UC Berkeley and other campuses “must do more” to better respond to sexual assault, state auditor says

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Certain UC Berkeley faculty and staff are not properly trained in responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, according to a much-anticipated report released Tuesday morning from the state auditor’s office.

The audit report showed that UC Berkeley and three other campuses do not always comply with state law for the distribution of relevant policies. Although the report found that staff in key roles of the campus sexual assault reporting process are adequately trained, it also revealed that other campus officials — especially those who are the first point of contact for survivors, such as athletic coaches and residence hall advisors — received insufficient training.

The report recommended that campuses better inform students of the status of a sexual assault investigation and notify them of eventual outcomes, which survivors have for years alleged is a botched process.

Ten months ago, frustrated UC Berkeley students stood in front of state legislators, testifying that they had been raped and that the campus had failed them. Sacramento politicians immediately approved an audit of UC Berkeley, one additional UC campus and two CSU campuses to review compliance with federal and state policies and procedures that cover sexual assault. If they were going to enact an audit, it was going to be a systemic one.

“It’s not just UC Berkeley,” said UC Berkeley junior Aryle Butler. “We wanted to show there’s a wider scope — there’s more of a problem than people realize.”

Butler, alongside fellow UC Berkeley junior Sofie Karasek, testified to members of a committee within the California State Legislature that after she was assaulted — which, next week, will have been two years ago — campus administrators discouraged her from reporting the incident.

“They said it wasn’t their problem, that there was nothing they could do,” Butler said.

With the help of Assemblymember Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, Butler and others crafted the audit to uncover any procedural problems in the campus’s handling of sexual assault cases. The audit team reviewed 20 cases from each campus that were filed between 2009 and 2013 to determine whether the campuses complied with their policies, procedures and applicable law from start to finish.

Soon after members of the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit unanimously voted to move forward with the probe of UC Berkeley, the audit team determined that UCLA, Chico State University and San Diego State University would be the additional schools included in the audit.

The report released Tuesday showed that 25 percent of the 80 cases that the audit team reviewed involved members of fraternities or sororities or occurred at their events. The auditors also found that none of the probed campuses provided its sexual harassment policy to all employees at the start of each academic year and that they all failed to post these policies in areas where many students would see them, such as residence halls or athletic facilities. The report urged the state legislature to amend California laws to require improved education programs for employees and students and to better disseminate sexual harassment policy information.

“I believe that this audit will only help us advance on our shared and unequivocal commitment to do what is necessary to create and sustain a caring culture of prevention and reporting on our campus, and to hold members of our community accountable for violating the university’s sexual harassment and sexual violence policies,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in a statement to the campus Tuesday morning.

The audit was approved three months after nine UC Berkeley students filed a federal complaint against UC Berkeley in May last year for allegedly underreporting crime statistics, discouraging survivors from reporting and failing to notify the campus of immediate threats to health and safety. If found culpable, UC Berkeley could be fined tens of thousands of dollars and would be in violation of the Clery Act, a federal law that mandates colleges accurately publish statistics of crimes that occur on and near campus each year.

The division of the Department of Education that investigates Clery complaints has not confirmed the existence of such an investigation.

In February, nine months after the initial federal complaint, 22 additional students joined the original nine to refile a Clery complaint and together file a Title IX complaint. The latter alleged that UC Berkeley failed to promptly and equitably respond to sexual violence cases. It further alleged that the campus’s failure to provide an appropriate response allowed students to be subjected to a hostile environment on the basis of sex, which Title IX — also a federal law — prohibits.

About a month later, the Office for Civil Rights — a body in the Department of Education — confirmed in a letter to complainants that federal investigators had launched their Title IX probe of the campus, which is an ongoing process.

Karasek, who was instrumental in pushing for the state audit and federal investigation, said the Department of Education has more power to force institutions to change than the state auditor’s office.

“With the audit, I hope that it can be used for the investigators to make their lives easier,” Karasek said the day before the audit’s release. “I hope that they can work together, because they’re looking for some of the same information.”

Although the auditor’s office is not an enforcement agency, it requires that institutions report back after 60 days, six months and one year to show progress in implementing recommendations. When these recommendations are not executed, the auditor reports the noncompliance to state legislators.

For ASUC Student Advocate Rishi Ahuja, who met with the audit team on two occasions and whose job entails supporting sexual assault survivors, his main message to auditors was the need to simplify and centralize various campus partners and resources to a “one-stop shop.”

Ahuja will also hold a seat on UC President Janet Napolitano’s newly formed sexual assault task force. But here on campus, major changes may soon be underway, he said. With Dirks’ creation of a confidential survivor advocate position, Ahuja’s office will need to change the way it supports and counsels survivors of sexual assault.

According to Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor for communications and public affairs, the survivor advocate will be independent from the Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, which acts as the administrative arm to investigate cases of sexual assault. An individual for the position will be hired sometime in the next few months, Holmes said.

“Given the sensitivity of these issues, it’s better for a trained professional to be handling this rather than a student-run service,” Ahuja said.

On the prevention side of sexual assault, survivors in recent years have called for improved and mandatory education programs, especially for incoming students, an appeal that Tuesday’s report validates. UC Berkeley sophomore Meghan Warner, a survivor who filed federal complaints this year and facilitates workshops through the campus Gender Equity Resource Center, said these programs are crucial to curbing sexual assault.

“We’re looking at how to make things more mandatory, but there’s not a mechanism in place currently,” Holmes said, regarding sexual assault workshops for incoming students. “If a student does not attend, there is not a consequence.”

Holmes said the issue of enforcing educational workshops will likely be hammered out in Napolitano’s task force. UC Berkeley will also be launching a communications campaign in the fall that will include social media components and short videos on how to attain campus resources. The campus, she said, has also worked to streamline information through a website created in April.

After the report’s release, Holmes emphasized that the audit team found campus Title IX coordinators and others involved in the incident-reporting process to be adequately trained. Given the “massive amount of public criticism” the campus has received regarding its handling of sexual assault cases, she said this finding was a form of validation but added that campus officials “take to heart the recommendations” and are “committed to enhancing educational programs and training.”

Austin Pritzkat, an ASUC senator-elect who campaigned on the platform of confronting campus sexual assault, said even after the audit was announced, he heard instances in which administrators allegedly mishandled cases reported to them.

“I’m wary of engaging this administration on some level,” Pritzkat said. “Working with the administration shouldn’t be to create an idea of partnership.”

For sexual assault survivors such as UC Berkeley sophomore Iman Stenson, who also filed federal complaints this year, hope lies in preventing traumatic experiences like hers from recurring.

After she was assaulted last April, Stenson went to a local law enforcement agency, whose detectives recommended she file a complaint on campus against the perpetrator. But her meetings with administrators, she said, were the worst experiences of her life. Stenson recounted that she would be repeatedly asked to describe details of her assault and would only receive updates if she specifically requested them.

Months after she opened her case, Stenson saw her assailant in person and asked administrators what the status of her no-contact order was. Only then did she find out that her perpetrator was not found in violation of the campus conduct policy because “there were no witnesses” to her assault, Stenson said.

“Reporting to the administration was far more traumatic and invasive than the assault itself,” Stenson said the night before the audit’s release. “The audit will hopefully show us how bad the problem is, but any changes are going to come from us.”

Kimberly Veklerov is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KVeklerov.