Bipartisan Bill Takes Aim At Sexual Assault On Campuses

On Wednesday, a group of eight senators introduced legislation to confront sexual violence against college students.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

A bipartisan group of eight senators, including New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and Florida’s Marco Rubio, introduced on Wednesday new legislation to tackle the increasing number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses. The Campus Safety and Accountability Act is intended to protect students at colleges and universities while addressing institutional obstructions to combating sexual assault, according to a statement released by Gillibrand’s office.

“Institutions of higher education across the country have been unable, or unwilling, to adequately address the problem [of rape on campus],” Gillibrand said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “The current lax oversight of the federal laws on the books has the perverse effect of incentivizing colleges to encourage non-reporting, underreporting, and noncompliance with the already weak standards under current federal law.”

The new legislation, which Sens. Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) spearheaded, aims to provide incentives for higher education institutions to better handle complaints of sexual assault.

Students from advocacy groups End Rape on Campus and Know Your IX, along with the president of RAINN (“Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network”), joined co-sponsors Gillibrand, McCaskill, Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to show their support for the legislation.

The regulations include:

Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: 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.

In a statement released Wednesday, the student advocacy network Know Your IX said that many of the proposals in the new legislation came from “student experience and input” and that the members of Congress who drafted the bill had “listened and valued survivors’ expertise on the ground.”

“While the process of turning these bills into law will of course be a lengthy one, we are heartened to see bipartisan support for impactful reforms, including mandated Department of Education transparency and real sanctions for schools violating students’ civil rights,” said a Know Your IX spokesperson.

“We believe that these two reforms in particular, for which we have advocated since our launch, must be central to any effort to improve campus responses to sexual violence.”

update

On Thursday, a bipartisan coalition introduced mirroring legislation in the House of Representatives.

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Alison Vingiano is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact this reporter at alison.vingiano@buzzfeed.com
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