April 13, 2015

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.  There are numerous resources for employees who are impacted by sexual violence and the Staff Ombuds Office can assist.  In June 2014, President Janet Napolitano charged a task force with making the University of California the national leader in prevention and response to sexual violence and sexual assault. The President’s Task Force recently issued seven recommendations related to education, prevention, communication, response, resources, and evaluation of effectiveness to sexual misconduct. (http://www.ucop.edu/ethics-compliance-audit-services/compliance/SVSA.html) Sexual misconduct is defined in the report as including “dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual violence, and stalking.”

The Task Force’s recommendations have so far focused on students. Sexual misconduct affects everyone and some staff have been survivors, respondents, or bystanders of sexual misconduct.  Many others have supported students who have been impacted by sexual violence. According to the January 2015 report, “Support for staff and faculty is still under discussion by the task force, but current services available are employee assistance, ombudsperson, and police services.”  The January report states that Ombuds are an “off-the record place to confidentially sort options and consider next steps.” Ombuds Offices provide a safe place to analyze options and resources by providing a neutral, confidential, and informal perspective. 

The report explains, “According to University policy, individuals who consult with UC Ombuds Offices are advised that their discussions are not considered reports of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct and that without additional action by the individual, the discussions will not result in any action by the University to resolve their concerns. In this way, individuals are able to maintain control of next steps and decide how they want to proceed at their own pace.”  In fact, the only exception to an ombuds confidentiality is if there is imminent risk of serious physical harm to self or others.

Ombudspersons at the Staff Ombuds Office have knowledge of policy and procedures related to sexual violence, including possible courses of action. The Staff Ombuds Office can discuss how to make an official report or describe options including using a specific leave policy for eligible staff members who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

As a neutral resource, the ombuds provides services to complainants and respondents, as well as bystanders while carefully maintaining everyone’s confidentiality.  Additionally, the President’s Task Force highlights the campus ombuds office as a resource for individuals or groups who have “concerns about the institution’s methods of prevention and response to sexual misconduct to talk confidentially about their experiences and ideas for improvement.”   

Staff can schedule a confidential appointment with the Staff Ombuds Office to share these kinds of concerns and the ombudsperson can, with permission of the staff member, provide feedback to the appropriate parties. This provides an avenue for anonymous feedback, to clear obstacles related to access of resources, or assist with procedural fairness concerns. In order to maintain neutrality, UC Ombuds have participated in the President’s Task Force as advisors, but have not had an official role in drafting the recommendations.

In addition to the Staff Ombuds Office, there are several resources on sexual violence for staff at UC Berkeley.  The following is a list:

Additional UC-System information and resources: