SAN DIEGO (AP) — Responding to federal pressure, the University of California is planning a system-wide effort to address college sexual assaults that would require educating all students, staff and faculty about the problem, supporting victims and properly training investigators.
The plan drawn up by a UC task force and released Wednesday also calls for system-wide standards by July 2015 for its 10 campuses in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault allegations.
The initiative follows the Obama administration's call for colleges and universities nationwide to better address the problem. The federal Department of Education also made public the names of schools it was investigating for the handling of sexual assault complaints.
Officials at UC Berkeley, one of the schools under investigation, welcomed the plan and said they already have implemented many of the measures, including mandatory sexual violence training for its incoming students.
The school was cited last year in a state audit for not doing enough to ensure attendance at the sessions and for not adequately training resident advisers, athletic coaches and even campus law enforcement on how to handle allegations.
Based on the school's data, only 52 percent of the incoming class attended the sessions in 2013. This year, officials said 500 students have skipped the training.
UC Berkeley spokeswoman Claire Holmes said Thursday that the school was notifying the 500 students via email that they will be blocked from registering for spring classes if they do not fulfill the requirement by Oct. 1. Officials did not know why the students had not done so during campus orientation.
So far this year, 6,500 students have participated in the program known as Bear Pact, about sexual assault, harassment and stalking, Holmes said.
The school also is finishing the hiring process for a confidential advocate whose role is to assist victims. The UC plan recommends each of its 10 campuses hire such an advocate.
"We seek to establish a culture of trust and safety across the entire university community," UC President Janet Napolitano said.
Napolitano also supported recently approved legislation that would make California the first state to define what constitutes consent in college sexual assault investigations to determine whether accusers made an "unambiguous, conscious" decision to have sex.
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Thursday urged the state's other major higher-education system, California State University, to follow UC's lead.
"The devastating reality is that far too many (students) face the threat of sexual assault during their time at college," Boxer wrote. "They are counting on us to not only educate them, but also to protect them."
Boxer and Rep. Susan Davis, both Democrats, have authored legislation making an advocate's office a requirement for colleges and universities that receive federal funding. The advocate's office would ensure that victims receive information about counseling, forensic exams and reporting crimes to law enforcement.
Boxer told reporters it would be faster for campuses to take the step on their own than to wait for Congress to act.
Three of the 23 campuses within the California State University system have already established a victim advocate's office, said Mike Uhlenkamp, director of public affairs for the CSU office of the chancellor. The system also is hiring someone to oversee system-wide initiatives to deal with sexual assault issues. That new hire would be the person who recommends whether more campuses should hire a victim's advocate.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.