Memories of one’s college years should be marked by exciting learning opportunities, deep friendships, and the occasional all-night study session. Tragically, far too many young people are finding their memories of their college years darkened by on-campus sexual assault and/or rape. This growing threat must be stopped. Our San Francisco sexual assault attorney believes that civil lawsuits against universities can provide recourse of victims and can also spark changes that will keep students safe at school.
Women File Suit Against Berkeley Alleging Inadequate Response to Sexual Assault Claims
This week, as detailed in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, three current and former students filed a civil suit against the University of California, Berkeley alleging the administration failed to respond appropriately to their sexual assault claims. The women allege the school did not conduct appropriate investigations, failed to keep them informed throughout the process, and did not sufficiently punish the perpetrators. The trio say they want to force UC Berkeley to create stronger policies and procedures for handling sexual assault claims and want harsher punishments for assailants. They also seek monetary damages.
At a news conference, the women publicly identified themselves and detailed the sexual assaults that led them to file claims. One expressed fear that she will encounter her assailant when he returns to school in August after a two-year suspension. She said attending the school is a privilege and one her assailant should not be granted. Another woman told reporters she expected a more appropriate response from an institution she believed would keep her and her classmates safe. She criticized Berkeley for placing reputation and image above student well-being. According to the third woman, her attacker was simply placed on probation and sent to counseling.
Movement Focuses on On-Campus Sexual Assault
The suit is part of a nationwide movement to prevent sexual violence on college campuses and at student events. According to an article published last month in Time Magazine, research studies have found that between 16 and 25 percent of female students experience some form of unwanted sexual incidents during their undergraduate years. According to Time, schools are looking at a range of reforms including educating students on healthy sexual relationships, teaching students to intervene if they observe misconduct, and changing disciplinary processes.
There has also been an increase in the number of students nationwide who allege their schools failed to vigorously investigate sexual assault incidents. As of early June, per the above-linked Press Democrat article, there were 129 pending Title IX complaints with the Department of Education involving sexual assault, including a suit against Berkeley that includes the three women involved in the newly filed civil suit. Title IX is a major federal anti-discrimination law focused on women and education. Students also suggest schools are underreporting sexual crimes on campus.
California Moves to Protect Students from Sexual Violence
California is taking steps to protect college students in our state. The state has created a Model Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”), a sample agreement including colleges, law enforcement, and advocacy groups aimed at providing a “coordinated and effective response” when students file sexual assault claims. Through the MOU, California hopes to improve responses and ultimately decrease sexual violence on college campuses.
Although not mandatory in itself, the MOU can help schools comply with recent changes in state law. Per the recently enacted laws, schools must adopt an policy that requires “an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” Silence is not enough and consent is not valid if the accused should have known the complainant was incapacitated by drugs or alcohol. The law also includes reporting requirements and details how schools must respond to and investigate sexual assault claims, mandating the use of a preponderance of the evidence standard when adjudicating complaints.
A Law Firm that Cares
We encourage all victims of sexual assault to seek help, including both legal and psychological support. We are available to discuss the potential civil liability of educational institutions for on-campus sexual assault and other civil claims that may be appropriate. Our Oakland sexual assault civil law firm treats all clients with respect and we understand that the legal process can be emotional. We work to ensure that sexual assault civil lawsuits serve the dual goals of empowering victims and preventing sexual violence in the future.
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(Image by Kiran Foster)