A bipartisan group of eight senators has introduced legislation that takes aim at sexual assaults on college and university campuses.
Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, who recently commissioned a survey of 440 colleges about campus sexual assaults, was among the lawmakers to present the Campus Safety and Accountability Act.
The legislation will protect and empower students, and strengthen transparency for institutions. It also establishes stiff penalties for non-compliance with training, data and best practices outlined by the legislation.
The senators, including McCaskill, D-Mo., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., announced the new bill. They were joined in Washington, D.C. Wednesday by survivors and advocates. Others included Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; RIchard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Mark Warner, D-Va.
“This bill represents a rare thing in Washington—a truly collaborative, bipartisan effort—and that bodes well for our shared fight to turn the tide against sexual violence on our campuses,” Senator McCaskill said. “To curb these crimes, students need to be protected and empowered, and institutions must provide the highest level of responsiveness in helping hold perpetrators fully accountable. That’s what our legislation aims to accomplish.”
In July, McCaskill reported that many campuses are breaking the law by not investigating sexual assaults. She was referring to the survey that showed one in five US colleges and universities don’t train their staff on how to respond to campus sexual assaults, and almost one in three don’t teach their students awareness about it.
According to a news release by McCaskill’s office, statistics show that roughly 19 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault.
“Currently, an American woman who attends college is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than a woman who does not attend college,” the release stated.
It went on to say that the current lax oversight of the federal laws could incentivize colleges to encourage non-reporting, under-reporting, and non-compliance.
“We should never accept the fact that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus. But today they are. And it has to end,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The best way to accomplish this goal is through transparency and accountability to flip the incentives that currently reward keeping sexual assault in the shadows. We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer. Students deserve real safety and accountability instead of empty promises. Simply put, they deserve action, because the price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted.”
Provisions of the bipartisan legislation include:
- New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors: Under this legislation, colleges and universities will be required to designate Confidential Advisors who will serve as a confidential resource for victims of assaults committed against a student. The role of Confidential Advisors will be to coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, to provide information about options for reporting, and to provide guidance or assistance, at the direction of the survivor, in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. To encourage individuals to come forward with reports about sexual violence, schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation in good faith, such as underage drinking, in the process of reporting a sexual violence claim.
- Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: Currently, a chronic lack of training of on-campus personnel hampers sexual assault investigations and disciplinary processes, often resulting in negative outcomes for survivors. This legislation ensures that everyone from the Confidential Advisors, to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings, will now receive specialized training to ensure they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
- New Historic Transparency Requirements: For the first time, students at every university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new annual survey will be standardized and anonymous, with the results published online so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education will also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX.
- Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement: All schools will now be required to use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints of sexual violence for members of that subgroup alone. This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information so that when an assault occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
- Enforceable Title IX Penalties and Stiffer Penalties for Clery Act Violations: Schools that don’t comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1% of the institution’s operating budget. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all financial aid which is not practical and has never been done. The bill increases penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation from the current penalty of $35,000.