By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A road map for responding to campus sexual assault cases will be provided to California universities and law enforcement agencies in hopes that they can better coordinate their responses and investigations, officials said on Wednesday.
The joint effort by state Attorney General Kamala Harris and University of California President Janet Napolitano comes amid heightened concern nationwide about sexual assaults on college campuses in California and elsewhere.
“California has some of the best colleges and universities in the world,” said Harris, a Democrat who is running to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate. “But for far too many hard-working students, the dream of an education from a top school is upended by sexual violence."
The road map includes a suggested draft for an agreement between a university and local law enforcement that spells out tasks that each agency will undertake if a sexual assault is reported.
For example, the university police might be first responders, but local sheriff's deputies could handle the collection of evidence.
The framework was developed by Harris' office in cooperation with the University of California, prosecutors offices around the state and local police departments.
Part of the goal was to engage law enforcement agencies in a more direct way in addressing the growing issue of campus sexual assault, Napolitano said.
"A primary goal in our efforts at the University of California to prevent and respond to sexual violence and sexual assault has been to make sure law enforcement agencies are more fully engaged with us," she said.
The guidelines are part of what Harris called a new era of accountability for campus sexual assault cases.
Under a new law, campus officials must immediately alert local law enforcement when a sexual assault occurs, she said.
Last year, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a law requiring universities to adopt "affirmative consent" language in their definitions of consensual sex, meaning that both participants need to actively say they want to take part.
It also states that silence and a lack of resistance do not signify consent and that drugs or alcohol do not excuse unwanted sexual activity.
The White House has declared sex crimes to be "epidemic" on U.S. college campuses, with one in five students falling victim to sexual assault during their college years.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech)