State assembly bill aims to improve colleges’ responses to sexual assault

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A newly submitted California State Assembly bill that aims to improve response to sexual assault and other violent crimes in colleges and universities may soon add another layer to the sexual assault reporting process.

Introduced Monday, Assembly Bill 1433 would mandate that certain violent crimes — including sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery — or hate crimes reported to campus officials must also be promptly referred to local law enforcement. Survivors who do not want a police investigation, however, would be able to request that a police report not be made.

By involving local police or sheriffs, schools will be more likely to catch the perpetrators because these law enforcement agencies have better resources to tackle the cases than campus police or administration, said Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), author of the bill.

“People tend to think of college campuses as bubbles,” Gatto said. “But there’s no difference in the harm that a crime causes, whether it’s in someone’s home or backyard or the university, and they should not be treated differently.”

While the bill’s possible effects on UC Berkeley have yet to be determined, the bill falls in line with the campus’s commitments to preventing crime and partnering with local law enforcement agencies, said UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore in an email.

The bill comes in the wake of a string of complaints that have been filed against campuses across California, including UC Berkeley, with students alleging that their schools underreported or mishandled sexual assault cases.

According to Gatto, these alleged problems are quite detrimental to students, not only because survivors are not able to see justice, but also because assaulters still have the opportunity to victimize others.

But requiring police investigations could in fact discourage survivors from coming forward, as survivors may experience fear of retaliation and even fear of not being believed, said Diane Beynon, sexual assault response team coordinator for Bay Area Women Against Rape.

Consequently, giving victims the option to not report the assault to the police is crucial, noted UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, a sexual assault survivor and one of nine students who filed a Clery Act complaint against UC Berkeley in May. Gatto reached out to Karasek while crafting the bill and added the opt-out clause after listening to her input.

While Karasek finds it “encouraging that a legislator wants to collaborate,” there are still several issues she hopes will also eventually be addressed by government officials, including the need for more counselors, funding and better training for school staff.

Gatto, who hopes the bill will be fully analyzed and ready for implementation by the end of this summer, agreed that the bill “is not going to solve the entire problem” of how sexual assaults are handled.

“We’re going to need a whole lot of things changed, such as attitudes, education,” Gatto said. “This does what I can do … It (will) make sure universities understand they can’t sweep these crimes under the rug.”

Alison Fu is a news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @alisonfu_.