California State Auditor Logo

Report 2013-124 Summary - June 2014

Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence:

California Universities Must Better Protect Students by Doing More to Prevent, Respond to, and Resolve Incidents

HIGHLIGHTS

Our audit of the handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence incidents at four California universities highlighted the following:

  • The universities do not ensure that all faculty and staff are sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting these incidents to appropriate officials.
  • Certain university employees who are likely to be the first point of contact are not sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting these incidents.
  • The universities must do more to properly educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence.
    • Provide education to incoming students near the time they arrive on campus.
    • Provide all continuing students periodic refresher training at least annually.
    • Review and modify educational programs to comply with changes in laws and guidance.
  • The universities did not always comply with requirements in state law for distribution of relevant policies.
  • Thirty-five percent of the students who participated in a survey we conducted stated that they had experienced such incidents by another member of the campus community.
  • Twenty-two percent of the students who participated in our survey were not aware of resources available on campus should they or someone they know experience such incidents.
  • The universities need to better inform students who file a complaint of the status of the investigation and notify them of the eventual outcome.

RESULTS IN BRIEF

Sexual harassment and sexual violence against university students is an issue of critical importance. In May 2014 the U.S. Department of Education published a list of 55 universities, including the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), that it is investigating for their handling of sexual violence complaints. Further, according to a report prepared in 2007 for the National Institute of Justice, one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. The federal government recognizes that sexual harassment of students, which includes sexual violence, interferes with students' rights to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of discrimination prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX). The issue of sexual violence was highlighted in January 2014 when the president of the United States announced the creation of a White House task force to develop a coordinated federal response to campus rape and sexual assault. The task force issued its initial report in April 2014.

The universities we reviewed—UC Berkeley; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); California State University, Chico (Chico State); and San Diego State University (San Diego State)—do not ensure that all faculty and staff are sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting student incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence to appropriate officials. In addition, although the Title IX coordinators and staff involved in key roles of the incident-reporting process receive adequate training, certain other university employees who are likely to be the first point of contact, such as resident advisors and athletic coaches, are not sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting these incidents. By not ensuring that all university employees are adequately and routinely trained on responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and by not providing practical information on how to identify incidents, universities risk having their employees mishandle student reports of the incidents. Further, when they are not sufficiently trained, employees may not know how to interact appropriately with students in these situations and may do something that would discourage students from engaging in the reporting process.

In addition, the universities must do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence. State law requires universities within the California State University (CSU) system and requests those within the University of California (UC) system to provide educational and preventive information about sexual violence to all incoming students as part of established campus orientations, although it does not specify exactly when new student orientations must occur. We believe that the universities should provide this education to incoming students near the time that they arrive on campus, as they may be the most vulnerable to experiencing an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence in their first weeks on campus. Additionally, universities should ensure that all continuing students receive periodic refresher training, at least annually, on this subject. We also noted that the content of the education did not always cover the topics outlined in statute. Further, the universities must review and modify as needed their incoming student and employee educational programs because of recent changes to federal law and federal guidance.

The four universities did not always comply with requirements in state law for distribution of relevant policies. The distribution of these policies is important to inform students and university employees of how to appropriately handle and respond to incidents. In addition, the universities did not post their policies in certain places on campus where they might be seen by large numbers of students. To ensure that students are informed and reminded of the policies, it is important for the universities to prominently post them in locations frequented by students. Further, it is important that the Legislature amend state law to require universities to provide such information in certain prominent locations that are not currently specified in law, such as residence halls and other university housing and athletic facilities.

Our review determined that all four universities maintain adequate information at each department involved in the reporting process in the form of brochures and flyers describing the resources available to students who have experienced an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence, in addition to resources listed online. However, 46 of the 208 students who participated in a survey we conducted, or 22 percent, stated that they were not aware of resources available on campus should they or someone they know experience sexual harassment or sexual violence, indicating that the brochures and flyers, by themselves, may not always be effective in informing students of available resources. The survey also revealed that from 2009 through early March 2014, 73 of the 208 students, or 35 percent, reported experiencing 85 incidents of sexual harassment or sexual violence by another member of the campus community. The students reported that they did not file a Title IX complaint for 74, or 87 percent, of the 85 incidents.

Each university we reviewed has an adequate overall process for responding to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. However, our review of 80 case files at the four universities revealed that the universities need to improve these processes in some key areas. Specifically, the universities should do more to demonstrate that a student who may have experienced sexual harassment or sexual violence is informed of his or her reporting options and what to expect regarding the university's subsequent actions. The universities then need to better inform students who file a complaint of the status of the investigation and to notify them of the eventual outcome.

Additionally, the universities need to evaluate summary data related to incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Evaluation of these data would allow them to identify trends, such as the timing and location of incidents, that could then inform their outreach and protection efforts. The four universities have created or are in the process of creating multidisciplinary committees, which is recognized as a best practice, to address sexual harassment and sexual violence prevention. These multidisciplinary committees can evaluate data on the number and types of incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence and aid in the discussion of potential solutions.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We recommend that the Legislature take the following actions:

  • Amend state law to require universities to educate all university employees annually, consistent with their role, on their obligations in responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence involving students.
  • Amend state law to expressly require that incoming students be provided education on sexual harassment and sexual violence as close as possible to when they arrive on campus but no later than the first few weeks of their first semester or quarter.
  • Amend state law to require universities to provide information on their sexual harassment policies in additional prominent locations frequented by students, such as residence halls and other university housing and athletic facilities.

To help ensure that university faculty and staff do not mishandle student reports of incidents, all faculty and staff should receive training annually, consistent with their role, on their obligations in responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence. Additionally, the universities should provide supplemental training to certain staff who are likely to be the first point of contact, such as resident advisors and athletic coaches.

All universities should provide their education on sexual harassment and sexual violence to incoming students as close as possible to when they arrive on campus, but no later than the first few weeks of their first semester or quarter. Also, universities should provide periodic refresher training, at least annually, to all students. Universities should ensure that the content of the education on sexual violence provided to students covers the topics outlined in statute.

All universities should review and modify as needed their educational programs for incoming students and employees because of recent changes to federal law and federal guidance.

All universities should provide the appropriate distribution and posting of their policy on sexual harassment.

All universities should create and use a document to share with students that explains what students should expect from the complaint process.

All universities should provide regular updates on the status of their investigations to students filing or responding to complaints. Additionally, the universities should notify the students of the resolution of the complaints. To demonstrate that they took these actions, the universities should maintain appropriate records.

To identify ways to better serve their students, all universities should create a summary of student incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence reported to the various departments on campus. Each university should evaluate its summary data to identify trends specific to demographics, as well as the timing, location, and frequency of incidents, to better inform its outreach and protection efforts.

Finally, UC's Office of the President and CSU's Office of the Chancellor should direct all of the universities within their respective systems to comply with the recommendations in this audit report, and they should subsequently determine whether the universities have implemented the recommendations.

AGENCY COMMENTS

CSU's Office of the Chancellor, Chico State, and San Diego State agree with the recommendations directed to them and outlined actions they plan to take for each recommendation. UC's Office of the President indicates that it will be working with all of the UC campuses to review and respond to the recommendations. UC Berkeley indicates that it agrees with the importance of certain areas discussed in the report and states that review, evaluation, and response to the specific recommendations in the report will be coordinated at the UC systemwide level. UCLA states that it understands the importance of appropriate communication and training and will seriously consider our recommendations as it reevaluates and updates its materials and procedures. We look forward to hearing more about the specific actions that the Office of the President, UC Berkeley, and UCLA plan to take to address our recommendations in their 60-day status reports.















© 2013, California State Auditor | Privacy Policy | Conditions of Use | Download Adobe PDF Reader