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UC Berkeley sexual violence survivors speak out on awareness efforts

Graham Haught/Staff

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We came to Berkeley counting on the university’s vibrant history of activism and civil rights to guide our education inside and outside of the classroom. But contrary to its reputation for social justice, we believe UC Berkeley has had a long and documented history of silencing survivors of sexual violence and underdisciplining offenders. Last week, we joined a total of nine survivors in filing a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against UC Berkeley, hoping that our university will be held accountable for mishandling our cases and for its policies and practices that perpetuate violence and rape culture at Cal.

We’ll start by ending our own silence: We are both survivors of sexual assault and battery. We expected justice against those who attacked us. We were denied it by university officials and a legal system who betrayed our trust in them.

Fifteen months since we first became engaged in conversation around sexual violence on campus, we remain disillusioned by the sheer number of survivors who have told us of how the university mishandled their cases and denied them justice. Their treatment was not isolated to their own experiences, and often it violated federal law. Our university dissuaded survivors from reporting, failed to update them on their cases, discouraged involvement by law enforcement and neglected to provide them medical and residential accommodations. And these responses are from just a fraction of the cases we know about. Our stories range from the residence halls to student organizations to the Greek system and from our medical service center to the disciplinary procedures themselves.

It is unacceptable that administrators do not currently believe our stories and warn us of the sanctions of false reporting while refusing to investigate our claims, that our medical center does not provide rape kits even when the case is reported to campus police and that assailants found in violation of the code of conduct and even guilty in criminal court are rarely held accountable for their actions by our university. But instead we were told by an administrative official that though the university’s system may have failed us, we could seek justice on a larger scale.

We love UC Berkeley, and we know that our school can do better than to sweep rape and sexual assault under the rug. This is why we filed a complaint with the Department of Education. Berkeley needs to lead the nation by creating new procedures, by making students feel safe from harassment and assault and by finally following the law.

Many students across the country are demanding that their schools begin to take sexual violence more seriously. We have been lucky enough to connect with the IX Network, a national coalition of college activists fighting sexual assault and holding their university administrations accountable. We move forward in solidarity with survivors at Yale, UNC Chapel Hill, Amherst, Swarthmore, Occidental, USC and elsewhere — knowing that national change is far overdue.

This is also not the first time that UC Berkeley has faced federal charges for mishandling sexual assault cases. In 1979, a UC Berkeley coalition known as Women Organized Against Sexual Harassment filed its own federal complaint with the Department of Health, Education and Welfare regarding a professor who preyed upon his own students. We’re grateful for what WOASH accomplished then, but we would have hoped that 30 years would have made more of a difference in UC Berkeley’s sexual violence procedures. Sexual violence at Cal is still alive and well. We don’t expect it to end completely, but we expect our university to take action to reduce its prevalence.

When you are assaulted, your campus and community should be there to support you. You shouldn’t have to worry about who you can trust when you are the most vulnerable, and you shouldn’t have to face neglect and betrayal when you are brave enough to tell your story. We have hope that UC Berkeley can become the supportive network that survivors of sexual violence need. Until then, we’ll be here — refusing to continue the silence and pressuring our campus administrators for change.

Sofie Karasek is a third year at UC Berkeley. Anais LaVoie is a recent UC Berkeley graduate.