Legislation proposes stricter sexual assault policies for colleges

In an attempt to strengthen protection for sexual assault victims, new state legislation has been proposed that would hold colleges to uniform policies regarding sexual harassment, assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. The legislation comes almost one year after the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was enacted in order to help protect students on college campuses from being individually victimized by sexual assault.

California Senate Bill 967, proposed  in mid-February, would require the California State University system, the University of California system, and all other independent postsecondary education institutions to adopt a victim-centered policy to handle sexual harassment. 

“One in five women on college campuses have been sexually assaulted during their time there. This is a serious national issue plaguing our colleges, universities, and private institutions,” said Sandra Henriquez, executive director of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “This legislation focuses on survivors and requires colleges and universities to develop survivor-centered policies while also providing them with the best resources and support services available.”

The policy states sexual activity requires “affirmative consent,” defined as “freely and affirmatively communicated willingness to participate in particular sexual activity or behavior, expressed either by words or clear, unambiguous actions.” It outlines inoperative defenses against the victim, including but not limited to: nonverbal communication, self-induced intoxication, unconsciousness, inability to communicate due to a mental or physical condition, incapacitation due to drugs or alcohol, and lack of reasonable steps taken by the accused to determine affirmative consent.

The policy also places stricter responsibilities on campuses to investigate sexual assaults, outlining required minium steps the campus must take. This includes but is not limited to: policy statements regarding confidentiality of victims, preliminary victim interviews and victim protocol development, medical forensic examinations and investigative considerations regarding alcohol and drug-related assaults.

“This bill is about changing the culture on college and university campuses to a culture of ‘no excuses’,” said State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), a joint author of SB 967 and vice-chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus. “No excuses for rape, no excuses for blaming the victims of rape, no excuses for not supporting these victims, and no excuses for a turning a blind eye to the problem of campus sexual assaults. I am extremely hopeful that, through this legislation, we can all work together to create safer environments for students.”

UC Berkeley, UC Los Angeles, Chico State University and San Diego State University are each undergoing state audits regarding their handling of sexual assault crimes, with results expected in April. In late January, President Barack Obama addressed the implementation of a White House task force to help protect sexual assault victims. 

Many people are unaware of the sexual crimes that occur on campus and around campus every day. On the Sonoma State  Police Services crime log, the majority of incidents that are listed on the crime log include theft, intoxication, and vandalism, with little or no reports of sexual violence.  

The on-campus Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department is a confidential counseling center that offers personal counselors and group counseling services for students dealing with problems that affect their education, time management, well being or career. 

Discussions that take place between students and a counselor are completely confidential. The counselors do not have the right to alert anyone of a problem a student is having without the student’s prior consent. The CAPS department hopes that sexual assault victims will feel confident in confiding in the counselors. The CAPS department is offering more group-counseling workshops this semester. For more information on the workshops or personal counseling you can visit sonoma.edu/counselingctr or call (707) 664-2153.