SF DA's office helps with sexual assault training on Bay Area campuses

As thousands of university students head back to school, work is underway to raise awareness about sexual assaults on campus by the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

District Attorney George Gascón said the agency’s goal is to prevent sexual assault by raising awareness, create a community of support for survivors, and collect evidence in case whether it be for an immediate case or a case in the future.

He said recent studies have suggested survivors suffer in silence and he wants to change that.

“The numbers are somewhere between 1 in 4 or 1 in every 5 women coming into college will be sexually assaulted,” Gascón said. “That to me is unacceptable.”

The Sex Assault on College Campus campaign kicked off last year when seven San Francisco universities and schools agreed to sign a Memorandum of Understanding. It opens a line of communication between campus administrators and the DA’s office if a sexual assault occurs on campus.

Last month, the agency kicked off a training for campus police, service providers, and campus administrators to raise awareness about the Red Zone. The Red Zone is the first six weeks on campus when freshmen and sophomore students are most at risk of sexual assault.

Chief of Victim Services Dr. Gena Castro Rodriguez said many student do not know the DA’s office has resources and support available.

“We know statistically less than five percent of students report sexual assault anyway and last year we only had a handful of cases that made it to our office,” she said. “We’re here to help in lots of different ways and give power back to victims. We want them to come and work with us because we want to help them in whatever their healing means to them.”

Bay Area campuses said they are improving their efforts.

At UC Berkeley, Spokesman Janet Gilmore said new this year is $2.5 million from the campus for additional staff and training, which more counselors in their PATH to Care Center.

“It began in the Fall of 2014 with one person,” Gilmore said. “Now it’s a six-person staff providing critical support for survivors.”

New undergraduate and graduate students must take online and in-person prevention education or face enrollment blocks.

At Stanford, improvement are similar. A spokeswoman said the university has dedicated an additional $2.7 million for sexual assault resources, including more confidential counselors. For the first time, student led workshops on the issue of sexual assault will be held in dorms.

“I think we have seen an evolution of thinking as far as the institutions are concerned,” Gascón added.

He said he believes universities are no longer sweeping sexual assault cases under the rug.

The SF DA’s office next Red Zone event will be held at the University of San Francisco on Sept. 30. It will target students, student leaders and staff about sexual assault prevention and resources.