It's Up to All of Us to Help Solve the Problem of Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

As a woman, a mother, a human being and as an educator whose primary responsibility is the creation of a campus community where everyone is safe, I can think of few more outrageous acts than sexual assault.

When I read or hear about sexual attacks on college campuses across America or learn about any act of sexual violence at UC Davis, where I am Chancellor, my heart breaks for the victims. I also feel a sense of outrage and anger. Each of us must do more to create a campus culture where violence of any type is never tolerated and perpetrators are dealt with in an appropriate and decisive manner.

The first step in doing so is to focus attention on the problem and talk about it honestly. University of California President Janet Napolitano underscored that again last month when she testified before a committee of the U.S. Senate, identifying the issue as one "of national importance."

"In fact," President Napolitano testified, "looking at the totality of sexual violence, including stalking, dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault, this constitutes a serious public health issue in this country."

All 10 UC campuses have comprehensive programs aimed at prevention, response and reporting crimes of sexual violence. We are committed to President Napolitano's goal of making the UC system a national model in these efforts.

The issue of sexual violence on college campuses is complex and controversial. People of all genders can experience sexual violence, and most victims know the person who has assaulted them. A 2007 study by the U.S Department of Justice reported that as many as one in five women were the victims of attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college.

Some have questioned the validity of this number, while others claim actual incidents are under-reported. It is also impossible to deny the role of alcohol in many such crimes, as perpetrators look for opportunities of vulnerability.

As part of our efforts to keep students safe, starting this year all University of California students are required to participate in education and training to expand their understanding of sexual violence issues and prevention. New students will be required to take the education and training program at their campus before the end of their first six weeks of classes. A system-wide training program for faculty and staff will be implemented soon and will include, among other things, trauma-informed response and bystander intervention.

One point we stress in these training sessions is that we must never engage in blaming the victims of sexual assault. The behavior of the perpetrators and social norms regarding sexual violence are where our primary focus must be.

At the same time, we must also make sure the rights of the accused are protected and that any investigation or hearing to determine the facts of an assault allegation is conducted swiftly, impartially, professionally and thoroughly. The issue affects the entire campus community. We can only be the truly excellent university our students, faculty and staff believe UC Davis to be if we have a campus that is safe and respectful for everyone.

We all have the inviolate right to personal safety and to pursue our own personal dreams. No one should ever have a sexual act forced on them by anyone else. It is a violation in the most offensive and worst sense imaginable.

On our college campuses, the work we do as a community to prevent sexual violence must be comprehensive and ongoing. The issue cannot be swept under the rug or ignored. We need to talk about it and work together to solve it.

Despite progress and a far more open and honest dialogue about it today than existed in the past, we know more work needs to be done. As an educator, I pledge not to rest until sexual violence disappears from our campuses and communities.

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