Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new bill into law Aug. 7 that aims to protect the privacy and safety of domestic violence survivors.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson authored Senate Bill 331, which allows campus-based domestic violence counselors to keep their communications with survivors of domestic violence confidential. The University of California helped sponsor the legislation.
UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an email SB 331 will not require new infrastructure and simply helps UC-employed counselors assist survivors in a way they could not before.
“Prior to this, UC-employed counselors could not qualify for an evidentiary privilege when serving students or employees who experienced domestic violence,” Doan added. “UC counselors were therefore unable to provide complete confidentiality for victims of domestic violence, as they could for victims of sexual assault.”
Evidentiary privilege allows counselors not to testify in courts about patients and disclose confidential information.
Doan added in order to incorporate the change, UC domestic violence counselors will need to review documents, forms and literature used to support domestic violence victims.
UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement the new law will help the UC and other higher education institutions better assist survivors of domestic violence.
“Guaranteeing privileged communications between (survivors) and their campus counselors will further encourage an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality, while alleviating many fears and concerns about seeking help,” Napolitano added.
Chloe Pan, Undergraduate Students Association Council external vice president, said her office advocated for the bill with other members of the UC Student Association by writing letters to state legislators. She added she thinks the law’s support for survivors of domestic violence is important for university students because of the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses.
“(SB 331 is) important given the political climate and potential rollbacks of Title IX funding,” she added. “It’s good to have California take a stand and make sure survivors have their information protected.”
Pan said she thinks sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence affect various campus groups, such as the LGBTQ community or parenting students, differently. She added she thinks the new law will help protect all of them.
“At its core, confidentiality is about safety,” she added.
Christina Lee, USAC student wellness commissioner, said she thinks the new law is important because domestic violence and sexual assault are already underreported on college campuses.
“(Underreporting) indicates students aren’t feeling safe or comfortable enough to report crimes,” she said.
Lee added she thinks the UC’s sponsorship of SB 331 indicates the university takes support for domestic violence survivors seriously and is responding to the needs of students.
Leaders of the Bruin Consent Coalition, a committee in the USAC Student Wellness Commission that aims to inform students about consent as well as sexual and gender-based violence, said they think the bill takes an important step toward ensuring survivors have the resources they need to recover from their experiences.
Grace Harvey, a co-director of BCC and fourth-year psychology student, said she thinks confidentiality is a key priority for protecting survivors of domestic violence.
“A breach can be a threat to the safety of survivors who already have a difficult time locating resources,” she added. “By extending confidentiality to institutions of higher learning, any student survivor will be able to safely confide in a counselor.”