California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Wednesday at a press conference steps to address the issue of sexual assault on California’s college campuses.
Joined by UC President Janet Napolitano, law enforcement leaders and victim advocates, Harris released a new toolkit to improve collaboration and transparency between law enforcement agencies and higher education institutions for sexual assault prevention and response.
The toolkit includes a model memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which is an agreement of mutual accord between two parties that can be adapted and used by California institutions of higher education and local law enforcement agencies within jurisdiction.
The key action items of the model MOU include clarifying the responsibilities of campus authorities and law enforcement agencies after an assault and ensuring that campuses and law enforcement collaborate to connect victims to services, such as rape kits.
According to Jill Habig, the specialist assistant attorney general, the attorney general’s office has been working with UC Office of the President for more than a year to produce the MOU. The MOU has three main objectives: to increase reporting, improve responses, and enhance public safety. Habig said more reports and better responses increase the accountability of sexual assault perpetrators and improve the outcomes of survivors who need help.
Habig said that the MOU provides a model and template for campuses to comply with Assembly Bill 1433, which requires campuses to immediately report a sexual assault.
“This (MOU) was a need,” said Habig. “(It) shouldn’t be a burden of the victim to navigate processes — ‘How do I get a rape kit and get health exams?’ It was clear to all of us that this was a concrete issue and we needed to implement best practices to help victims.”
Campus senior and co-founder of End Rape on Campus, Sofie Karasek, agrees that a MOU is a good idea, but said that she is worried about the lack of emphasis on fixing the campus’s adjudication system.
“(This) trend of redirecting towards the criminal justice system is not helpful because we are redirecting people to a system that is more broken system and not fixing the old broken system — we are not solving the problem, just moving people around,” said Karasek.
Additionally, Meghan Warner, campus junior and director of the ASUC Sexual Assault Commission, expressed concern about what she described as not enough communication between campus and students regarding the press conference at which these guidelines were announced.
“Definitely not aware of this (press conference), and I talked to other students at Cal and UCs, and they weren’t involved,” said Warner.
According to Habig, 80 percent of sexual assault cases go unreported to the criminal justice system, nine of 10 cases involve repeat offenders, and survivors do not feel comfortable reporting crimes. She said that hopefully the model will establish a system between campuses and law enforcement to communicate regularly, share information, and coordinate witness and victim interviews, which will make it easier for victims to receive the services they need.
The UC Student Association sent out a press release in support of the MOU. According to the press release, UCSA President Jefferson Kuoch-Seng said he wants to thank Harris and the university for their proactive work on the implementation of student-supported legislation.
“We are encouraged by this guide, and look forward to meaningful community and survivor-informed discussions to address the issue,” Kuoch-Seng said in the press release.