Congresswoman Aims To Crack Down On Campuses’ Sex Assault ‘Epidemic’

By Teresa Watanabe
Los Angeles Times.

A California congresswoman has announced plans to introduce federal legislation to toughen laws against what she called an epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.

In an appearance at UC Berkeley last week, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) said she would press for more aggressive action against sexual assault with increased funding for federal investigators, annual campus surveys and more comprehensive data on the outcomes of cases.

She also said she would seek to require universities to interview students who file complaints of sexual misconduct, addressing widespread concerns about inadequate investigations.

“The prevalence of sexual assault on campuses is an epidemic,” Speier said in an interview. “It’s going to take money, resources, enforcement and a dramatic change in the culture” to fix.

Speier met with media along with six UC Berkeley students who have filed complaints with the federal government against the university in the last year, alleging a failure to adequately handle their cases.

Sofie Karasek, a junior studying political economy, said she filed a complaint against a student leader she says sexually assaulted her during an off-campus trip in 2012.

But she said university officials never contacted her to take part in an investigation or to keep her posted on the progress of the case. She said she had to repeatedly reach out to officials for information and learned months later that the student leader had been put on disciplinary probation, given counseling and graduated early.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is investigating the complaint charging that Berkeley officials mishandled sexual assault cases, the Oakland Tribune reported Friday.

Karasek said she and other students were encouraged, however, by a meeting Monday with UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks to convey their demands for stronger action.

Among other things, the students asked that a certified rape crisis counselor be provided to victims, that education about assaults be expanded beyond a focus on alcohol and that fraternities and sororities be targeted for additional outreach.

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