California's public universities do not ensure that all employees are sufficiently trained to handle incidents of sexual violence, especially those who students may turn to first for help, according to a state audit released Tuesday.
While key staff who handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault receive adequate training, state Auditor Elaine Howle said in the report, others who may be the first point of contact for a student, such as resident advisers and athletic coaches, are not prepared to respond to these incidents and risk mishandling them.
"When they are not sufficiently trained, employees may not know how to interact appropriately with students in these situations and may do something that would discourage students from engaging in the reporting process," the report stated.
The audit, which examined the handling of sexual violence at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, Los Angeles, California State University, Chico and San Diego State University, also found that they must "do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence."
The issue of sexual violence on college campuses has gained national attention as students at dozens of universities have filed federal complaints that their institutions mishandled cases of harassment and assault. In May, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 55 universities that it is investigating, including UC Berkeley.
The audit included a survey of 208 students, and 22 percent said they were not aware of resources available should they or someone they know experience sexual harassment or sexual violence.
State law requires all CSU schools and requests that UC campuses provide educational and preventative information about sexual violence to incoming students during campus orientation, but does not specify when this must occur.
The report recommended that universities provide this training as soon after students arrive on campus as possible, "as they may be the most vulnerable to experiencing an incident of sexual harassment or sexual violence in their first weeks on campus," and then provide periodic refresher training at least annually.
Universities must also better inform students who may have experienced harassment or an assault what their reporting options are, what to expect from the university, the status of their investigation and the eventual outcome, the audit found.
In written response, CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White said he would work with the system's 23 campuses to implement the recommendations of the audit.
"Because some of the recommendations pertain to faculty and staff represented by unions, training requirements related to those groups will need to go through the collective bargaining process," he added. "Therefore, the ultimate implementation of those recommendations is dependent on that process."
UC President Janet Napolitano said in a written response that the university would evaluate the report's recommendations in the coming weeks and continue to develop practices to address the issues it identified.
"To that end...flexibility is key," she wrote. "We are committed to act in a way that is most effective in addressing, preventing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campuses."
PHOTO: People walk through Sproul Plaza on the University of California, Berkeley campus on June 1, 2011. The Associated Press/Eric Risberg