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UCLA activists work to expand access to rape test kit services

A medical report form is pictured. UCLA community members are working to increase access to rape test kits and improve care for survivors of sexual violence. (Dylan Du/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Phoebe Brous

Oct. 23, 2022 10:43 p.m.

UCLA student activists and leaders are working to improve care for survivors of sexual violence by improving access to rape test kits.

This fall, IGNITE at UCLA, a student organization dedicated to reproductive justice advocacy, started a petition calling on UCLA to offer free rape test kit services at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. To date, the petition has over 2,100 signatures.

Jennifer Wagman, an associate professor of public health, said national estimates indicate as many as one in three college students experience some form of sexual violence or sexual harassment during their time in university. Women and sexual and gender minorities face an even greater risk, she added.

While most University of California campuses partner with facilities that offer post-rape care – such as forensic examinations, counseling and therapeutic services – none have their own sexual assault nurse examiners to conduct care on or near campus, Wagman said. He added that UCLA partners with the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center to offer students this care.

In a written statement, UCLA spokesperson Katherine Alvarado said sexual assault survivors who go to Ronald Reagan hospital are offered transportation to the Santa Monica center. The Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center also provides medical care, advocacy and information about survivor rights, she added.

Wagman said she and IGNITE leadership plan to discuss rape test kit access with faculty and students from UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis to start coordinating a UC-wide effort to bring these services closer to campuses.

Georgia Lavery Van Parijs, a second-year English and gender studies student and IGNITE leader, said transportation barriers can prevent students from accessing this care. An Uber to the Santa Monica center, which is 4.4 miles from UCLA, costs around $30 to $50 each way, she added.

In an effort to alleviate transportation concerns, UCPD offers students free escort services to the Center, said Sarah Gibson, a fourth-year public affairs student and IGNITE co-president. However, she said police presence might make students, particularly students of color, uncomfortable when traveling to the Center.

UCPD is exploring the feasibility of transporting students in non-patrol vehicles, Alvarado said in the written statement.

However, UCLA should allot more resources to sexual violence prevention and understanding risk factors and intervention strategies, Wagman said.

Wagman, who conducted research at UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Santa Barbara on access barriers for campus assault resources and education offices, said students at these campuses were also unsure of where to find or use resources for reporting sexual violence and receiving counseling. The difference between confidential and non-confidential reporting – whether services are required by law to report incidents – was unclear to students as well, they said.

“Most people maybe will know of Title IX or CARE (Campus Assault Resources and Education), but a lot of people don’t even know where it is on campus,” Wagman said. “They don’t know how to reach them. They don’t know what it means to go and report to them and how they would do that. They don’t know the procedures.”

Julianne Lempert, a second-year political science student and IGNITE’s legislative chair, said the organization will continue advocacy by building a coalition with other student organizations, meeting with officials at the Santa Monica center and the UCLA Title IX office, and collaborating with the Undergraduate Students Association Council.

Darieus Rego, a third-year molecular, cell and developmental biology transfer student and director of university relations for the USAC Office of the External Vice President said his office and IGNITE are collaborating on a USAC resolution to express student body support for expanding access to rape test kit services through IGNITE’s initiative.

Divine-Faith Johnson, a fourth-year political science student and USAC external vice president, said she thinks passing the resolution will increase public support and open more serious communication with school administration.

Wagman said after receiving funding from the state to conduct campus wide climate surveys on prevalence of sexual violence, UCLA declined her request to collaborate.

Despite these challenges, expanding access to rape test kits might encourage an increase in Title IX investigations, as survivors will have an easier opportunity to collect and preserve evidence, Lempert said.

“This is a way for survivors to empower themselves with DNA evidence that they can use for their cases,” Gibson said. “And that’s really empowering work that we’re doing, and we need people on campus to support us and to continue signing our petitions, we need more clubs to join our coalition.”

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Phoebe Brous
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