From the office of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski:
U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today announced that she has cosponsored the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) to help combat sexual assaults on college and university campuses. The legislation aims to better protect and empower students while strengthening accountability and transparency for educational institutions.
“College should be a gateway to the American dream, not a nightmare for those who have been sexually assaulted,” Senator Mikulski said. “Victims of sexual assault need a government on their side. I’m fighting to pass this bipartisan legislation to empower victims and help prevent others from becoming victims of sexual assault. It strengthens the justice system. It provides counsel and support for victims. And it provides a serious deterrent to would-be assailants.”
As reports of sexual violence at colleges and universities continue to rise, the Campus Safety and Accountability Act would help combat this scourge. Statistics show that approximately 19 percent of undergraduate women across the country have reported being sexually assaulted. At the same time, many institutions of higher education have been unable, or unwilling, to adequately address the problem. The current lax oversight of the federal laws on the books has the perverse effect of incentivizing colleges to encourage non-reporting, under-reporting and non-compliance with the already weak standards under current federal law.
This new legislation would make it in the schools’ immediate best interest to take proactive steps to protect their students and rid their campuses of sexual predators.
Specifically, the bipartisan legislation includes:
· 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 one percent 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.
A 2000 Justice Department report estimated that less than five percent of victims of rape attending college report their attack. An investigative series from the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Integrity completed in 2010 found that in many cases, victims wishing to report sexual assault experienced confusion over how to report, confusion over acceptable standards of conduct and definitions of rape and sexual assault and a fear of punishment for activities preceding some assaults, such as underage drinking.
According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses reported nearly 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2012, putting college women at a higher risk for sexual assault than their non-college bound peers.
The Department of Education handles laws covering sexual assault on campus. Title IX, a federal gender equity law, requires colleges and universities to respond to sexual assault and harassment cases on campus and have policies in place to help prevent such incidents. The Jeanne Clery Act mandates that colleges and universities report information on crime on and around campuses and provide victims with select rights and resources.
In addition to Senators Mikulski and McCaskill, the legislation is cosponsored by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).