White House tells sexual assault survivors they are ‘not alone’

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff

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The White House released a report Monday detailing how colleges and universities can improve their response to and reduce cases of sexual assault — guidelines that involve implementing campus climate surveys and increasing a culture of bystander intervention.

Over the last three months, President Barack Obama’s interagency task force, co-chaired by Vice President Joe Biden, researched the prevalence of sexual violence and harassment on college campuses through “listening sessions” in addition to reviewing findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which detail the efficacy of anti-sexual violence programs. The White House also launched a new website, “Not Alone,” which breaks down rights and resources for students.

The University of California and UC Berkeley each released statements after the Capitol’s announcements. UC President Janet Napolitano reiterated previous administrators’ statements that sexual assault is not accepted at the university.

“We applaud the White House for its attention to the serious and urgent issue of sexual assault,” Napolitano said in a statement. “The University of California has no tolerance for sexual violence and already has implemented the key recommendations set forth in the White House task force report.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that it is too soon to discuss the particulars of the report, although she highlighted the steps the campus has recently taken that align with the White House recommendations.

UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, who has spearheaded the student movement on campus against sexual assault, said not all of the newly released recommendations have been implemented on campus.

“There’s clearly a lack of communication between the investigating offices and students,” Karasek said.

UC Berkeley does not currently participate in the CDC’s Rape Prevention and Education program, according to an advanced summary of its findings report provided to Obama’s task force. Among other California universities, UCLA and UC Merced were listed as participants in the Rape Prevention and Education program.

The CDC’s findings show that comprehensive sexual violence prevention has the greatest potential to impact communities. The findings also reported the strategies that have no lasting impact on students.

“Brief, one-session educational programs focused on increasing awareness or changing beliefs and attitudes are not effective at changing behavior in the long-term,” the findings state.

The campus currently requires that incoming students attend a 90-minute violence prevention workshop, called the EmpowerU session. The workshop is one of three required steps for students. The other steps involve reviewing a website the campus created several weeks ago and bookmarking the campus Gender Equity Resource Center’s EmpowerU webpage.

Haley Broder, an ASUC senator-elect whose campaign platforms included reducing sexual assault on campus, said that many survivors are not aware of their rights and that many students do not understand what sexual violence is.

“EmpowerU definitely isn’t doing as much as it could,” Broder said. “It’s a step, but not a big-enough step.”

Broder called the news from the Capitol “validating” for survivors but noted that a public service announcement released along with the report was a “narrow analysis” of sexual assault. The video features male politicians and celebrities encouraging men and boys not to assault women.

Under Title IX, a federal law, colleges that receive federal funding are obligated to take actions to prevent sexual assault and respond swiftly when it occurs. In late February, 31 students filed a federal complaint alleging that campus administrators mishandled their sexual assault and harassment cases. A month later, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into UC Berkeley’s Title IX compliance.

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

Correction(s):
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Haley Broder is an ASUC senator. In fact, Broder was elected to the ASUC Senate in April and will take office later this year.