Campus Sexual Assault

California is home to some of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the world. But for many students in the Golden State, the pursuit of higher education is upended by a terrifying, unexpected experience – sexual violence.

Studies suggest that as many as one in five undergraduate students have been a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault. In addition, 80% of campus sexual assaults go unreported to law enforcement. Lack of reporting has a harmful impact on public safety, with data suggesting that repeat perpetrators account for nine out of 10 assaults on campus.

For the last several years, federal education authorities have pursued a vigorous campaign against campus sexual assault, launching investigations, imposing fines and issuing guidelines. But many college officials say they lack the training and experience to conduct sensitive assault investigations, and some local law enforcement officials have expressed concerns that multiple parties investigating the same cases could taint witnesses or compromise evidence.

California, meanwhile, has entered a new era of accountability for campus sexual assault. For the first time under California law, campuses in 2015 were required to immediately alert police when a sexual assault occurs. By July 1, 2015, California campuses were required to have policies in place to ensure that reports of violent crime, hate crime, or sexual assault made to campus authorities are immediately disclosed to law enforcement.

Key Activities

Attorney General Harris has long been committed to reducing sexual violence both on and off campuses, by holding perpetrators accountable and seeking justice for victims. As a line prosecutor in Alameda County and then as the District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney General Harris made preventing violence against women and children a key career priority. As Attorney General, her work on the issue has included producing a model agreement to help campuses and police agencies comply with legal obligations, raising public awareness, and supporting legislation to improve enforcement of applicable laws.

Model Memorandum of Understanding

In May 2015, Attorney General Harris released a Model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) designed to help law enforcement agencies and institutions of higher learning improve their coordination, collaboration, and transparency in response to cases of campus sexual assault.

Specifically, the Model MOU lays out key action items that include:

  • Clarifying the duties of campus authorities and law enforcement agencies following an assault, including who will act as first responder, who will collect and preserve evidence, and how to share necessary information while preserving victim privacy.
  • Ensuring that campuses, law enforcement, and community-based organizations work together to connect victims to services – including rape kits – as soon as possible.
  • Committing to regular training for both the campus and law enforcement communities.

By adopting the best practices in this model agreement, school officials and law enforcement agencies can provide clear, accurate, and supportive information to students who have been assaulted, including a clear understanding of how to report an incident to authorities and where and how to seek medical assistance.

The Model MOU was the product of a collaborative effort between Attorney General Harris, the University of California Office of the President, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Oxnard Police Department.

Guidance for Law Enforcement

In January 2015, Attorney General Harris issued an information bulletin to California law enforcement agencies, higher education administrators, and campus security personnel, providing enforcement guidance on new and amended sexual assault and campus safety laws. The bulletin summarized SB 967 (Senate pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles) and AB 1433 (Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale), which are described below. The bulletin also gave enforcement guidance in the context of existing state and federal statutes, and encouraged increased collaboration between law enforcement and campus authorities.

The two laws, passed in 2015, create reporting requirements and standards for campus disciplinary procedures.

SB 967 required California postsecondary institutions – in order to receive state funds for financial assistance – to adopt comprehensive, victim-centered policies and disciplinary procedures concerning sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Under the law, an institution’s policy governing its campus disciplinary process must use an affirmative consent standard – defined as an affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity – to determine whether a sexual assault complainant consented.

SB 967 required campuses to use a preponderance of the evidence standard when adjudicating complaints in the campus disciplinary process. This means the evidence must show it is “more likely than not” – i.e., greater than 50 percent likelihood – that the victim did not consent. The law also required postsecondary institutions to partner with campus and community organizations to refer both victims and perpetrators to health, counseling, advocacy, and legal services.

AB 1433 specified that as a condition for participation in the Cal Grant program, campus security authorities are required to immediately – or as soon as practicably possible – disclose to local law enforcement any report of a violent crime, hate crime or sexual assault, whether committed on or off campus.

AB 1433 built on existing state and federal requirements for campus and law enforcement collaboration. California law already required postsecondary institutions to enter into written agreements with local law enforcement agencies. The federal Clery Act also requires campus officials to contact local law enforcement to obtain accurate statistics about crimes reported on or near campus.

Cleared the Rape Kit Backlog

With Attorney General Harris’s leadership, DOJ expanded its groundbreaking Rapid DNA Service program. Under the program, forensic hospital personnel collect body swabs from the assailant and send standard rape kits to the DOJ’s DNA Laboratory in Richmond for processing and DNA typing. Within 15 working days, the evidence is imported into the CAL-DNA Data Bank and compared to more than 1.9 million offenders in California and 9.5 million offenders nationwide. In 2014, the program received the U.S. Department of Justice’s Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services.

In a related action, Attorney General Harris prioritized clearing the backlog of analyzing DNA crime scene evidence. The DOJ’s Bureau of Forensic Services accomplished that goal through improved processes that resulted in DOJ labs turning around DNA analysis within a shortened timeframe – 30 to 90 days.

Testing Sexual Assault Evidence Kits

In September 2015, Attorney General Harris announced that the DOJ had been selected as an awardee of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Initiative to eliminate backlogs of untested rape kits. The DOJ’s Rapid DNA Service Team will receive $1.6 million over two years to test sexual assault evidence kits. The California Department of Justice is one of 32 agencies in 20 states to receive a grant. The DOJ currently assists 46 of the state’s 58 counties in DNA analysis of sexual assault kits.