Jackson Introduces Bill Ensuring Civil Rights of CA College Students Involved in Sexual Assault Investigations

February 22, 2019

SACRAMENTO – As the Trump Administration rolls back Title IX protections, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) introduced legislation today protecting the civil rights of California college students by requiring schools to follow specific procedures when responding to reports of sexual harassment and assault.

In light of recent federal rollbacks and proposed regulations to Title IX — the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded schools — Senate Bill 493 would require California state-funded institutions of higher education to adopt common-sense procedures to ensure students’ equal access to education after reports of sexual harassment, including sexual violence and during investigations.

“All California students deserve to pursue their education in a safe environment. It is critical that California’s schools continue to protect survivors through policies that treat them with dignity and respect,” said Senator Jackson. “Senate Bill 493 will ensure that California student survivors of sexual assault are treated fairly and those responsible are held accountable for their actions.”

Studies show at least one in five U.S. women and one in eight men survive sexual assault as undergraduates. Even more pervasive, 63 percent of students report experiencing sexual harassment in college. Schools’ failure to adequately address, investigate, and protect students from sexual violence deprives students of their right to equal education.

“This bill ensures California colleges can more adequately address the epidemic of sexual violence in our schools,” said Jessica Stender, Senior Counsel for Workplace Justice & Public Policy at the San Francisco based nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates, a co-sponsor of the bill. "These procedures are common-sense, and they protect California students’ civil rights and access to equal education, regardless of rollbacks at the federal level.”

The Trump Administration’s proposed regulations to Title IX (which have not taken effect) aim to change the way schools are required to respond to reports of sexual harassment and assault in ways that make it harder for survivors to report, and threaten students’ access to education after reporting. During the open comment period, Senator Jackson submitted a letter, and Equal Rights Advocates submitted an official comment, condemning the proposed regulations.

The proposed regulations include requiring schools to dismiss reports of off-campus incidents; allowing live cross-examination of survivors; and raising the standard of evidence from preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not occurred) to “clear and convincing” evidence.

Senate Bill 493 would amend the California Education Code by providing necessary requirements for schools to follow when responding to reports of sexual assault and harassment. Key provisions would require schools to:

·         Investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault, regardless of whether they took place on or off campus;

·         Prohibit live cross-examination of either student (complainant or respondent);

·         Use a preponderance of the evidence standard in determining whether a respondent student is responsible, and if so, take immediate action;

·         Provide training to school officials involved in investigations;

·         Use trauma-informed and impartial investigation procedures, including opportunity for both parties to present witness and other evidence;

·         Notify students of complaint procedures and timelines.

Existing California law already requires higher education institutions that receive state funding to incorporate trauma-informed policies when addressing sexual assault, domestic and dating violence, and stalking involving students, both on and off campus.

“All California students deserve learning environments free of sexual violence,” said Wendy Lau-Ozawa, of The Women's Foundation of California, Women's Policy Institute, another cosponsor of the bill. “SB 493 gives clarity and provides guidance for campuses by promoting dignity, safety, equity and preventing sexual violence in higher education.”

The bill is cosponsored by Equal Rights Advocates and The Women's Foundation of California, Women's Policy Institute.