By Audrey Garces/ Staff Writer
A three-part initiative to facilitate awareness of sexual assault and improve aid to sexual assault victims on San Francisco college and university campuses was announced on Sept. 22 by District Attorney George Gascón, Supervisor Jane Kim, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr, University of San Francisco President Paul Fitzgerald and other educational leaders.
The press conference began when Fitzgerald introduced Gascón, who cited that statisticly 1 in 5 college students is a victim of sexual assault but less than 5 percent ever report it, adding these numbers are “completely unacceptable.”
Kim then took to the stage and delivered an anecdote about feeling hopeless in college when her best friend became another number in those statistics.
“Who do we call? Who in her campus would support her in this time? Was there a community organization that would give her the steps that she needed to pursue the perpetrator that had done this to her if she wanted to?” Kim questioned. “I didn’t encourage her to report it. Even at 18 I knew the system wasn’t designed to protect us.”
UC San Francisco announced the first of seven Memorandums of Understanding to establish clear protocol among higher education institutions including the District Attorney’s office, the San Francisco Trauma Recovery Center and the San Francisco Police Department, with more schools to follow including City College.
Each participating college is using the same template to create a version to comply with their school’s individual needs, while also meeting the legal obligations of Assembly Bill 1433 which requires institutions to create policies ensuring that sexual assault and other hate crimes are reported to local law enforcement as promptly as possible.
Kim mentioned City College is under different jurisdiction than local private institutions, but the college’s Chief of Police André Barnes is working alongside University of San Francisco to customize the memorandum for City College before signing.
“The collaboration this will generate in response to sexual assaults will ensure a decrease in sexual assaults, and hopefully the 1 in 5 number will be eliminated. Every person that goes to school deserves to be safe on campus,” Suhr said.
Suhr’s investigators at the Special Victims Unit reviewed the template to ensure it would work effectively in San Francisco, resulting in modifications to better suit the needs of survivors.
San Francisco is the first county in the nation to have all colleges signing onto a memorandum regarding sexual assault, in hopes of setting a new standard for the rest of the country by providing immediate services for survivors.
“One of the things that we have to think about is how do we change the social norms?” City College’s Project SURVIVE Coordinator Amber Straus said. “This is vital because we are starting to change social policies and we are making it so that police are accountable too, because for a long time they were protecting the perpetrators by shifting the questioning onto victims.” Project SURVIVE is City College peer education program focusing on ending sexual violence.
Supervisor Kim also announced the formation of the Safer School Sexual Assault Task Force, which will oversee new state and federal laws pertaining to sexual assault and provide schools with blueprints outlining the best practices to locally implement these laws and improve safety for college communities.
The last of the three-part announcement is a public education campaign titled #1in5 – the statistic of sexual assault victims in college – which will pair community groups with campus programs to eliminate the “cover-up” culture around these crimes, and to encourage students and faculty to speak out using social media.
University of San Francisco is also setting an example by launching Callisto, a website where sexually assaulted students can enter a record of the incident, with options to save it for later, to send the report to their school and/or to send the report to local law enforcement.
The only time a report automatically gets sent to the school is when two separate reports accusing the same assailant are filed, in an attempt to prevent any more students from falling victim to this person.
“Often times survivors will not come forward because victim-blaming is so common, but they’ll later say, ‘If I knew he or she was a repeated offender, I would have reported to prevent them from harming someone else,’” said University of San Francisco Title IX Coordinator Anna Bartkowski. Title IX is the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s sex in any federally-funded program or activity, in effect since 1972.
City College is in the process of buying a software program to manage student conduct, which would more efficiently track student disciplinary issues and include certain aspects related to Title IX.
Within the next month, City College is set to release a safety app that will provide an outlet for reporting crimes in order to make students and faculty on campus feel safer.
“I would like to echo how important it is to have a culture of responsibility, a culture of reporting, a culture of trust, so the victims of sexual violence have reason to believe they’re going to be supported by their university community as well as by the city and county in which they are a citizen,” Fitzgerald said.
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