UCOP and sexual assault: remember the survivors

Content warning: rape, sexual assault.

The cost of a college tuition is expensive as it is, but for one in five women, it includes the risk of being sexually assaulted while on university grounds. What’s more, the majority of the reports are not investigated in a timely matter, putting the safety of the survivor at risk.

Due to student pressure and activism efforts, the University of California introduced a revised policy on sexual violence and sexual harassment. The policy, implemented across UC campuses on Jan. 1, marks a step in the right direction but met with flawed structural challenges that undermine the impact that the policy intends to make.

For starters, the policy mandates that every employee of the university system, including Residential Assistants (RAs), Graduate Teaching Assistants and student employees, are mandated reporters. If they hear of a student who is victimized by sexual assault or harassment, the policy requires that the employee report it to the Title IX office. Shouldn’t this be a good thing – meaning more students are getting access to justice?

Unfortunately, no.

Requiring every student employee to become a Mandated Reporter places an unfair burden on the survivor. Trust relationships are developed with a RA or teaching assistant, and making them required to report sexual harassment or violence destroys the trust that students have with each other. When students feel scared to talk about it to a counselor or an administrator, we turn to each other. The UC community was one of the reasons why I chose  to be a UC student, but through this policy, our sense of community is being destroyed. Yet again, it is another attempt to put students against each other, and in situations that student employees should not have to deal with reporting.

It is the survivor’s decision to report what happened to them, not the university. Reporting an attack without the consent of the survivor puts the survivor at an even greater risk – just because the survivor is ready to talk about it does not mean the survivor is ready to report it. Reporting it leads to investigations, and the survivor may not feel safe or comfortable with seeing their perpetrator in court or throughout the investigation process.

What’s more, the UC is not exactly known for investigating cases of sexual assault or harassment in a timely fashion that enables the survivor to recover mentally, academically, and professionally.

In January, a lawsuit was filed against the UC Regents by a former UC Santa Barbara female student (who wished to have a disclosed identity). The student, who was attacked and raped by three individuals in Isle Vista, reported the case to the UC Police Department. Although it was the worst case seen from the university, UC Santa Barbara did not hire a better-equipped law enforcement agency that would help the survivor find justice. Her rape kit was found missing vital pieces of information, such as photos of her many injuries. This is one of the countless horror stories that students from across the UC system have filed, in desperation and in fear.

The UC Regents plan to enroll 10,000 more students over the next three years, and while I jump at the opportunity of having more people join the UC family, it is something that must be taken extremely seriously. If the policy requires more student employees to become mandated reporters but they cannot keep up with their current demand, what will be the future of 10,000 new UC systems, who come to our campuses expecting the world-class education their parents pinched their pockets for?

The policy is a great way for the universities to wipe their hands clean of any liabilities, but at the same time, it greatly endangers the students that it claims to serve. As students in the same university system that birthed civil rights movements, literary movements, technological innovations, and scientific discoveries, we deserve better.