Today, on Sexual Assault Awareness Month’s Day of Action, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are taking action to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses by reintroducing legislation that protects students and strengthens accountability and transparency for colleges and universities.
“Sexual assault is a serious matter that has no place on college campuses or anywhere else,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “This bipartisan legislation will make campuses safer, provide critical resources for survivors, and institute important reforms to the ways universities handle sexual assault cases so victims are fairly heard.”
“Sexual assault is pervasive on colleges and universities all over the country, yet Congress has not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the lead sponsor of the bill. “For far too long institutions have gotten away with sweeping this problem under the rug. Students are demanding that Congress take this problem seriously, and we must listen to them. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce my bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would hold colleges and universities accountable and help give survivors the support they need. I urge my colleagues to take this issue seriously and fight with us to pass this bipartisan bill.”
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would reform the way colleges and universities address and report incidents of sexual assault that take place on their campuses, and it would help protect both survivors and accused students by ensuring that schools have a uniform and fair process for investigating and conducting campus disciplinary proceedings. This legislation would incentivize colleges to protect students and professionalize their responses to sexual assault. It would create new resources and support services for survivors and set new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.
Specifically, this legislation would do the following:
· Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities would be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators would coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, provide information about options for reporting, and provide guidance or assistance – at the direction of the survivor – in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or law enforcement. Schools would no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation in good faith, like underage drinking.
· Require fairness in the campus disciplinary process: All schools would be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints. Schools would be required to provide written notification to the accused as well as the victim of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding, and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.
· Ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel: This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings receives specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
· Create historic new transparency requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biennial survey would be standardized and confidential, with the results published online so that parents and high school students could make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education would also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence and requirements of the Clery Act.
· Ensure coordination with law enforcement: This legislation would require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOU) with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder. These MOUs would ensure that the school and law enforcement clearly delineate duties and share information so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
· Establish stiffer penalties for violations: Schools that do not comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. The bill would also increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation. Financial penalties collected from institutions in violation will be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administered by the Secretary of Education, for which colleges and universities can apply for the purpose of researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual and interpersonal violence on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.
The bill has eight additional Republican and Democratic cosponsors, including Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA).