State audit of sexual assault procedures findings troubling, not surprising

Tuesday saw the release of a report from the state auditor’s office that found that policies at Chico State University, UCLA, San Diego State University and UC Berkeley are insufficient and inadequate in handling sexual assault on campus. The information gathered in this audit could prove very useful as these universities struggle to adjust policy to ensure greater safety in the future. It may also be of use on a larger scale. What is absolutely clear in the findings of this audit is that sweeping change is needed to change the way sexual assault is handled on college campuses.

Survivors of assault and people who have been following this story as it unfolds at 55 campuses across the country were likely not surprised to learn that the process of reporting and processing these cases is very flawed. The report found that people in authority who were in a position to receive the first notice that an assault had taken place, including athletic staff personnel and resident advisers, were not properly trained on how to get that information to the right people. What can be extrapolated from this data is that more training is needed at many levels of the university system, as well as transparency on the workings and timeline of a sexual assault accusation.

Assault survivors have responded to the report with mixed reactions, asserting that many parts of it are accurate but that validation given to the Title IX office may have been granted in error. Whether the Title IX office is doing enough in their capacity to prevent and handle sexual assault can be debated, but we would urge greater contact between that office and individuals awaiting news of their cases.

Transparency on all of the sides of the investigation is key to processing sexual assault — for the edification of the accused, the survivor and the community at large. Many survivors reported long periods of no progress and no news, often culminating in the graduation of the accused and nothing more. We would suggest that any new hires, including the confidential survivor advocate who may join the student advocate office, receive rape crisis training before taking office.

The issue of community is important, and education is not a problem limited to training staff. The information given to incoming students at CalSO and during Welcome Week has changed in tone and content over the years. Rather than emphasizing pepper spray and BearWALK, the disseminated information includes the distinction of what is and is not assault and whether consent can be given by a person who is drunk or incapacitated. Consent-based education (and programs like the Cal Consent Campaign) that address a potential perpetrator rather than a potential victim sets the correct tone for culpability in the act of sexual assault and the pattern for how cases will be handled. We urge campuses known for failing to handle sexual assault correctly to own that fact in discussing how they intend to proceed. Admit past fault, and state a desire to improve in the future. To do otherwise only serves to silence and dishonor the survivors who are still fighting for recognition and change.

Colleges have a long way to go in proving themselves trustworthy of handling cases of sexual assault. Campuses will face scrutiny like this state audit, civil suits and the incredulity of parents debating whether to send their freshmen to a school that evinces no confidence in its ability to handle grievous offense. There are centuries of misinformation and secrecy to be routed out in this arena, and change will not be quick or simple. This audit is just another preamble to the work that must be done, but at least this is finally going in the right direction.