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Alexandra Tashman: UC should undergo Title IX audit to examine handling of sexual assault cases

On Wednesday, Aug. 21, students and other activists lined up during the public comments section of a California State Legislature committee to share their opinions and experiences with sexual assault.

By Alexandra Tashman

Aug. 26, 2013 1:45 a.m.

Complaints have been filed against college administrations across the country regarding their handling of sexual assaults. Above, Annie E. Clark, a graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, speaks to the committee about her experience.
Libby Rainey / The Daily Californian
Complaints have been filed against college administrations across the country regarding their handling of sexual assaults. Above, Annie E. Clark, a graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, speaks to the committee about her experience.
Last November, Aryle Butler, a third-year student at UC Berkeley, was told by campus administrators that filing a complaint against the person who sexually assaulted her would be “invasive and unnecessary.”

She was also informed by administrators about how serious the repercussions would be if she made a false report, and was asked how many times she verbally told her assailant “no.”

Because apparently once is not enough.

After going through all the proper channels to file a complaint against the man who sexually assaulted her and three other women, fellow Berkeley third-year Sofie Karasek had to wait seven months and contact administrators repeatedly to hear about the status of her own case. She was never informed as to whether her assailant ever faced disciplinary action by the university, which he graduated from mere weeks after Karasek finally heard back from adminstrators.

These stories clearly demonstrate a lack of administrative oversight and outright failure on behalf of UC Berkeley to protect and support students who survived sexual assault and went through university channels in order to seek recourse with their assailants.

Last Wednesday, these two women told their stories before the Joint Committee on Legislative Audit in a hearing at the California State Legislature in Sacramento. The audience was filled with a crowd of supporters who had driven in from across the state, and by the end, many of the lawmakers on the committee were openly livid with the university’s treatment of the students.

“This behavior has got to stop before another generation of students has to deal with this,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

The purpose of this hearing was to determine whether the state should audit UC Berkeley, one other yet-undecided UC and two California State universities to determine whether they are in compliance with Title IX, a federal provision that protects students from sex-based discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funds, in regard to handling cases of sexual harassment. After listening to the testimonies and public comments, the audit was passed unanimously by the committee.

Rather than just simply audit two UCs and have the results speak as representative of the whole system, the committee should expand the audit to include all schools within the UC system and pursue a complete audit of each campus. In so doing, campuses can verify that they are not only in compliance with the minimum requirements of Title IX, but are also encouraging the universities to implement additional or improved resources to making reporting even more simple.

Stories of sexual assault, and negative experiences in dealing with university administrators are rampant on college campuses around the country.

Within the last year alone, complaints claiming that universities are not in compliance with Title IX have been filed against schools including Dartmouth College, Swarthmore College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as the University of Southern California and Occidental College.

These complaints are especially pertinent in light of a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that asserts 19 percent of female university undergraduates have experienced either an attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.

Currently, there are no allegations being brought against UCLA for any similar forms of misconduct.

Even if such a system-wide audit does not find any violations, it would likely shed light on the mechanisms in place to deal with sexual assault complaints, and make violations less likely in the future.

Butler and Karasek aren’t alone – an estimated 37.4 percent of female rape survivors were assaulted between the ages of 18-24, according to the CDC’s estimates.

By cooperating with a system-wide audit, the University would not only guarantee it is following the law, but such a “sunshine audit” would also make a firm statement on behalf of the rights of survivors by demonstrating the University’s dedication to efficient and fair recourse for survivors.

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