In the midst of a California state audit and increased scrutiny across the country toward universities on the handling of sexual assault cases, the University of California released a new sexual harassment and violence policy Friday.
The new policy, effective retroactively from Feb. 25, expands training and education for officers who investigate cases of sexual assault, increases crime statistic reporting requirements for campuses and specifies sanctions the university may set after a disciplinary decision is made. The university will also be required to provide a written explanation of rights and procedures to the sexual assault survivor once it receives the report of sexual violence.
The policy will also replace all of UC Berkeley’s prior policies on sexual assault and harassment, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.
“Sexual assault has no place on a college campus or anywhere in civilized society, and at Berkeley, we will do what is necessary to create and sustain a culture of prevention and reporting within our community,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in a campuswide email announcing the policy change.
The revision comes as a response to a law signed last year by President Barack Obama, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which mandates that colleges and universities provide more comprehensive services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. The university’s deadline to submit a reformed policy to the federal government was Friday.
ASUC Senator Caitlin Quinn, who co-authored a bill earlier this semester that called on UC officials to include comprehensive reforms in the new policy, said she felt the policy expansion was a good step toward a more equitable system. She mentioned, however, that she would like to see more policies addressing education and disciplinary actions against assailants — and that implementing the new policy would be a different challenge.
“UC Berkeley can be more public about its proceedings and give survivors more say in their own individual cases to gain some trust, but regaining trust is going to take time and genuine effort and real results,” Quinn said in an email. “I have faith in UC Berkeley to implement better policy; I’m just afraid it will take so long that more students will be assaulted and more rapists will thrive on this campus.”
UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek said that while she thought there were some important additions — such as a more thorough definition of consent — some key problems remain, such as the lack of a guarantee that reported cases will receive formal investigations. In February, Karasek, along with 31 other sexual assault survivors, filed two federal complaints against the campus for allegedly mishandling sexual assault cases.
“It’s important that survivors have this right because otherwise, it’s likely that there won’t be investigation, period,” Karasek said in an email. “Additionally, the finding of fact report produced from a formal investigation can be extremely important to have in determining disciplinary sanctions or going to law enforcement.”
While the policy is essentially finalized, it will still be revised further as the university reviews the comments it has received so far and obtains feedback from both the state and federal governments.