Sexual assault audit’s impact on UC may prove far-reaching

Thirty-one students filed two federal complaints against the campus in February
Michael Drummond/File
Thirty-one students filed two federal complaints against the campus in February

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In the wake of a 113-page sexual assault report released Tuesday by the state auditor’s office, a new pathway for comprehensive reform is laid out for university officials and legislators, although some survivors say its recommendations and findings did not go far enough.

The audit — which reviewed how sexual violence and harassment are handled at UC Berkeley, UCLA, San Diego State University and Chico State University — was an uncommon step for the state auditor’s office, which does not typically probe university policies.The report showed a lack of training for certain faculty and staff,inadequate prevention programs and insufficient communication with students who filed complaints with their various campuses. Still, the audit commended staff, such as Title IX coordinators, whose jobs are specifically related to campus sexual assault investigations — a finding that survivors say is unjust.

“The report validates what a lot of students have been trying to tell the administration for a while now,” said Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president and a survivor of sexual assault.

The probed campuses have 60 days to begin implementing recommendations in the report, which, for UC Berkeley and UCLA, will be facilitated in part by UC President Janet Napolitano’s newly created sexual assault task force. According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the next two months will involve developing a “work plan.”

But survivors such as UC Berkeley sophomore Iman Stenson believe the audit’s findings may not be taken seriously because of a perceived lack of urgency among campus officials. The audit’s vindication of administrators who handle sexual assault investigations, she said, was also troubling.

“I am happy that the audit did happen, and it sheds some light on what happens on campus,” Stenson said. “But it almost feels like someone from the university co-wrote the audit.”

In its evaluation of UC Berkeley, the audit report cited specific incidents in which residence hall staff and athletic coaches mishandled reports of sexual assault.

In one case, auditors reviewed evidence showing that residential housing staff told a UC Berkeley student who believed she had been sexually harassed that her perpetrator was “harmless.” According to the audit, the student then reported the incident to a resident adviser, who could not provide the student with referral information for a therapist and failed to notify appropriate campus officials. Almost two months later, the student informed UCPD of the incident, and UCPD forwarded the information to the Center for Student Conduct, which eventually imposed sanctions on the accused.

During another incident, the audit showed that UC Berkeley athletic coaches were informed that a student had experienced sexual violence, but the coaching staff chose to discipline the student and teammates for consuming alcohol and reported the sexual assault four days later to the appropriate campus office. The coaches also referred the student to a sports psychiatrist rather than a psychiatrist trained to assist survivors of sexual assault.

Cal Athletics could not be reached for comment.

Along with Stenson, sexual assault survivors such as UC Berkeley alumnaNicoletta Comminsand UC Berkeley junior Aryle Butler strongly disagreed with the report’s conclusion that Title IX coordinators are properly trained to handle sexual assault investigations.

Commins, who received a forensic exam at Highland Hospital after her assault, recounted how the administrator in charge of her case asked that she collect her own criminal reports and medical logs.

“I had to take the day off and bus all over the Bay Area,” Commins said. “She could have asked the DA to fax it over to her.”

Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, said she could not comment on individual cases.

“The campus believes that this is a very important issue and cause, and applauds the women who have come forward to share their painful, personal stories and raise awareness to this issue,” Holmes said in an email.

Holmes added that the report is an indication of the campus’s progress in addressing sexual assault cases, especially in terms of how it handles sanctions on the accused and the response of UCPD.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov and Sophie Mattson at [email protected].