State Legislature to assess campus policies on sexual assault

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Libby Rainey/Staff

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SACRAMENTO — State officials will soon begin evaluating UC Berkeley’s policies regarding sexual assault, following complaints that the campus’s response to cases of sexual violence is inadequate.

In a nod to growing concern from the public, a committee of the California State Legislature approved plans on Wednesday to audit the university’s compliance with Title IX — a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in educational programs that receive federal funding. The review follows allegations by nine UC Berkeley students that the university mishandled sexual assault cases in a federal complaint filed in May. The students claimed that campus administrators discouraged them from reporting the incidents to authorities and underreported incidents of sexual violence on campus.

The Joint Committee on Legislative Audit authorized the evaluation in a unanimous vote. Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, D-Long Beach, requested the move, which will evaluate two CSU campuses and one additional UC campus, along with UC Berkeley.

“Over the past year, I have talked to survivors from all over campus who all recite to me tired familiar lines they heard from university personnel they had entrusted to help them,” said Aryle Butler, a UC Berkeley student and sexual assault survivor, at the meeting. “We gathered together and filed a federal complaint to send a message to our university, to the government and to all of the silent survivors who aren’t able to speak out, that sexual violence will not go unnoticed.”

Butler said she was first disheartened and angered with the campus when she approached a campus official with her case in the fall of 2012. A rising junior who says she was assaulted by the same perpetrator twice, Butler said she was told there was nothing that could be done about her assault. She said that her assailant was never punished, as far as she knows.

UC Berkeley student Sofie Karasek also spoke at the meeting. She said she was assaulted in the spring of 2012 by a student leader who also assaulted three of her peers. She said the campus only alerted her about an investigation seven months after she reported the incident.

Rendon, who requested the audit, called “rape culture” on college campuses “staggering.”

“Sexual violence is the elephant in the room that we simply are not acknowledging,” he said. “As a state we cannot stand for this sort of negligence. We should all be concerned with the reports of the women at UC Berkeley.”

According to the 2012-13 UC Berkeley Campus Annual Security Report, a total of 21 forcible sexual assault incidents were reported in 2011. Four were reported in 2010.

The ASUC passed a vote of no confidence in the campus’s handling of sexual assault last April. Anais LaVoie, a UC Berkeley graduate who helped author the bill, said that she has seen no significant change in the administration’s handling of assault cases since the ASUC’s vote.

“There have been a number of meetings with administrators, but they haven’t gone anywhere,” LaVoie said. “They are meetings to save face.”

UC Berkeley spokeswoman Janet Gilmore said that the school is dedicated to addressing student concerns regarding sexual assault.

“We are committed to taking a close look at what we can do to better serve students and incorporate their feedback and concerns as we seek to address their concerns,” Gilmore said in an email.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said the audit will start in November at the latest and will take up to seven months to complete.

Many state legislators expressed outrage at student testimonies.

“I’m furious,” said California state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, at the meeting. “These are the same examples that we were hearing 30 years ago. Universities go through the motions, they give it lip service, and nothing changes. If it’s the same story 30 years later, we are not doing this right.”

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