University of California President Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Kamala Harris developed a Model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Wednesday to ensure cooperation between higher education and law enforcement in responding efficiently to sexual assault cases on UC campuses.
The MOU guidelines outline regular testing of rape kits, well-coordinated interviews to maintain sensitivity toward victims and requirements that caseworkers inform survivors of their rights to report or withhold information. Every campus will also establish a “C.A.R.E.: Advocate Office for Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Misconduct” under the MOU, with full-time trained staff and a system-wide website to provide access to counseling services and other resources. The model is intended to adapt to each individual UC and target specific needs for each campus.
According to a press release issued by the University of California Office of the President, Napolitano said she hopes for better communication between higher education and law enforcement to adequately address sexual assault incidents.
“A primary goal … to prevent and respond to sexual violence and sexual assault has been to make sure law enforcement agencies are more fully engaged with us,” Napolitano said. “Working closely with Attorney General Kamala Harris and law enforcement agencies will help us build trust and ensure appropriate outcomes for criminal acts of sexual violence and assault.”
The press release also states Harris said survivors of sexual assault should be provided with support and resources as their experience could potentially discourage them from continuing their education.
“For far too many hard-working students, the dream of an education from a top school is upended by sexual violence,” Harris said. “We must acknowledge these students’ value to our future and give them the respect and dignity they deserve as our next leaders. This model agreement will … provide sexual assault victims with the help they need and hold more perpetrators accountable.”
According to a statement issued by the UC Student Association (UCSA), UCSA president Jefferson Kuoch-Seng said changes in sexual assault policy have been made as a result of student action, but UCSA is still pushing for more educational requirements.
“Student activists have driven a bold agenda on this issue and it is paying off,” Kuoch-Seng said in a statement. “We have much more work to accomplish. UCSA continues to urge the UC Office of the President to implement mandatory in-person peer consent and bystander intervention training for faculty, staff and students at all UCs.”
Survivor of sexual assault and second-year Chican@ studies and history of public policy double major Alejandra Melgoza said implementing the new policy might discourage some survivors of sexual assault from reporting their cases.
“I think it is a good idea in theory, but I think it needs to be modified and much more discussed,” Melgoza said. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I know that if that were me in that position again where I had to report to law enforcement automatically, that would probably discourage me, because I would not want to get involved with law enforcement at all.”
According to Melgoza, a sexual assault survivor should determine whether or not to involve law enforcement and Napolitano should engage in more conversations with students at each specific UC campus to decide further measures.
“Everybody has a different opinion and background in dealing with law enforcement,” Melgoza said. “Faculty has a different opinion on it … everyone has a different perspective. Just having more dialogue with students would help because the issue still needs to be discussed.”