Crime & Justice

California directs colleges to quickly work with police on sex assaults

In this file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris delivers a speech on Internet safety on February 10, 2015 in Menlo Park, California. Harris joined UC president Janet Napolitano on Wednesday to release a template outlining cooperation between campuses and law enforcement agencies following a report of sexual assault.
In this file photo, California Attorney General Kamala Harris delivers a speech on Internet safety on February 10, 2015 in Menlo Park, California. Harris joined UC president Janet Napolitano on Wednesday to release a template outlining cooperation between campuses and law enforcement agencies following a report of sexual assault.
File photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Attorney General Kamala Harris and University of California President Janet Napolitano called on the state’s colleges and universities Wednesday to adopt sexual assault policies that would address complaints of victims who say their cases have been ignored or mishandled.

“There are silos in our system and we need to break through those to do the best work we can to give these victims dignity, and give them a voice,” Harris said at a news conference at her downtown Los Angeles offices.

The policies carry out a state law that requires campuses to report assault cases to local police as well as lay out procedures that campuses and law enforcement agencies would follow, such as in collecting evidence of alleged rapes and coordinating victim interviews to avoid multiple rounds of questioning.

Campuses in California and across the country have come under growing pressure to improve the way they address sexual assault complaints from university and college students.

Harris said under a memoranda of understanding drafted by her office, campuses would collaborate with law enforcement agencies to streamline their response to assault cases.

The attorney general talked about a California college student who felt uncomfortable telling campus officials she was raped. After she did, she went to the hospital and was told a police detective would contact her.

“A month went by and she never heard from the police. She had to hire an attorney to help her navigate the process and track down the detective who was in charge of her case,” Harris said.

Last November, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights released a list of campuses under investigation for possible violations of federal law in handling sexual violence and harassment complaints. The list included UCLA and UC Berkeley.

All 10 of the University of California campuses will adopt the policies, said UC President Napolitano at the news conference. The policies “will give California survivors greater confidence that perpetrators will experience consequences for their actions. We have no tolerance for sexual violence or sexual harassment on our campuses,” she said.

Harris didn’t say whether other California colleges or universities,  besides UC, had agreed to adopt the policies.

But Pamela Thomason, California State University’s Title IX compliance officer, said in an email that “the CSU plans to use the Model MOU as a resource in evaluating whether to revise local coordination and collaboration agreements with other law enforcement agencies.”

Some advocates of survivors of sexual assault aren’t embracing all of Harris’ proposals.

UC Berkeley senior Aryle Butler, a campus advocate for rape survivors, thinks the automatic reporting of sexual assault to off campus law enforcement is a bad idea.

“There’s an issue there with survivors who don’t want to pursue a criminal case. It could keep survivors from coming forward,” she said, and “people shouldn’t be forced to do rape kits if they don’t want to.”

Butler likes Harris’s proposal to improve communication among campus agencies investigating sexual assault cases. She said that campus officials could do more to ask survivors of sexual assault how to improve investigations.

The state law requiring campuses to notify police of sexual assault cases is one of several measures that aim to improve how colleges and universities deal with sexual assault cases.

At Occidental College, a lawsuit and a federal investigation prompted changes in the handling of sexual assault complaints. Students underwent training in what’s allowed and what's not in sexual relations in preparation for the state’s “yes means yes” law that requires affirmative and voluntary consent to sex on campus.

California schools have until July 1st to enact policies ensuring law enforcement is notified of campus sex assault cases, the Associated Press reported.

According to AP, offenses on college campuses provided to the U.S. Department of Education nearly doubled between 2009 and 2013 — a rise department official attribute to increased federal enforcement and growing public attention. Law enforcement and education leaders say sex crimes frequently go underreported and that there are likely many more cases.

As of Wednesday, there were 121 sexual violence cases at 111 campuses under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, including 12 California colleges and universities, AP said.