University of California and State Leaders Work to Enhance Public University Support for Survivors of Domestic Violence

A fearful student stalked by a former partner. A faculty member suffering physical abuse from a spouse. A UC staff member sexually assaulted. Cases such as these led the University of California to expand access to support and advocacy services on our campuses. But until recently, a legal loophole hampered public institutions in California – including UC – in the provision of these services.

At the University of California, each of our 10 campuses have CARE advocates, who provide confidential advocacy and support for survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking in our community. The presence of these advocates directly on campus makes them more accessible to UC community members, and better able to provide support and assistance tailored to each campus community.

CARE advocates provide an essential service to those in need throughout the University of California. But due to an unintended consequence of a previously enacted law, advocates at public institutions – such as UC – could be compelled to testify in court cases, unlike domestic violence counselors at private colleges and universities. That meant CARE advocates couldn’t provide the same degree of confidentiality when talking with a survivor of domestic violence as they could for a survivor of sexual assault.

The promise of confidentiality is critical in encouraging survivors of dating or domestic violence to seek help. They often fear repercussions from their abuser, or feel ashamed or guilty about their situation. Knowing that the details of their conversations could be subpoenaed in a criminal case, for example, could deter survivors from being completely open with their advocates, or discourage them from seeking any help at all. As a result, relationship violence survivors were sometimes confronted with an impossible choice to protect their safety: seek help, or forego accessing campus services because of the potential loss of confidentiality. No survivor should have to make that decision.

Crime statistics demonstrate the stark reality of what’s at stake, and why we must do all we can to encourage survivors to seek help and plan for their safety. In the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 10 million people are physically abused by an intimate partner each year. According to recent reporting by the State of California, in homicide cases with known motives, nearly 38 percent of women killed last year lost their lives at the hand of a domestic abuser.

With these issues in mind, the University of California sponsored state legislation this year to fix the law that weakened confidentiality protections for advocates of domestic violence survivors on California’s public college campuses. SB 331 was authored by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, passed by the California State Legislature, and quickly signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

As we recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month this month, it is encouraging to see such a positive development for survivors and advocates. At UC, we believe this important new law will encourage more students, faculty, and staff at our university and at other public institutions to seek help for dating and domestic violence issues.

This step is part of the university’s larger effort to prevent and address sexual violence and harassment on our campuses. We want to preserve a campus culture built on dignity and respect, and promote an environment where every member of our campus community can achieve their full potential. To do so, UC is setting clear expectations, demanding accountability, communicating about services we provide for survivors of violence, and much more. We will keep at this and continue to work alongside state leaders to find legal and other solutions to help survivors, because we believe that all of us deserve to learn and work in a safe environment, free from violence.

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