Proposed law would change the way colleges are required to respond to sexual assault

The legislation would bring more support and services to college campuses

Julia Haskins, Staff Writer

Julia Haskins, staff writer

As sexual assault becomes a growing concern at colleges and universities nationwide, a group of lawmakers has drafted legislation aiming to streamline the process for reporting cases of sexual violence, as well as make campuses safer as a whole.

Why some are calling for change

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) recently sat on a panel with Andrea Pino and Annie Clark of End Rape on Campus to discuss sexual assault in higher education. Pino and Clark were featured in the documentary "The Hunting Ground," which explores sexual assault at colleges and universities throughout the country.

The event coincided with the release of Pino and Clark's new book, "We Believe You," a collection of stories by survivors of college sexual assault. Among the various accounts, a common theme stands out: Reporting sexual assault is fraught with complications. Survivors, already contending with trauma, must also navigate a complicated bureaucratic process to report their assault. It presents yet another hurdle for them to overcome, and one they may not want to deal with at all. According to a 2014 report from the Justice Department, 80% of college sexual assault cases go unreported to police.

In addition, some students may not feel safe coming forward, fearing backlash or humiliation. They may also be hesitant to report because the likelihood of punishment for perpetrators of assault is slim. A 2014 Huffington Post analysis found that fewer than one-third of students found guilty of sexual assault by their universities are expelled. The stress of the incident combined with the knowledge that sexual assault often goes unpunished may prevent victims from pursuing legal action or even just seeking help from the campus community.

Managing sexual assault prevention and intervention services

Five ways requirements would change

That's why Gillibrand is among a group of 34 bipartisan lawmakers behind the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (S 590) (CASA), which aims to address the obstacles that survivors must overcome to report sexual assault and receive on-campus support.

The legislation would require universities to:

1. Create new on-campus resources and support services for survivors: Institutions would be required to designate confidential advisors to help victims of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The confidential advisors would be responsible for coordinating support services and accommodations for survivors, as well as directing them to resources for reporting and other assistance.

Developing a Title IX coordinator position

Colleges and universities would not be able to punish students who report sexual assault while also revealing that they have breached a non-violent student conduct violation such as underage drinking.

2. Set training standards for campus employees: Campus employees would receive specialized training to gain an understanding of the nature of sexual violence and the impact that such crimes have on victims.

3. Follow new transparency and reporting requirements: Every two years, students at U.S. colleges and universities would take part in a standardized, anonymous survey about their experiences with sexual violence. Institutions would be required to publish the results online and the Education Department would publicize the names of all colleges and universities with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence.

90% of schools reported zero rapes last year—but that doesn't mean none occurred

4: Implement a new process for disciplining students and coordinating with police: All colleges and universities would use the same process for campus student disciplinary proceedings. Subgroups such as athletic departments would not be allowed to handle complaints of sexual violence against members of that entity.

Both survivors and accused students would be notified of a disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of a decision being made. Institutions would be required to enter into memoranda of understanding with each local law enforcement agency that has the authority to report to campus as a first responder.

Establishment of Anonymous Sexual Assault Reporting

5: Submit to new penalties for Title IX and Clery Act violations: Colleges and universities that fail to meet certain requirements under CASA would be subject to a fine of up to 1% of the institution's operating budget.

Penalties for violations of the Clery Act would increase from $35,000 per violation to up to $150,000 per violation.

Until the law passes, college leaders can look to CASA for suggestions about how to improve campus supports for sexual assault survivors (CASA One Pager, accessed April 2016).

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