University to finalize new sexual harassment policy

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Update 3/5/15: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that charges against Jeffrey Beckstrand were not filed.

The University of California will finalize a new sexual harassment and violence policy in the coming weeks, although it may not be implemented until sometime after March 7, the deadline for the university to submit a new policy to the federal government.

Modifications to the old policy come at a time of increased scrutiny toward universities for how they handle cases of sexual assault, violence and harassment. Specifically, the new policy is being drafted in response to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama last year, which required institutions of higher education to improve services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Policy changes will include annual training for officers who investigate cases of sexual assault. Published crime statistics will now detail offenses of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking as well as those motivated by national origin and gender identity.

A 21-page draft of the new policy was sent in an email to UC Berkeley students late December, although UC spokesperson Dianne Klein said the finalized policy may not be available to the public until after the March 7 deadline. Klein said the university is “willingly complying” with the federal government’s mandated changes but that she could not discuss the policy until it is officially released.

“The policy is needlessly long,” said UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek — an active campus organizer for improved sexual assault policies — referring to the draft of the policy. “Having a really long policy is discouraging when you’re a survivor trying to figure out what your rights are.”

Along with two members of the CalSERVE party, Karasek authored an ASUC bill in support of improving sexual assault policies at UC Berkeley and across the UC system. A preliminary bill was introduced to the ASUC Senate last week, but an amended version will go on the table Feb. 17.

CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn, one of the bill’s authors, said they wanted to write the bill before the new policy is implemented to draw attention to needed improvements.

“If we publicize (the bill) enough, it might encourage them to make a few final changes,” Quinn said.

Both Karasek and Quinn pointed to what they see as shortcomings of the most recently published iteration of the policy. Karasek said she would like to see survivors of sexual assault given the discretion to determine whether their cases are settled through an early resolution process or a formal investigation.

The Student Advocate’s Office recently echoed this and other concerns in a published analysis of the new policy. The SAO took issue with the policy’s definition of “consent” and unclear “procedural expectations.”

“The policy should reflect that consent can be revoked at any point during a mutually agreed upon sexual activity,” the SAO analysis recommended. “A consensual dating or romantic relationship does not imply consent to a given sexual activity.”

While the California state auditor’s office is currently investigating UC Berkeley’s sexual assault policies — along with those of UCLA and two campuses of the California State University — the new policy is specifically in response to the VAWA reauthorization.

At the same time, the UC Board of Regents is currently facing a lawsuit from a former UC Santa Barbara student who was allegedly sexually assaulted and battered by a teaching assistant on Feb. 14, 2012, according to the UCSD Guardian.

The lawsuit alleges that a teaching assistant, Jeffrey Beckstrand, while in his office helping a student with her paper, overpowered the student and forced her to orally copulate him. He also allegedly struck the student in the face and told her that he had a knife.

Beckstrand was not ultimately charged in connection to these allegations, according to the Office of the Santa Barbara County District Attorney.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.