University of California updates sexual violence policy

03/08/2014 12:00 AM

03/07/2014 8:17 PM

The University of California announced Friday a new sexual violence and harassment policy that will expand protections for victims, increase reporting requirements for campuses and introduce new training and education across the system.

The changes bring the university into compliance with the 2013 reauthorization of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which requires schools receiving federal financial aid to compile statistics on incidents of sexual violence on campus and maintain specific policies for addressing them.

“We have no tolerance for sexual violence or harassment of any kind,” UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement. “The university must, and will, hold itself to the highest standards, and I expect all of our locations to do everything possible to make everyone aware of these standards.”

These are among the changes to the UC sexual violence and harassment policy, which now includes rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking:

• The university will provide a written explanation of available rights and procedures to victims, including options for reporting to law enforcement, securing orders of protection and accessing campus or community support services.
• Crimes committed on the basis of gender identity will be reported as hate crimes in the university’s annual report.
• Links to student, faculty and employee codes of conduct detailing possible disciplinary actions or sanctions are included in the policy.
• The university will offer prevention education to all incoming students and new employees, as well as annual training on issues related to sexual violence for those conducting formal investigations.

The new guidelines come amid increasing criticism nationwide of how universities and colleges are handling campus sexual violence. Last month, 31 current and former students at UC Berkeley filed a federal complaint charging the university had mishandled sexual assault cases, creating a hostile environment for female students.

Aryle Butler, one of the students involved with the Berkeley complaint, said the new UC policy doesn’t go far enough to address a reporting process that many victims say favors perpetrators of sexual violence.

“The policy definitely makes a good change around the definition of consent,” she said. A new four-paragraph section defines consent to sexual activity as an “affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” that “must be given without coercion” and is revocable.

But she is bothered that it remains up to the administration, not victims, whether to pursue a formal investigation. “The wishes of the individual making the request shall be considered, but are not determinative, in the decision,” the policy reads.

The policy also encourages the use of early resolution, a cooperative mediation process, before launching a formal investigation, which Butler said does not take sexual assault seriously enough.

“It’s paltry in comparison to what needs to be done,” she said.

Brooke Converse, a spokeswoman for the president’s office, said the work isn’t finished and that the policy will be further revised based on public comments, guidance from the federal government and possible state legislation.

In February, state Sen. Kevin de León introduced a bill that would require universities and colleges to adopt “victim-centered” response protocols and prevention measures to deal with sexual violence. Most significantly, it would establish “affirmative consent” as the standard for determining whether consent had been given by complainants in a campus investigation.

De León’s press secretary, Claire Conlon, said de León had not yet had a chance to review the new UC sexual violence policy to determine whether it fell short of expectations in the legislation or might offer a model as they continue to develop policies to encourage greater protection and services for victims on campuses.

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