UC, federal government take major steps Friday to tackle campus sexual assault

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The U.S. Department of Education revealed major steps to address campus sexual assault Friday, the same day UC President Janet Napolitano announced the formation of a systemwide task force to address some of the same issues on UC campuses.

Responding to mounting student pressure to improve the prevention and handling of sexual assault, the new federal regulations require institutions of higher education to comply with increased transparency and security-related requirements aimed at curbing and better responding to dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. Major changes include strengthening confidentiality protections for survivors and adding more detailed categories of crimes for which campuses need to publish statistics. At the state level, the UC task force will oversee and aim to support the prevention of sexual assault.

The task force includes members of the UC Board of Regents, campus police departments, survivor advocacy groups, administrators and students who will together work to employ “innovative, evidence-based and consistent practices,” according to a UC press release Friday.

“Sexual violence is a serious crime that we will never tolerate,” Napolitano said in the press release.

According to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein, the task force and federal changes were unrelated, even though they were revealed the same day.

The new rules from the federal government alter sections of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires institutions of higher education that participate in federal financial aid programs to track and publish information about crimes — including sexual assault — that take place on or around college campuses. According to a Thursday press release from the Department of Education, the regulations came about after talks with colleges, advocacy organizations, law enforcement officials and sexual assault survivors.

The changes come amid a nationwide movement to address sexual violence and harassment on college campuses. They aim to respond to the concerns voiced by students at UC Berkeley and other campuses that college administrators allegedly mishandled sexual assault investigations.

In May of last year, nine UC Berkeley students filed a Clery Act complaint against the campus for allegedly discouraging survivors from reporting incidents of sexual assault. Four months ago, 31 students refiled the Clery Act complaint and filed an additional Title IX complaint, which alleges that administrators failed to properly respond to cases of sexual assault. The Title IX investigation was launched in late March, although no Clery Act investigation has been announced.

UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, a complainant and campus organizer for improved sexual assault policies and campus investigations, said she is optimistic about the changes at the federal level.

“It’s good that survivors were involved in drafting these new rules,” Karasek said. “Transparency is key. It allows the university to be held accountable.”

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore said in an email that the campus is supportive of the federal regulations that address increased transparency and reporting of sexual assault incidents.

“I’m glad that they’re redefining important words and making it more inclusive,” said UC Berkeley sophomore Meghan Warner, who filed the complaints along with Karasek.

Warner and Karasek are just two of the many students on campus who have mobilized for improved policies. Warner said she supports the revised definitions from the federal government, including adopting a broader definition of rape. Before, the exact definition of rape differed by state.

Still, Warner wants to see the campus doing more to address sexual assault, especially in terms of sustained and mandatory education and awareness programs. Warner said she hopes the campus will be more inclined to improve its policies now that the federal government has taken additional steps in that direction.

In April, both UC Berkeley and President Barack Obama launched sexual assault and violence websites to educate and support college students.

Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president, said she is happy to see that sexual assault is being addressed on such a large spectrum.

“It’s exciting that changes are being made at the federal level, and we’re also pushing for more change on the campus level,” Quinn said. “We’re working both from the top down and down up.”

The public can review and comment on the proposed changes until July 21. The regulations will be finalized by Nov. 1.

Contact Abby Madan at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @abby_madan.