Campus Life / Education / National / Virginia

Bipartisan coalition of senators renew legislation to combat campus sexual assaults

Group of Republican and Democratic Senators reintroduce Campus Accountability and Safety Act to prevent sexual assault on college campuses, protect survivors, and provide accountability and transparency for institutions

WASHINGTON — Yesterday, April 6, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues reintroduced legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) would reform the way colleges and universities address and report incidences of sexual assault that occur on their campuses. The legislation will instate higher training standards for on-campus personnel and require fairness and uniformity in the campus disciplinary process. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act will empower students, while holding universities accountable to a uniform reporting standard.

In addition to Sen. Warner, this legislation was introduced by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“I am proud to continue working with this bipartisan group of colleagues on sexual assault prevention legislation that demands greater transparency, consistency, and accountability from colleges and universities nationwide,” said Sen. Warner. “There has been a huge increase in public awareness and meaningful policy discussion in recent years thanks to the courage of campus sexual assault survivors as well as leadership from advocacy organizations. However, Congress still has a responsibility to strengthen and support these efforts with legislation. Reintroducing the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which was supported by more than one-third of the United States Senate in the previous Congress, represents an important step towards meeting this commitment to better protect our young people on campus.”

Sexual assault on college campuses remains a pervasive issue. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges and universities have a legal obligation to provide an environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is currently conducting 318 investigations at 228 institutions nationwide for their handling of sexual violence reports. Sexual assault on college and university campuses is notoriously under-reported and, too often, adjudication processes and survivor support services vary from campus to campus, making fairness and transparency all the more elusive. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act places higher incentives on all universities, including those in Virginia, to empower student survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.

Key provisions of the legislation include:

Establishes New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors: Colleges and universities will be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators will 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 will 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.

Requires Fairness in Campus Disciplinary Process: All schools will now be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints. Schools must now 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.

Ensures Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: This legislation ensures that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings will receive specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.

Creates New Transparency Requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem.  This new biennial survey will be standardized and confidential, 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 with respect to sexual violence and the requirements of the Clery Act.

Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement: This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder to clearly delineate responsibilities 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.

Stiffer Penalties for Clery Act 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 also increases penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation from the current penalty of $35,000. Financial penalties collected from universities 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 harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.

A summary of this bill can be found here. The full text of this legislation can be found here.