The statistics are startling. The American Association of Universities reports that 19-23% of women undergraduates report having been sexually assaulted –- using the definition of any unwanted sexual contact, including kissing and touching over one’s clothes, while 10.8% of women undergraduates report penetration by force, or while incapacitated. In light of these numbers, what can parents do to prepare their children for campus life? During a South Pasadena High School Parent Teacher Student Association meeting on Monday April 25, parents got a chance to hear several experts share their insights.
First to present was Hailyn Chen, a litigation partner with the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, who currently represents the University of California in student sexual misconduct litigation both system-wide and at five UC campuses. Ms. Chen explained that there are certain risk factors involved in such assaults, with alcohol consumption being at the top of that list. Ms. Chen also pointed out that a female college freshman is the most likely to be assaulted, with the odds dropping by half when a woman becomes a senior. Parents and students can arm themselves with information about crimes reported at any particular college campus thanks to the Clery Act, which was passed in 1990. The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses. Ms. Chen also advised students who experience a sexual assault on campus to simultaneously report it to both campus authorities and the local police in order to initiate parallel investigations.
Title 9 also comes into play in campus sexual assault cases, since colleges are mandated to investigate and adjudicate instances of sexual assault in order to receive Federal funding. The onus is on the college to take immediate action to address misconduct it knew about or reasonably should have known about and to protect the complainant from retaliation and further trauma by issuing a “stay away” order, suspending the assailant, offering emotional support to the victim and making academic and housing accommodations, whichever action is deemed necessary.
Another law in California, SB 967, has impacted the definition of campus sexual assault. SB 967, California’s “Yes Means Yes” makes affirmative consent language a central tenant of school sexual assault policies and changes how campus officials investigate sexual assault allegations. The bill defines consent as an “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.” A short video explaining that consent can’t be given when one is unconscious, that consent can be revoked at any time and that consent given once does not mean consent is always a given, was played for the ample crowd gathered in the South Pasadena High School library.
The second presenter was Melodie Kruspodin, a Youth Leadership Development Manager from the nonprofit organization Peace Over Violence (POV), who works on policy, education, and prevention in collaboration with LAUSD and other institutions. POV offers an emergency hotline, support groups and legal advocacy for victims of sexual assault. The organization also offers schools a curriculum that allows teachers and students to explore the roots of violence, identify and recognize healthy and unhealthy relationship dynamics and provides instruction regarding how to be a peacemaker.
Under a new law in California, AB 329, California public schools are required to provide students in grades 7 through 12 comprehensive sexual health education which includes education on HIV prevention (which already is mandatory) together with sexual health education, into a single, mandatory course of instruction with updated curriculum. The curriculum includes information about sexual harassment, sexual assault, adolescent relationship abuse, intimate partner violence, and sex trafficking. Peace Over Violence works with schools to meet this new requirement while helping students understand the results of their actions, build empathy and understand what affirmative consent means. The organization also works on risk reduction by talking about not sexually assaulting someone.
The last speaker was Christiane Gervais, the Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services at South Pasadena Unified. Ms. Gervais explained that the curriculum mandated under AB 329 would be presented in Health Education classes at the South Pasadena High School and during the Life Science classes for seventh grade students at South Pasadena Middle School. Other topics to be included in class discussions involve how to accept rejection, how to resist pressure to become sexually intimate and how to resolve conflict. She also explained that the present curriculum at the middle school is in the process of being modified for SPUSD high school students.