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The UC Office of the President recently announced an update to their system-wide policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence — including greater resources for training and education aimed at sexual harassment prevention — in compliance with the 2013 Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA).
Last year’s reauthorization of VAWA requires the UC to expand guidelines concerning domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. The policy applies to all UC campuses, medical centers, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Office of the President and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The new policy also includes expanded rules on sexual harassment prevention training and education for faculty and incoming students, as well as increased reporting requirements, identification of on- and off-campus resources for victim support services and broader protection for victims. It also allows for revisions to be made in response to specific incidents, comments from campuses or changes mandated by legislation.
In a letter sent on March 7 to the UC community on the updated policy, UC President Janet Napolitano said the UC is taking a firm stand against sexual violence and harassment through the new requirements.
“We have no tolerance for these crimes and welcome the opportunity to standardize, and clarify, our policies and procedures against them,” Napolitano said. “This policy provides clear direction regarding the support and procedures that are available to them.”
According to UC Office of the President spokeswoman Brooke Converse, the policy has not been updated since February 2006. Converse also said there will be more changes made to the new UC policies, as students, administrators, faculty and other UC campus members come forth with additional concerns.
“This first step was timed in order to comply with federal law, but the policy will be further revised,” Converse said in an email. “We are waiting on guidance from the federal government on the Violence Against Women Act and possible changes mandated by proposed legislation in Sacramento. We have also received many comments from the campus community and we plan to take all these things into account moving forward.”
The policy gives definitions for sexual harassment, sexual violence, dating violence, sexual assault and consent, incapacitation and stalking. The policy allows the University to take disciplinary action against individuals found to have engaged in sexual harassment or sexual violence, with punishments including dismissal from the University, should the conduct be determined “sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive” enough to affect employee working conditions or limit the opportunity for individuals to benefit from educational programs.
Take Back the Night co-chair Kelty Kauffman said she believes the new policy is a good first step in addressing the current incidents of sexual violence because it strictly defines consent as well as response protocols to sexual assault.
“I think this new policy can help change the culture of violence in the UC community because people currently aren’t coming forward, or if they are coming forward, they aren’t being taken seriously,” Kauffman said.
Kauffman also said the policy focuses on the importance of educational programs on sexual violence before the crimes happen.
“It’s important to teach people about how to intervene, rather than just be bystanders, and how to stop themselves so that they know when consent happens,” Kauffman said.
The policy describes two different processes of responding to sexual violence allegations: early resolution and formal investigation. Early resolution is a set of procedures designed to respond to harassment allegations at the earliest possible stage, with the voluntary cooperation of all parties. Early resolution procedures include, among other items, various resolution options — such as mediating an agreement between the parties involved, separation of parties, referring the parties to counseling programs, negotiating an agreement for disciplinary action or providing remedies for the individual harmed by the offense.
On the other hand, formal investigation is an option of redress utilized when early resolution options are deemed “inappropriate or … unsuccessful”. According to the policy, formal investigations can be moved forward by campus Title IX coordinators based on four considerations: the seriousness of the allegation, the age of the student, whether there have been other complaints against the accused individual and the rights of the accused individual to receive information about the complainant and allegations, should formal proceedings with sanctions result from the investigation.
According to Kauffman, the early resolution option has “problematic” aspects since it unintentionally pressures survivors into taking actions that may not fit their situation.
“It is a much quicker and less intensive way of dealing with the allegations, and while it states in the policy that it is voluntary … I would worry that there would be a lot of pressure on the complainant to choose the early resolution, which has far less intensive investigation and far less intensive repercussions for the person being accused,” Kauffman said.
In this light, Kauffman said it is possible that people will be pressured into taking the early response option when what they actually need are a formal investigation and judicial repercussions for the person being accused. She added that the policy should be expanded to more thoroughly address sexual gender diversity in sexual violence.
“[Policymakers should] possibly consult LGBTQ people when going through sexual assault cases, because oftentimes when LGBTQ people come forth to try to tell their stories, it’s a very unsafe space for them because they are surrounded by people who may not be sensitive to the issues they face,” Kauffman said.