Congresswomen stand by sexual assault survivors
on April 16, 2014
Two U.S. Congresswomen stood shoulder-to-shoulder with sexual assault survivors on the U.C. Berkeley campus on Tuesday to call for federal legislation that would toughen laws on sexual harassment and violence on college campuses.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) appeared with six current U.C. Berkeley students who are survivors of sexual assault.
One by one, each shared her personal story with a common thread — feeling frustrated by situations in which they said they felt that university had not done enough to combat sexual assault.
To date, 31 cases have been filed by current and former U.C. Berkeley students, part of a federal lawsuit against the university for violating their civil rights by inadequately responding to complaints on sexual assault. The Title IX complaint filed by U.C. Berkeley students from the class of 1975 to the class of 2016 was filed on February 26, 2014.
The university has recently hired three staff members to deal with Title IX complaints, two of whom serve to provide support to sexual assault survivors. The goal of the Campus’ Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (the Title IX office) is to complete investigations within 60 days, according to a statement by a spokesperson for the chancellor’s office.
Reps. Lee and Speier said they had met earlier on Tuesday with U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to discuss the issue. During their press conference, the two legislators commended him for giving his attention to the issue.
While sexual assault cases in the United States have declined over the past two decades, the chances of rape remain especially high for young women between 16 and 24, who are four times more likely to be raped than women overall, according to a year-long investigation by Center for Public Integrity.
Students found “responsible” for sexual assaults on campus often face little or no punishment from school judicial systems, while victims’ lives are turned upside down, the legislators noted.
“And that’s why we met with the Chancellor today. We will be making initial recommendations to the university personnel about what other steps should be taken,” Speier said. Chancellor Dirks’ spokesperson couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
“There is no way that the perpetrator who committed a violent crime of sexual assault should get away with just writing a term paper,” Lee said.
“Rape is a crime. The punishment should follow the crime. It should be appropriate to the crime. The university needs to work with local police. They must protect the student.” Lee added.
Reflecting back on her time as a student at U.C. Berkeley in 1975, Lee added that much remains to be done. “We’re just beginning,” she said. “I have to commend the Chancellor for at least taking this very seriously.”
Correction: Reps. Lee and Speier met with U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks prior to holding a press conference on seeking justice for victims of sexual assault, and praised him for giving his attention to the matter. An earlier version of this article mistakenly implied that Chancellor Dirks attended the press conference.
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