California Steps Up for Sexual Assault Survivors

Reports have consistently shown that 1 in 5 college women will experience sexual violence at some point during their university careers, and more attention has been paid to the crisis in recent months. The Obama administration has taken action to combat campus rape, and California is doing its part to move the needle as well.

On Monday, the Golden State, which has shown itself to be a leader in these efforts, took another step toward protecting women students. The California Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of legislation that would redefine sexual consent in strong terms.

If passed by the state Senate, bill SB967 would require “an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision” by both parties engaging in sexual contact.

UPDATE Aug. 29, 2014: California’s state Senate unanimously approved bill SB 967 Thursday. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has until the end of September to sign the bill into law.

“Sexual assaults are too common on our campuses, and the need for change is now,” said California Assembly member Jimmy Gomez (D).

All California schools that receive federal funding would have to adhere to the “affirmative consent” definition. The bill would also require schools to implement “victim-centered” response policies and develop sexual assault prevention programs.

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Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California system, endorsed the bill Monday and said in a statement that the University of California has “no tolerance for any form of sexual violence or harassment.”

Napolitano formed a task force in June to oversee campus sexual assault investigations after a Washington Post report revealed that three UC schools ranked among the top 20 schools with the highest number of “forcible” sex assaults between 2010 and 2012.

“Sexual violence is a serious crime that we will never tolerate,” Napolitano said in a June statement. “We aim to be the national leader in combating sexual violence on campus, and the mission of this new task force is to continue to review and improve our efforts to make sure the University of California employs innovative, evidence-based and consistent practices across the system.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) sent a letter Tuesday to California post-secondary school leaders, including Napolitano, urging them to voluntarily adopt parts of her Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), which was introduced in Congress last month. Sen. Boxer is asking California’s public and private universities to hire independent advocates for sexual assault prevention and response, a measure that would be required if her bill becomes law. The advocates would ensure survivors had access to appropriate medical care, forensic and evidentiary exams, counseling, information on their legal rights and guidance on reporting crimes to law enforcement.

“As our students return to campus, they are counting on their universities to not only educate them, but also to protect them,” Sen. Boxer wrote in her letter. “Yet, as you know too well, campus sexual assault has reached epidemic levels in our country, and I am writing to ask you to create an independent victim’s advocate on your campuses.”

Let’s hope California’s schools and legislators make the right choice for students!

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Opening photo courtesy of Flickr user Tamara Evans licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.