The University of California released a letter in August outlining its scant sexual violence and sexual harassment, or SVSH, policy revisions in accordance with amended federal Title IX regulations. The university is fighting an uphill battle to protect its students. Some of the UC’s most concerning SVSH policies are stipulated by federal policy. The university and campus are not, however, excused from prioritizing survivors’ needs or strengthening their approach to SVSH. This must be reflected in funding for UC Berkeley’s PATH to Care Center, information accessibility and more survivor-centric policies.
The amendments made to Title IX by the U.S. Department of Education, or DOE, in 2020 are abhorrent and made an already neglectful system more difficult to navigate. The university spoke out against these changes and vowed not to waiver in its commitment to maintaining a safe community and fair reporting process. Whether it has been or ever was successful, however, is still in question.
From 2019 to 2020, UC Berkeley’s campus Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, or OPHD, completed 24 student-related SVSH investigations. It preliminarily determined that only half of those reports were in violation of SVSH policy. This percentage was even lower for staff-related investigations. Considering that only about 2% to 10% of sexual assault reports are false, UC’s processes for supporting survivors may be lacking.
Investigations take far too long and put the reporter in contact with the alleged offender multiple times, exacerbating unfair power dynamics and emotional burdens. The median duration of OPHD student-related investigations from 2019 to 2020 was 171 days, often making them a semester-long process.
In addition to the aforementioned barriers discouraging survivors from reporting their assault, information about how to do so is largely unclear and can be difficult to understand. If campus and the UC want to be survivor-centric institutions, they must make the process simple and effective from start to finish.
Campus must also strengthen its disciplinary policies, as SVSH perpetrators are typically allowed to maintain student status.
UC Berkeley’s commitment to creating a safe and equal learning environment must be made evident in the budget allocated to the PATH to Care Center. In 2020, the center suspended its peer educator program due to anticipated pandemic-related budget cuts. The program returned in 2021, but campus must make a public commitment that the budget proposed by the PATH to Care Center for the 2022 fiscal year, which would sustain all of its existing programs, will be accepted, if not increased.
The university cannot only take a supportive approach, but it must proactively help prevent SVSH cases. UC Berkeley requires its students to complete an annual online refresher course after completing SVSH educational requirements when they first enroll. Students have alleged, however, that campus has not enforced this.
A vast number of SVSH cases go unreported, and the university’s policies do little to help. Processes have, historically, horribly disadvantaged survivors — current steps to remedy this by the DOE, university and campus have not been fast enough. While the university and campus are in many ways constrained by federal law, this is not an excuse to do anything but make absolutely clear it will prioritize survivors.