Gov. Brown signs UC-sponsored bill to protect survivors of domestic violence

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Gov. Jerry Brown signed a UC-sponsored state senate bill Aug. 7 that aims to provide privacy and confidentiality for survivors of domestic violence.

SB 331, which was authored by California State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, will take effect Jan. 1, 2018. The bill will give survivors evidentiary privilege, which means that any discourse between a domestic violence survivor and a counselor will remain confidential. Before SB 331, according to Jackson, this privilege only existed for survivors of sexual assault.

“These UC-employed counselors now qualify for the privilege (that) we call the evidentiary privilege,” Jackson said. “They can’t be compelled to testify about the conversation that they have with their patients and they won’t be forced to reveal confidential information, so that will create a level of trust and confidence in the victims with the counselors who are there to help them.”

The University of California initially brought the issue to Jackson, who has been working to end sexual harassment and assault as well as domestic violence for about 15 years.

Jackson said the bill, which required a two-thirds vote, was introduced at the end of January and was approved unanimously by the California State Senate and then later by the California State Assembly.

“Those who seek services and who have experienced domestic violence are able to have the same confidentiality (as sexual assault survivors), which will both encourage them to step forward and give the counselors the opportunity to do what is necessary to assist these victims,” Jackson said.

Jackson added that universities are now more often acknowledging that domestic violence and sexual assault occur on college campuses and need to be addressed and prevented.

UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email the bill will encourage more students, faculty and staff at universities, including the University of California, to look for help for domestic violence issues.

“Providing all members of our counseling communities with statutorily guaranteed confidentiality will alleviate many of the fears and concerns that victims may have in seeking assistance, including concerns that their private information will be disclosed or used in an unauthorized manner,” Doan said in an email.

There are many campus organizations that deal with domestic violence and sexual assault, including the PATH to Care Center, which offers advocates, support and free services to survivors of sexual assault.

Mari Knuth-Bouracee, director of sexual assault prevention and student advocacy at the PATH to Care Center, said the campus has been looking to address this issue for a while.

“We hope that having (evidentiary) privilege now in place for domestic violence — that we have now for sexual assault — will give survivors and victims of domestic violence greater safety and security knowing that they can access our services on the campus at our PATH to Care Center and receive the same level of protection in regards to what they share,” Knuth-Bouracee said.

Contact Atira Nair at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @atirastar.a