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How does sexual violence affect UC students? That’s a question UC is afraid to answer

How you can help prevent sexual assaults

Here are some ways you can help prevent sexual assaults, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The video "on sexual assault awareness and prevention in Isla Vista" also offers risk-reducti
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Here are some ways you can help prevent sexual assaults, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office and the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The video "on sexual assault awareness and prevention in Isla Vista" also offers risk-reducti

Where are students being sexually assaulted on University of California campuses? At frat parties? In their dorms?

Who is being targeted on the 10 UC campuses? Freshman women? Graduate students? LGBTQ folks? Students of color?

Is the UC providing adequate services to students who are sexually assaulted? Are there enough counselors on campus? Are prevention measures making a dent?

We don’t know.

We do know that students are being sexually assaulted. The #MeToo movement and countless advocates across the country have bravely shown the world that this is an issue that workplaces, governments and schools must address.

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But UC, despite efforts to make Title IX policy more effective, has consistently refused to allow research that would tell us what exactly is happening at some of the most prominent universities in the country. These campuses include UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis and others, which together host half a million students and employees each day. This lack of research means that we don’t have a handle on the extent of the problem. We don’t know where sexual violence is happening, who it is happening to and whether the services already in place are enough.

You might think that UC would be unwilling to do this for financial reasons – large scale research studies are expensive. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

When UC Berkeley conducted a campus survey on sexual violence recently, it was done in the shadow of an Obama-era Office of Civil Rights investigation for failure to serve survivors. This survey provided important information about who on campus had been assaulted and what the school should improve. But, according to multiple researchers with whom I’ve spoken, when the California Department of Public Health – through an agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – agreed to provide UC researchers full funding to conduct similar studies on other UC campuses, not one gave permission for the research. These researchers said every UC campus ultimately gave a resounding no.

Sunney Poyner.jpg

Instead, I was informed that the CDC money funded a small, student-led research project called

UC Speaks Up

at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara. This research is important, but it cannot generate a representative understanding of sexual victimization campus wide.

UC campuses could have also participated in national studies already underway, such as the vast 33-school survey on sexual assault and misconduct conducted by the Association of American Universities. Stanford, Harvard, the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California are just a few of the dozens of universities that will be participating. But not one UC campus is on the list. This is a missed opportunity to learn what risks UC students face, compared to those at other major universities.

I’ve talked with concerned researchers at multiple UC campuses who have developed detailed proposals to comprehensively research sexual victimization on campus. The attitude they report is the same: You can study sexual violence, but you won’t get a green light to look at whether it’s happening around you. This is a disservice to researchers, who likely came to the UC for its reputation for scientific rigor and, more significantly, to the students who remain unheard.

I graduated from UCLA School of Law this May. There, I learned to base my reasoning on facts and to advocate for justice. As I say goodbye, I worry about the law students currently enrolled, the undergrads I mentored and the many other students who aren’t protected by policies that are as informed by research as they could be.

The UC system is one of the leading research institutions in the world. It’s time to use that expertise to understand an urgent problem in our own backyard.

Sunney Poyner graduated from the UCLA School of Law in May and will begin a fellowship providing legal services to survivors of sexual assault in September.

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