Proposed bill could revamp campus sexual assault protocols

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing the bill in its fourth iteration. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Hannah Eason, Contributing Writer

A bipartisan proposal being reintroduced in Congress could bring a set of reforms to the response to and reporting of sexual assault at universities around the country.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would establish new campus resources for student sexual assault survivors, ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel, provide statistics derived from surveys, require coordination between campus and local law enforcement and establish higher penalties for Title IX and Jeanne Clery Act violations.

The act was introduced by U.S. Sens. Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island. Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, is one of the bill’s co-sponsors and has been a lead sponsor since the bill’s initial introduction.

“In recent years, the brave individuals behind the #MeToo movement have successfully increased public awareness and discussion about sexual assault and harassment,” Warner stated in a news release, “and Congress has a responsibility to support these efforts with legislation that focuses on preventing sexual assault in colleges and universities across the nation.”

Under CASA, universities would be required to designate response coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. The coordinators would be responsible for assisting with support services and survivor accommodations.

An additional clause in the bill states students who report sexual violence, in addition to an illegal action — such as underage drinking — would not be punished for the illegal act.

Under the act, sexual assault response coordinators and investigators would be expected to receive specialized training on sexual crimes and their impact on survivors.

The legislation introduces a confidential survey about sexual violence for students at every college and university every other year. Gillibrand’s website states the survey results would be published online for “parents and high school students [to] make an informed choice when comparing universities.”

The Department of Education would be required to publish the names of schools with incidents related to Title IX and the Clery Act. Schools would be required to disclose pending investigations, final resolutions and voluntary resolution agreements connected to Title IX.

The proposal includes a “one uniform process” for student disciplinary proceedings, meaning athletic departments or other campus affiliates would not be able to handle complaints. Additionally, schools would be required to notify the accused and victim of any disciplinary action within 24 hours.

“VCU Athletics will continue to work closely with the university to ensure our student-athletes are educated on the issues of sexual assault and sexual crimes — and reporting them — and we will continue to work towards eliminating them from our campus,” said Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications Chris Kowalczyk.

CASA aims to clarify jurisdiction lines between campus authorities and local law enforcement by requiring a memoranda of understanding, or MOU.

“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,” Gillibrand’s website states.

Schools that do not comply with the bill’s requirements may face a penalty of up to 1% of the institution’s operating budget. Penalties for Clery Act violations would be increased to $150,000 per violation — up from the current penalty of $35,000.

The money collected from violations would be distributed to universities through a grant program for researching and preventing violence on college campuses.

CASA was first introduced to Congress in 2014. It was reintroduced in 2015 and 2017. No versions of the legislation made it to the floor of either chamber in Congress.

SAFER, a nonprofit that assists student movements that aim to curb sexual violence on college campuses, applauded the bipartisan effort in the act it refered to as “critically important” in a news release.

“In this time of extraordinary political polarization in Washington and around the country, it is particularly important and noteworthy that Democratic and Republican members of the United States Senate have joined forces to introduce and pass vital legislation that will strengthen sexual assault policies on our nation’s campuses,” said Danielle Christenson, SAFER’s policy director.

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