UC Title IX coordinator addresses sexual assault prevention concerns

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

Kathleen Salvaty discusses program improvement, undocumented student protection, transparency

UC Title IX coordinator Kathleen Salvaty hosted a conference call with University of California (UC) student reporters on April 3 to discuss sexual assault prevention and concerns regarding sexual assault within the UC community.

“What I’m working to achieve is the president’s goal of having a strong and consistent and fair processes in terms of preventing and responding to sexual violence and harassment,” Salvaty said. “Ultimately, our goal is culture change.”

Salvaty added that the primary objective for the Title IX Office is establishing its processes in order to work with all UC campuses to improve sexual assault prevention education.

These efforts were initiated in 2014 when UC President Janet Napolitano issued a task force to create a new model for handling sexual misconduct acts, which has since been integrated at UC campuses.

Salvaty added that Napolitano has now turned her attention toward cases involving faculty and staff. In doing so, Napolitano has “suggested numerous policies regarding how we investigate [these] sexual assault cases.”

One of these changes includes creating a peer committee to preside over cases that involve a “senior university leader.” This new update to the sexual misconduct policy would require that when a faculty respondent is found responsible for sexual misconduct, “the chancellor or their designee would consult with a peer review committee [regarding] appropriate discipline,” according to Salvaty.

With regard to the 124 released cases of sexual assault involving UC employees, Salvaty noted that many of these occurred between 2013 and 2016 and they would be handled a lot differently ”if they were proceeding now” under the new leadership.

In light of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Salvaty stressed the importance of publicizing the resources already available to students on campus.

According to Salvaty, advocates at the UC Davis Center for Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE) work exclusively with UC community members and are the victims’ first line of contact. Complainants can reach out to a CARE advocate confidentially without triggering any university response or acknowledgement, making CARE “an incredibly valuable resource to the complainant.”

The type of support provided by an advocate includes referrals, counseling, academic support and advising on what it would entail if the victim did want to notify the university. CARE advocates may accompany the complainant through the entire reporting process, which encompasses police reports, university reports and safety planning. CARE advocates are confidential sexual assault counselors, even in a criminal context.

“In the Title IX Office we work very hard to keep those records as private as possible, there’s nothing that would be shared […] it really depends on what the reporter wants and what type of claim they are making,”  Salvaty said.

In addition to resources for complainants, Napolitano is focusing on implementing accessible resources for respondents, students who have been accused of sexual assault.

When asked to comment on the recent sexual assault acts at several UC medical centers, Salvaty could not discern whether this issue is a trend surrounding UC medical centers. She said that the apparent correlation between recurrent investigations and medical centers may be a result of there being a large number of employees at the multiple medical centers. She emphasized that the Title IX Office is working closely with medical centers and “building stronger bridges to work in prevention education.”

Salvaty admitted that these efforts may be challenging, since many medical centers are not located on the actual UC campuses. However, she believes that the many reports of investigations taking place are an indication that employees are aware of where to report and that the university does see their obligation toward them.

With the relatively recent action taken by President Donald Trump to rescind protections for transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, Salvaty addressed the concerns of gender protection by explaining that the “policies protect from discrimination based on gender orientation.”

In addition to protecting the LGBTQIA community, Salvaty answered concerns regarding the protection of undocumented students when filing sexual assault reports, especially under the Trump administration.

“It is certainly an issue we’re concerned about,” Salvaty said. “[We are] always concerned that undocumented students are not feeling safe to report.”

Salvaty stressed that the Title IX Office is a safe place for undocumented students and strongly advised undocumented students to communicate with a CARE advocate about what steps to take when reporting sexual assault.

In response to the question of whether the Title IX office has ever considered establishing legal clinics for sexual assault victims — similar to UC Davis’s immigration law clinics — Salvaty replied that it is “something I would think about” as some campuses, such as UCLA, have legal interns working on cases concerning domestic violence but not sexual assault cases yet.

Rachelle Fishbin, ASUCD Sexual Assault Awareness and Advocacy Committee (SAAAC) chair, expressed her concerns about the direction of the Title IX Office’s efforts.

“The efforts I have seen have been reactionary,” Fishbin said. “ I would like to see the university be more proactive in stopping sexual assault. That doesn’t mean social media campaigns or putting banners up.”

She hopes the university will implement better preventative education programs, such as requiring students to take a type of educational seminar facilitated by the Title IX Office.

“I love that they did some consent training at freshmen orientation,” said Claire Chevillier, a SAAAC committee member. “It is important to make sure than first-year students know their resources.”               
Fishbin was also concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the resources available to complainants.

“[Resources] are very targeted in certain communities, such as Greek life,” Fishbin said. “There is a large push for Greek life to know what the resources are […] obviously sexual assault occurs outside of Greek life, so what is being done for those communities, is there a similar push to make them aware of what their resources are?”

While certain changes have already been implemented, the Title IX Office will continue to expand on its current agenda by increasing the staffing of Title IX Offices across the UC system, planning new programs and expanding on the CARE program, while working with respondent coordinator representatives to establish more resources for accused students.
Written by Kimia Akbari  — campus@theaggie.org