief compliance and audit officer, opened the presentation with 7 recommendations:

– Create a consistent “response team” model at all campuses by January 2015
– Adopt system-wide investigation and adjudication standards by July 2015
– Develop a comprehensive training and education plan with timelines from fall 2014 to fall 2015
– Implement a comprehensive communication strategy to educate the community and raise awareness about UC programs by January 2015
– Establish an independent “confidential advocacy office” for sexual violence and sexual assault on each campus by January 2015
– Establish a comprehensive systemwide website with campus customization capabilities by January 2015
– Implement a standard data set systemwide by July 2015

Currently, UC Irvine’s response team model includes members from across campus departments, including Campus Assault Resources and Education, Student Housing, Health Education and Police. Under the new policy, UCI and other campuses would have to develop two response teams: one for prevention and one for response.

The presentation also noted that comprehensive education should be provided for “specialized student groups” and will be very costly in order to meaningfully engage students.

Savannah Badalich, USAC wellness commissioner and founder of UCLA’s “7000 in Solidarity” anti-sexual assault campaign, presented some of the finer details of the task force’s efforts and recommendations.

In early August, the task force sent out a survey to gauge students’ experiences with sexual assault prevention and response across the UC system. The survey drew 263 respondents, with approximately 20 from UC Irvine. The student input was used to shape the recommendations.

One of the key points Badalich elaborated on was the troublesome nature of conflating alcohol education with sexual assault prevention, topics usually presented at the same time during orientations.

“Survivors are done with hearing about how alcohol prevention efforts can prevent sexual assault. Alcohol education and sexual assault prevention need to be separated, especially in online education, because they’re usually combined,” Badalich said.

The UCLA student also pushed for mandatory trauma-informed sexual assault response training for staff and faculty, who are sometimes the first person victims disclose their assaults to.

“The first person you talk to about your assault either validates or invalidates your entire experience,” Badalich said, emphasizing that first contact with a victim often determines whether or not they feel empowered enough to report their assault.

“I shouldn’t just get that kind of sensitivity from a gender professor,” Badalich said, noting the particular need for science, math and technology professors to be able to provide trauma-informed responses as well.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-San Diego) were quick to praise the regents’ efforts, especially the decision to voluntarily implement a policy that would create an independent survivors’ advocate on each UC campus.

UCI’s Campus Assault Resources and Education office currently has a sexual assault victim advocate.

“The University of California is setting a powerful example for colleges across the country by creating a victim’s advocate on each of its campuses to help end the epidemic of sexual assault,” Senator Boxer said.

“An independent advocate puts power back in the hands of those who have been attacked,” said Representative Davis. “As more survivors come forward to report these crimes, a message will be sent to perpetrators that illegal acts will not be ignored and will be prosecuted.”

Boxer and Davis introduced the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act in July. The bill was assigned to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, where it is currently held for review.

The legislation would mandate any institution of higher education that receives federal funding to have an independent advocate for campus sexual assault prevention and response. The advocate’s primary responsibility is to make sure that victims have access to emergency and follow-up medical care, guidance on reporting to law enforcement, forensic exams, crisis intervention and counseling, as well as information on their legal rights.

In 2013, there was a total of 15 reported sexual assaults, according to the UC Irvine Police Department’s Clery Crime Statistics. In 2011, there were 6 reported incidents. sexsual assult info

The dramatic increase in these numbers may not necessarily represent an actual spike in sexual assault incidents, but more possibly reflect an upward trend of victims who report their assaults to police (both UCI and Irvine departments) as well as non-police sources.

The recommendations given by the task force comprise Phase I of the initiative. Phase II will address the implementation of these recommendations, defining additional resources and next steps needed to move forward with the initiative. Phase II is expected to be completed in the spring, with a full report to the President and Regents in July 2015.