UC Berkeley students, administrators hire staff to address sexual assault

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UC Berkeley has added two more staff members since the spring semester to support survivors of sexual assault by providing medical, legal and academic resources.

Tiffany Hsiang and Kiara Lee will join the campus as confidential care advocates and will operate a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week phone line to provide free services to survivors of sexual assault, including information about resources, rights and reporting options.

Mari Knuth-Bouracee, director of sexual assault prevention and student advocacy and UC Berkeley’s first confidential care advocate hired earlier this year, said in an email that the Confidential Care Advocates’ office has expanded in order to meet the needs of the campus in a timely manner.

According to Knuth-Bouracee, the new staff members will be responsible for training students, staff and faculty, along with developing response protocols and resources for survivors.

“​We want harm and violence to end so that we can create the kind of environment and community we all really want,” she said.

Tiffany Hsiang_onlineOne of the two new positions was funded by the Wellness Referendum, which UC Berkeley students passed in the spring of this year. The other position is funded by the UC Office of the President but will eventually be fully funded by the Berkeley campus.

“Having more advocates for survivors will lead to students receiving faster and more personal care,” said Meghan Warner, a sexual assault survivor and a member of the UC President’s Task Force on Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault, in an email. “This is a huge step forward from a year ago, when we had (zero) advocates.”

According to a release from campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the University of California will also hire a new assistant director for the prevention of sexual violence, who will work with the Confidential Care Advocates’ office.

Additionally, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks announced in a campuswide email Friday that all incoming students must complete both in-person and online sexual assault prevention training. If the trainings are not completed, students will face a registration block.

According to Leah Romm, student advocate for the 2015-16 year, the campus policy is reactionary, but it also responds to issues that matter to students.

Romm said that while the problem of sexual violence is “daunting,” survivors now have more resources than they did in the past. She said that one of her goals is to have a required wellness class for incoming students in which students have small, interpersonal discussions with professionals and peers.

Warner hopes the campus will become more of a supportive place for survivors as the office continues to grow.

In March 2014, the U.S. Department of Education launched a Title IX investigation into how the campus responds to and prevents sexual violence. Several months later, a state audit report found that certain UC Berkeley faculty and staff — including employees such as athletic coaches and residence hall advisers — were not properly trained in responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. And in June, three women who were sexually assaulted while they were students at UC Berkeley filed a Title IX lawsuit accusing the campus of gender-based discrimination.

The fact that one staff member is financed by a student referendum serves as an example of students volunteering their tuition for their advocacy, said Madison Gordon, a former ASUC senator who promoted the referendum as a member of the ASUC Senate wellness committee.

“Students have been protesting, raising voices and awareness – we’re so committed that we put our tuition behind it,” Gordon said.

The new hires add to the campus’s existing sexual assault prevention programs, including the bystander education program Bears that Care and the annual Take Back the Night resource fair and rally.

Contact Austin Weinstein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @aweinstein5.