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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Culture of sexual assault at UC Davis discussed by CARE, administrators, Greek life members

CARE staff comment on sexual violence, harrasment reporting process 

Students can access free and confidential support services by reaching the CARE office at (530) 752-3299, the Women’s Resources and Research Center at (530) 752-3372 or the LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at (530) 752-2452. Students can also schedule individual counseling from the SHCS by calling them at (530) 752-0871. 

As victims of sexual assault navigate the complex system of checks and balances the university has in place, the campus office of the Center for Advocacy, Resources and Education (CARE) provides counseling as well as advocacy for sexual assault victims.

The process for reporting a claim of sexual assault includes Harassment and Discrimination Assistance, Title IX, Judicial Affairs and sometimes the campus police department.

Chief Compliance Officer Wendi Delmendo from the Office of Compliance and Policy said that she appreciates the role of CARE in assisting to explain the reporting process.

“It’s very complex,” Delmendo said. “That’s why CARE is such a valuable resource for individuals who have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence. They can explain this in multiple ways, and hopefully ways that make more sense.”

With a staff of five, CARE supported 139 students who reported incidents of sexual assault between July 2019 and June 2020, and also assisted in 194 other incidents related to stalking, partner violence and sexual harassment. It is one of the smaller offices in terms of the campus population, according to Sarah Meredith, the director of CARE.

Victoria Choi, a fourth-year English major who recently used CARE and pursued an alternative resolution with the university, which forgoes a formal Title IX investigation and does not assign guilt, discussed her experience with access to resources and the process.

“CARE was extremely effective,” Choi said. “My advocate was pivotal in helping me heal and navigate this process. I didn’t want to have hearings and meetings and investigations and witnesses, evidence. I didn’t want to do all of that to prove that this happened to me. I didn’t feel like I needed to prove that. I just wanted the situation to be resolved in a way that would make me feel safe.”

All the counselors at CARE are licensed rape crisis and domestic violence counselors, which prevents them from disclosing information to others without written consent, Meredith said.

Recent Title IX changes that took effect in August include increased evidential requirements. It also requires the person testifying at the hearing to see and be seen by the accused, said OSSJA Director Donald Dudley via email. 

“It makes the process more difficult for the people reporting; it places a lot more benefit of the doubt on the people being accused,” Choi said. “I didn’t want to have to deal with the potential of being invalidated by being questioned in the process of a Title IX investigation.” 

Delmendo said that the UC system remains minimally impacted by the changes, but noted that some changes resulted in increased due process for the accused.

“Largely, it’s not changing the way we work with people who make reports to our office,” Delmendo said. “I think the UC system did a really good job of accounting for the new regulations in our process while trying to retain all of our prior processes.” 

Meredith said she understands the importance of a thorough investigation, but said she also understands how hard it is for survivors to relive that experience as they go through the process of being questioned. 

“It’s very common that folks will reach out to us after some time, whether that’s a few days, a week or months,” Meredith said. “Sometimes even years.”

Apeksha Kanumilli, a fourth-year psychology major, and the president of Davis Panhellenic, said she considers CARE to be the best place for survivors of sexual assault to start.

“They know a lot more of the ins and outs [of] specific processes than we do,” Kanumilli said.

The system is designed to provide survivors with multiple options on how to proceed, though the process itself can be retraumatizing for some.

“They’re weighing what their outcome is going to be with what they feel like their capacity is for going through any sort of process,” Meredith said.

Nate Kushner, a third-year global disease major and president of the Interfraternity Council, said his organization refers survivors to CARE as well as OSSJA, and utilizes an anonymous complaint process to encourage its members to speak up about sexual assaults in its chapters.

“Lately, with all these cases coming forward,” Kushner said, “We want to make sure that we hold ourselves, the chapters and individuals accountable.”

Kanumilli said she thinks the university responds to claims well about half the time, but wishes that it had policies to address toxic cultures within Greek Life chapters.

“Besides the people who are assailants, the biggest problem that contributes to this culture of sexual assault is rape apologists—people who make excuses for people who commit sexual assault,” Choi said.

Kanumilli said Panhellenic has reached out to CARE to ensure that Panhellenic practices what it preaches when it comes to women’s empowerment and supporting survivors.

“There are individuals who take it seriously and the reality that we struggle with is that they are put into environments or into cultures of organizations that maybe don’t take it seriously,” Kanumilli said. “That’s where the disconnect between an individual who had the education and knows what consent is can get led astray.”UC Davis has more confidential resources than any other UC campus, including the Women’s Center and the LGBTQIA Center, Meredith said. 

The Annual Clery Report, which tracks incidents of sexual violence on campus, only reflects cases which fall under ‘Clery geographies.’ This means it does not count sexual violence that occurs in places that are not owned or operated by the university, and it does not count sexual harassment at all. 

“So, they might happen in apartments,” Delmendo said. “We wouldn’t count that for Clery.”

Though the 2019 Clery Report reflects only 16 cases of rape at UC Davis, Title IX reflects a total of 209 complaints of sexual violence and other ‘prohibited behaviors’ in their 2018-2019 report, most commonly reported by responsible employees and related to undergraduate students.

One way the university discourages sexual assault and harassment on campus is by requiring mandatory training on sexual assault and bystander intervention for all incoming students. Meredith said, however, these trainings are typically not enough to affect the attitudes and beliefs of those who complete them.

“You don’t change attitudes and beliefs in a one-hour presentation, and you don’t change attitudes and beliefs sitting down and doing online training,” Meredith said. “Not for most people anyway.”

Written by: Kathleen Quinn — campus@theaggie.org


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