Governor Signs Bill Protecting College Student Survivors of Sexual Assault
Source: Office of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson
[Last week], Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)’s Senate Bill 493 to ensure California colleges and universities provide a transparent and fair process for all students involved in a sexual assault allegation. The bill goes into effect on January 1, 2022.
In direct response to the Trump Administrations’ attempts undermine Title IX — the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded schools — SB 493 will require state-funded colleges and universities to adopt common-sense procedures that ensure a fair, transparent, and consistent response to reports of sexual violence.
“Student survivors of sexual misconduct need to know that they will be heard and respected, not intimidated or silenced. While the Trump Administration seeks to discourage survivors from coming forward, SB 493 will ensure California college campuses address allegations of sexual assault and harassment fairly. All students deserve to feel safe while they pursue their education,” said Senator Jackson.
On May 6, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump Administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos released new federal Title IX regulations that require schools to allow direct cross-examination of student victims, and would, in many cases, raise the standard of evidence from the standard administrative requirement of preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not occurred) to “clear and convincing” evidence, which is often impossible to prove in cases of sexual harassment and assault. Four lawsuits have already been filed challenging the new federal Title IX regulations, including a multi-state lawsuit led by the California Attorney General.
Senate Bill 493 will make it easier for students to report sexual harassment and violence by requiring schools to provide notice on students’ rights and how to report incidents; requiring schools to respond to off-campus incidents where they could interfere with a student’s access to education; and prohibiting courtroom-style direct cross-examination of survivors by their assailants or their attorneys. It also ensures adequate training for school officials involved, including training on implicit bias, trauma-informed practices, and the history of racial discrimination in school discipline.
Senate Bill 493 is supported by the University of California school system as well as the California State University system.
Studies show at least one in five U.S. women, one in eight men, and one in four trans or gender non-conforming students experience sexual assault as undergraduates. Equally troubling, 63 percent of students – women and men -- 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 access to education. As a result, an estimated 34% of student survivors drop out of college.
“SB 493 will ensure that California institutions of higher education adequately address and respond to rampant 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. “The required procedures under the bill are common-sense, and they protect all California students’ civil rights and access to education, regardless of rollbacks at the federal level.”
Senator Jackson has long worked to implement protections for student survivors of sexual assault. In 2014, she joint-authored Senate Bill 967, which requires institutions of higher education to educate students about affirmative consent and sexual assault, improve response and prevention efforts, provide services for victims, and implement comprehensive prevention and outreach programs addressing sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. She also authored Senate Bill 186 in 2016 to allow community college districts to extend their jurisdictions beyond their campus borders and use their existing disciplinary process to discipline, suspend, or expel students for off-campus sexual assault and sexual exploitation.
Jackson represents the 19th Senate District, which includes all of Santa Barbara County and western Ventura County.