University of California Berkeley is hosting a National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault & Violence this week. The summit is bringing together university and civic leaders to help address an issue which has been plaguing campuses throughout the country.
But this meeting is not without its critics. Students have been protesting and intend to demonstrate at the closing keynote address, given by Anita Hill.
One of those student demonstrators, Sofie Karasek, joined Take Two. She's the co-founder of the national organization, End Rape on Campus.
She told Take Two of her own personal experience.
I was sexually assaulted in February 2012. And my assailant was a serial assailant. Actually four of us in total went and reported him to the University [of California, Berkeley] Administration, expecting that something was going to be done because we thought that this was unacceptable that this had happened so many times.
What ended up happening was, [the Administration] didn't reach out to us at all about an investigation. And in the Fall of that year, I found out that he was going to graduate early through a friend.
He ended up just being put on disciplinary probation and allowed to graduate early, which I was not told until two days before his gradation date.
Since the incident, Karasek filed a federal complaint with the Department of Education against UC Berkeley.
Hosting the National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault & Violence is part of UC Berkeley's response to allegations such as those made by Karasek. During the conference, workshops are being held on how to get bystanders to report incidents of sexual assault. There are discussions on ensuring a fair process and helping with healing. There's a workshop on sexual assault prevention for fraternities and sororities.
Though protestors like Karasek are glad the conference is focusing on such topics, they say they've largely been left out of the discussion. "We're the ones who know what has been going on," said Karasek. "We have gone through it. Our friends have gone through it."
Karasek and other protestors feel that, in general, victims of assault on the Berkeley campus have not received the support they deserve, especially while filing a sexual assault complaint. Demonstrators expressed this on posters they held as they stood with duck tape on their mouths, silent, at a panel discussion on ensuring a fair process for investigations yesterday.
Similar expressions are expected at the closing keynote address Wednesday, given by Anita Hill.
Take Two staff requested a comment from the organizers of the National Conference on Campus Sexual Assault & Violence, and received the following from Janet Gilmore, a media representative of the conference:
Clearly survivors have been through an incredible emotional ordeal and our hearts go out to them. We commend them for coming forward to raise awareness about this important issue. We would encourage them to work more closely with us on solutions.
The university has taken a number of critical steps to address this issue (see Sexualassault.berkeley.edu), but we are well aware that there is much more work to do and we are committed to that effort.
This conference, along with many other efforts now underway, is an important part of that effort. Professional staff in this field, including UC Berkeley staff, have a great opportunity to learn, to share information and gain new insights from researchers, trainers, peers, student participants and others through this conference.
Students have had an important role in planning this event and have been an important voice in panel discussions and presentations. This is ultimately a conference for professionals but the student voice is an important one that has been included from our planning efforts to the actual presentations underway today.