Faculty, staff and students at UC Berkeley and three other California universities are not well enough educated or trained to help students cope with sexual assault and do not respond to allegations quickly enough, according to a long-awaited state audit released Tuesday.
The California State Auditor recommended changing state law to require universities to better inform employees and incoming students about sexual harassment and violence and to provide training and information about policies.
But the auditors were unable to accurately tally the complaints of sexual harassment or violence on each campus, because campuses don't pull together all the reports from agencies such as housing offices, health and counseling centers, and police and student conduct panels, according to the audit.
Its findings about the four campuses -- UC Berkeley, UCLA, and the Cal State campuses at Chico and San Diego -- followed emotional testimony at hearings around the state where students asserted that campus officials were not responsive enough to their allegations and took too long to investigate and punish attackers. Students often report suspected assaults to campus administrators, either in addition to or instead of filing complaints with law enforcement, and the handling of those reports has become the subject of nationwide controversy.
"By not ensuring that employees are sufficiently trained on responding to and reporting incidents of sexual harassment and sexual violence, the universities risk having their employees mishandle student reports of the incidents," state Auditor Elaine Howle said in a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, the Senate and the Assembly.
"In addition, the universities must do more to appropriately educate students on sexual harassment and sexual violence," she wrote.
UC Berkeley student Sofie Karasek, who had sought the audit, was generally heartened by the outcome. "A lot of it was really great. It came to the same conclusions that we did," such as the need for better education in the fraternity and sorority system.
She was also relieved that the auditor faulted a system that allows informal, rather than formal, review of allegations. "Survivors should have a guaranteed right to a formal investigation if they choose to have one," said Karasek, 21, a political economy major from Boston whose assailant was allowed to remain on campus and graduate early while on student probation.
But she has been concerned that assault victims are not better informed about the outcome of an investigation -- and frustrated that the audit did not summarize the results of campus investigations.
Although assault awareness programs are available at all four universities, UC Berkeley and San Diego State do not make sure that all incoming students receive the training.
In fact, UC Berkeley has data indicating that only 52 percent of incoming students attended the education offered for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Generally, the universities brought the complaints of sexual harassment or sexual violence to reasonable resolutions, the audit found.
But student allegations were not handled promptly, it found. In one case, a UC Berkeley dorm staffer advised a student who believed she had been sexually harassed that the perpetrator was "harmless."
And students were not kept well-informed during investigations, it found. For instance, in one case at UC Berkeley in which several students alleged incidents involving another student, the university did not update the complainants or describe how the case was being handled, the audit found. It took eight months after complaints were filed -- and two months after a resolution -- for students to hear the findings.
"When universities do not provide regular updates on their investigations, they are not meeting the needs of their students," according to the report.
CSU's Office of the Chancellor, Chico State, and San Diego State agreed with the recommendations and outlined actions they plan to take. UC's Office of the President has indicated that it will work with all of the UC campuses to review and respond to the recommendations.
The Legislature's Joint Audit Committee ordered the audit after hearing the student testimony.
In the past year, students across the country have gone public about their ordeals, saying their colleges took too long to investigate and too lightly punished those found to have assaulted them.
UC Berkeley is also the subject of a federal probe of its sexual assault and harassment policies -- one of 55 colleges under investigation for possible violations of anti-discrimination law.
Stanford was not on the list, but it too has come under pressure to change its policies. This month, hundreds of Stanford students rallied around senior Leah Francis, appalled that the student found responsible for sexually assaulting her off-campus in January was permitted to complete his final quarter. (His degree is being withheld for two years as part of the sanctions against him.)
Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.