UC Berkeley needs more funding for sexual assault survivors

A hand giving another hand money with the caption "Take back the night"
Olivia Staser/Staff

Content Warning: Sexual assault, sexual harassment

The effects of sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, on survivors are innumerable and often intangible in their enormity. For students, sexual violence and harassment can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, decreased ability to perform academically, damaged relationships and a lost sense of self. Recent conversations on campus have focused on supporting survivors through community engagement, decreasing stigma around discussing SVSH and increasing access to on- and off-campus resources. But many people still overlook the monetary burden of being a survivor, which is crucial when it comes to accessing resources.

In 2015, the estimated “per-offense societal cost” of an incidence of rape or sexual assault was $265,400. According to a study by the Yale Law Journal, this dollar value is attributed to lost productivity, medical and mental health care, property loss and lost quality of life. But this dollar value does not estimate the cost of being a student survivor. For students, post-traumatic effects on academic performance have cumulative long-term consequences. Revoked scholarships or financial aid and worsening GPAs can result in students dropping out, taking time off or becoming ineligible for employment opportunities and graduate programs. In these ways, gendered violence and SVSH can cost survivors their access to education.

Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. Since gendered violence and SVSH, and their subsequent costs, can directly or indirectly hinder survivors’ access to education, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights explicitly stated in 2014 that universities have an obligation to cover survivors’ counseling costs and that universities may additionally be mandated to cover noncounseling expenses such as housing relocation, medical bills, loss of income from work, transportation costs and legal fees.

Requiring universities to cover the expenses caused by gendered violence and SVSH is an important step in remediating the harm experienced by survivors, but it is only part of the solution. For survivors to take advantage of these services, they must feel comfortable reporting to the Title IX office or other confidential care centers on campus, and they must feel confident that organizations on campus have the capacity and personnel to help resolve allegations of SVSH in a timely manner.

Currently, the Path to Care Center is one of only five entities listed on the UC Berkeley Survivor Support website that can provide completely confidential support to survivors and provides a wide range of services for survivors, including immediate support, emergency housing and relocation, accompaniment to medical services, assistance with safety planning, academic accommodations, legal assistance, accompaniment to legal proceedings and assistance with university proceedings. These services are all supplied by confidential care advocates who may continue to support student survivors through the reporting process and Title IX proceedings for years. It is an incredibly daunting responsibility, especially considering that the PATH to Care Center only has the financial capability to staff three full-time confidential care advocates.

To put things into perspective, we can attempt to compare the number of confidential care advocates to an estimate of the number of student survivors on campus. Out of the 5,516 undergraduates who completed the 2018 MyVoice survey, at least 16.8 percent have experienced sexual assault, and out of 3,574 graduate students, at least 7.8 percent have experienced sexual assault. Without taking into account sexual harassment, stalking, relationship violence or the number of faculty and staff who answered the survey, that’s about 1,204 students on the UC Berkeley campus who are survivors.

Given that the undergraduate population is 30,574 students, and accounting for all forms of SVSH detailed in the MyVoice survey, we can expect the actual number of survivors to be much higher than 1,204. To expect the PATH to Care Center to be able to serve this many survivors at its current capacity and number of staff is to grossly underestimate how many students on this campus are affected by issues relating to SVSH.

This year, the office of ASUC Senator Saakshi Goel applied for and received $108,000, to be divided over two years, to hire two new graduate student interns at PATH to Care and expand resources for survivors of color. Even with this much-needed increase in funding, the new interns will only work at PATH to Care part time for three days out of the week, bringing the number of confidential care advocates up to only five. For a point of reference, the Tang Center’s Counseling and Psychological Services program has 43 licensed psychologists and counselors, five postdoctoral psychology fellows, three interns and two social work fellows.

If survivors do not feel confident that the university has the financial or personnel resources to resolve allegations and assist survivors in the process of obtaining accommodations, then the lack of proper funding of organizations on campus that provide confidential care can be considered an institutional barrier that hinders survivor support. This institutional barrier can lead to decreased reporting, and students who do not report or do not go to confidential care centers cannot receive financial support from the university as mandated by Title IX.

Despite underreporting and cultural stigma that may discourage survivors from speaking, we must remember that gendered violence and SVSH are an epidemic on college campuses. According to those who made the decision to report their sexual assaults when taking the MyVoice survey, there are, at the very least, 1,204 documented survivors on the UC Berkeley campus who are feeling the burden of the “per-offense societal cost” of $265,400 each and the resulting mental, physical, academic, economic and long-term consequences. These cumulative costs are incalculable, but they can be lessened by the support of the university, assurance of equal access to education and the advocacy of students. Working together with organizations on campus, we can push for the institutionalization of increased funding and effect change that will better the lives of student survivors.

Daphne Le is a senior at UC Berkeley and the SVSH Department Director in the office of ASUC Senator Saakshi Goel. Saakshi Goel is a senior at UC Berkeley and an ASUC senator representing the South Asian community and survivors of SVSH at UC Berkeley.