What students need to know about reporting sexual violence, assault

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Katie Jocelyn/Staff

Sexual violence and sexual assault is a pervasive problem on university campuses nationwide, and it’s an unfortunate reality that in the United States, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. Sexual violence and assault have no place at UC Berkeley, where our most important values include treating one another with respect, support, honesty and integrity. We owe it to each other to ensure our practices and policies live up to our principles.

It is important that all students understand their rights and the campus investigation and adjudication process. Students should know that there have been recent significant policy changes, including new systemwide guidelines for sanctions and an overall more streamlined process.

In January 2016, the University of California Office of the President’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault issued new standards for adjudicating reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment, as well as disciplinary sanctions.  All UC campuses — including UC Berkeley — are adopting these new systemwide standards for investigating and resolving reports.

As a result, what has changed here at UC Berkeley?

First, and very importantly, in the new policy, all staff involved in investigation and adjudication must have trauma-informed training. This includes understanding the short and long-term effects of crisis and trauma, while taking into account the fact that an experience of violence can, and often is, a traumatic incident that may impact participation in an investigation.

The processes are changing as well. Now, for example, the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and the Center for Student Conduct, or CSC, will jointly send written notice of the allegations to all parties. CSC will determine whether policies have been violated, and if it determines that disciplinary sanctions are appropriate, the sanctions will be determined in accordance with guidelines set forth by UCOP.

Additionally, hearings — which will now only occur if a student appeals CSC’s decision — will be conducted by an appeal officer instead of a panel. Further, in the new policy, after the first appeal, students have an opportunity to appeal to the chancellor’s designee. The vice chancellor for student affairs will serve as the primary designee with the addition of the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion serving as a secondary designee.

There are new guidelines for disciplinary sanctions for those found responsible for violating the sexual violence and sexual harassment policy. This is now consistent across the UC system. Disciplinary sanctions for incidents involving force, deliberate incapacitation or recording sexual images without consent will result in a suspension for at least two years up to dismissal from the entire UC system. This also applies to sexual assault involving penetration, domestic/dating violence or stalking. Disciplinary sanctions for other sexual contact in violation of policy will result in a suspension for at least one year.

Note that for those investigations that were initiated prior to Jan. 1, 2016, the previous policy that was in place will apply to the investigation and adjudication process. For those investigations that were initiated after the start of the new year, this new UC systemwide policy will apply.

As survivors consider their reporting options, we recommend any survivor first contact our campus confidential resource. The confidential care advocate’s office is a good starting point for survivors to receive confidential support after any experiences of sexual harassment, emotional abuse, dating and intimate partner violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sexual exploitation. Advocates can help those who have experienced harassment or violence explore all of their options, rights and resources in a confidential and nonjudgmental environment.

Notably, the confidential care advocate’s office has expanded since it was launched in 2014. Recently, two new care advocates joined the office, and they support survivors and play key roles in enhancing campus prevention and awareness efforts. The campus also welcomed a new assistant director of sexual violence prevention (in partnership between the Division of Student Affairs and University Health Services) who focuses on reducing and eliminating sexual violence on campus.

For students who have been charged with violating the Code of Student Conduct and face suspension or dismissal, student affairs case managers will provide resources, information, and referrals.

We want harm and violence to end so that we can create the kind of environment and community we all really want and deserve. The broader commitment to implement these new standards across all UC campuses is part of a systemwide effort to reverse the dire statistics on sexual assault and violence. It’s also critical to our work to create a UC Berkeley campus where it is crystal clear that sexual misconduct is not tolerated and where students, faculty and staff can all work and learn in an environment free from harassment, discrimination and violence.

Leah Romm is the ASUC student advocate. Hallie Hunt is an assistant dean of students and the director of the Center for Student Conduct. Denise W. Oldham is the director and Title IX officer in the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].