State Senate sexual assault counselor bill postponed indefinitely

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A California State Senate bill that would change the definition of a sexual assault counselor in the state and affect the UC system’s sexual assault counseling procedures was postponed indefinitely Tuesday.

SB 668 was introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, in February. The bill proposes amendments to make the definition of a sexual assault counselor essentially “a person who is employed by … a rape crisis center,” thereby disallowing California universities to employ their own confidential advocates.

A sexual assault counselor is currently defined, in part, by state law as “a person who is engaged in any office, hospital, institution, or center commonly known as a rape crisis center.”

One of the contributors to the bill is the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, comprising rape crisis centers from across the state. According to Shaina Brown, the coalition’s public affairs and communications associate, the bill was crafted in order to clarify the exact qualifications necessary to be a sexual assault counselor.

“The way the (statute) is currently written is confusing about who qualifies and who does not qualify,” Brown said. “We do not want people without the correct qualifications to function as counselors.”

Brown cited “differences” between the university’s and the coalition’s opinions on the exact definition of confidentiality as a major factor in the postponement.

ASUC Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja said that the coalition stands to gain financially from the passage of this bill and that its promotion of the bill takes away from the choices of sexual assault survivors.

“The goal of confidential and privileged advocates is for survivors to choose the least traumatic way for them to report,” Ahuja said. “What if survivors don’t feel comfortable about reporting to (rape crisis centers)?”

The university has a President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault. By January, the task force required the establishment of an independent, confidential advocacy office for sexual violence and sexual assault on each campus, along with confidential and/or privileged advocates in each office who would provide survivors with support and information.

ASUC Senator Haley Broder said she is concerned that the bill could compromise advocates’ confidentiality and privilege, “which would be incredibly detrimental to student survivors.”
Leyva’s office did not comment on reasons for postponing the bill. Some student activists, however, believe they may have played a part in this.

Broder, along with Savannah Badalich, the undergraduate student wellness commissioner at UCLA, and UC Berkeley junior Meghan Warner, heard about the bill in March. Together with External Affairs Vice President Caitlin Quinn, they sponsored an ASUC senate bill in opposition to SB 668. The bill was passed through committee Monday night.

According to UC spokesperson Shelly Meron, the university has not taken an official position on SB 668.

Contact Jessie Qian at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jessieq96.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that Haley Broder, Savannah Badalich, Meghan Warner and Caitlin Quinn sponsored a state legislative bill in opposition to SB 668. In fact, they sponsored an ASUC senate bill.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article quoted Shaina Brown as saying the bill does not make clear who qualifies to be a counselor. In fact, Brown meant to say that she does not believe the statute makes clear who qualifies.