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Transportation should not be a barrier to reporting sexual assault on California college campuses

Source: CalMatters

Growing up, I was bombarded by clichés about the college experience. Before I went to UCLA, almost every adult I knew told me I would have “the best four years of my life.” 

But just a few weeks into my college experience, I was sexually assaulted. It paralyzed me. I could hardly get out of bed, let alone function as a full-time student. My social circle shrank and my academic performance declined.

The heartbreaking reality of undergraduate life came into sharp focus: Sexual violence is everywhere on campuses. 

According to the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, an estimated 26% of female students and 7% of male students are raped or sexually assaulted as an undergraduate. Every year, that statistic translates into thousands of students whose world is turned upside down – thousands who no longer feel safe in lecture halls, common areas or their dorm rooms. 

Thankfully, many colleges have committed advocates that fight against sexual violence on their campuses. On the state level, student-led organizations are working to end sexual assault and harassment through the legislative process. Last year, for example, Generation Up sponsored Assembly Bill 2683, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law. Introduced by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, the bill required that California universities and community colleges to provide their students with preventative information and annual trainings on sexual violence and harassment. 

Assaults will still continue to occur on college campuses for the foreseeable future, which means students will need continued support from their schools as they navigate medical care and reporting resources in the aftermath of an assault. While current state law requires colleges to maintain partnerships with community-based organizations, including rape crisis centers, only 1 in 5 female college-aged survivors receive support from a victim services agency.

The problem is particularly acute when it comes to student access to forensic exams. Campuses are not required to directly connect their students with Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kit administrators or Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) exam providers, placing the burden of coordinating care on survivors in crisis. 

To help reduce the barriers to care, Assemblymember Akilah Weber and important student-led organizations wrote AB 1138, which will require that California colleges and universities provide their students with free, safe and anonymous transportation to and from forensic exams. Equitable and immediate access to SAFE kits and SART exams is especially important because survivors must receive forensic care as soon as possible to preserve potential evidence.

As long as sexual assault remains a pervasive issue on college campuses, Californians must simultaneously support the work to end violence while preparing for when it does occur. Crafted for students and by students, AB 1138 prioritizes the people most affected by sexual assault. Student survivors and advocates are no longer willing to wait for colleges to protect us.

What can we do now to address the issue of sexual violence on college campuses? Passing AB 1138 is a start. Californians can also push for future legislation that protects survivors and support politicians that share their values. And we can amplify the voices of those most affected by the issue.

We are faced with a choice everyday. We can be complacent in the face of sexual violence, or we can take action to support California students.