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Bipartisan Legislation Would Help Protect Students and Create Historic Transparency Requirements at Colleges and Universities

***WATCH Full Press Conference HERE****

Washington, D.C. – To mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate and survivors of sexual assault joined Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill today to urge the Senate to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. This bipartisan legislation would protect students, professionalize the response to and reporting of sexual assault cases, and provide colleges and universities with incentives to solve the problem of sexual assault on their campuses.

“We started from the premise that sexual assault is a serious crime and should be treated as a crime,” Senator Chuck Grassley said.  “The bill helps survivors get the support they need so they know their options.  It’s meant to make them comfortable reporting to police and campus authorities.  This is a common-sense bipartisan measure, and I hope to see it pass the Senate soon.”

“Sexual assault is an underreported crime, and the sad reality is that many survivors don’t believe that they will get the support and services they need and deserve if they come forward. Universities and colleges must be held accountable for the safety of their students, and we need a structured approach that brings together responsiveness, transparency, and a uniformity of standards – instead of the haphazard approach that exists today,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte. “I am grateful for the partnership of Senators Gillibrand, McCaskill, and others, and I will continue to work with the Senate HELP Committee and key stakeholders to get CASA passed.”

“In order to truly affect change, we need to come together and pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. By educating campus personnel, strengthening the law enforcement response, creating transparency and establishing support services for survivors of sexual assault, this bill takes clear steps to help those in West Virginia and around the country affected by sexual assault,” said Senator Capito.

“The Campus Accountability and Safety Act offers protections and supports for students, standardizes the response and streamlines the reporting of sexual assault cases by college campuses,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “This proposal is a step in the right direction and it’s my hope that the Senate will act quickly to pass it.”

“When our sons and daughters go to college, they shouldn't have to worry about their safety on campus. The time to address campus sexual assault is now. We have a strong, bipartisan bill that will help combat these crimes and provide survivors with the assistance they need. ‎I will continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass CASA,” said Senator Dean Heller.

“The bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act would create historic transparency requirements and give colleges and universities an incentive to take campus sexual assault seriously,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Some schools, like the SUNY system in New York, have shown leadership by acknowledging that sexual assault is a problem on their campuses, and they’re beginning to fight it. But most colleges are stuck in defensive mode, and won’t even admit they have a problem because they’re afraid their application numbers will drop, or because they just don’t take these assaults seriously. We need to pass this bipartisan bill and finally start holding our schools accountable for how they deal with this crime.”

“We’ve taken huge steps forward over the past two years in crafting this bipartisan, commonsense plan—but students on campuses across this country can’t wait any longer for us to act on it,” said Senator McCaskill, a former prosecutor of sex crimes. “This legislation reflects the input of countless survivors, universities, advocates, and law enforcement officials. We’ve got a smart policy solution that helps curb these crimes, increases responsiveness when crimes do occur, protects and empowers students, and creates an accountable system with real teeth. Even at a time when it’s hard to get much done around here, I’m confident these are solutions that my colleagues in the Senate can agree on, and I look forward to working with them to get this across the finish line. It’s time to get this bill passed.”

“We must stop the staggering scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal. “This critical legislation provides specific, enforceable rights to make clear to campus sexual assault survivors that we’re serious about preventing and punishing this horrific crime. Our bipartisan coalition today spoke louder than ever to say our commitment is stronger than ever to creating a culture of safety on our campuses. Passing this bipartisan legislation will signal that the days of victim blaming are over—and the days of empowerment are here.”

“Ensuring the most basic protection – safety – for young people trying to get an education ought to be foremost in our minds,” Senator Wyden said. “The problem of campus sexual assault needs an all hands-on-deck approach. That’s why I am a proud cosponsor of the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act.”

“The epidemic of sexual violence on college campuses demands action.  That means better resources and support for victims, more transparent and carefully constructed systems for reporting sexual violence, and an acknowledgement that it’s on us to end the quiet tolerance that’s allowed the violence to spread,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “Thanks to Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand for their tremendous leadership, and for addressing the important role law enforcement can and should play in helping protect victims of sexual assault.”

“EROC supports the Campus Safety and Accountability Act because it provides institutions of higher education with more comprehensive tools with which to empower their students and effectively prevent campus sexual assault,” said Andrea Pino, Director of Policy and Support at End Rape On Campus (EROC). “The bill also bolsters the Department of Education's effectiveness in enforcing Title IX and holding institutions accountable that do violate Title IX — an essential gender-equity and civil rights educational amendment that college students need.”

“The Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act will help improve the way that colleges deal with sexual violence, and will give more victims an opportunity for justice,” said RAINN Vice President for Public Policy Rebecca O’Connor. “It will also help us measure progress, through an annual survey, and will stop the practice of letting athletic departments investigate allegations against their own players. We’re grateful that so many Senate leaders are working hard to solve the problem of rape on campus, and we remain committed to working with them to pass a bill that will help victims and help reduce the number of violent assaults.”

“CASAct is a critical step on the path towards ensuring every American student can pursue a college education free from fear of sexual assault,” said SAFER Policy and Research Coordinator and Board Chair-elect Jennifer Snow. “By standardizing campus climate surveys and requiring colleges and universities to maintain more accurate data, students now have a real opportunity to hold their institutions accountable for the epidemic of sexual and gender violence on campus. We also believe that amnesty policies and truly confidential resources are critical for creating a campus environment that is supportive of survivors.” 

“The State University of New York has a long and unwavering commitment to ensuring student safety and we strongly support Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to make this issue a national priority, as New York State has done,” said State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher. “We are proud to be the first university system to support of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which takes a bold step towards improving the prevention of and response to sexual and interpersonal violence at all institutions of higher education.”

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses reported over 6,700 forcible sex offenses (rape and sexual battery) in 2014, but a recent Department of Justice study shows that the actual number of offenses is estimated to be at least four times that number. Colleges must create an environment where more students feel comfortable coming forward to report sexual assault, so that more perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Quick Facts:

  • 80 percent of rape and sexual assault victimizations against female students ages 18-24 go unreported to police.
  • Law enforcement officials at 30 percent of institutions of higher education receive no training on how to respond to reports of sexual violence.
  • 73 percent of institutions of higher education have no protocols on how the institution and law enforcement work together to respond to campus sexual violence.
  • Most cases of campus sexual assault are not instances of “stranger rape.” 78 percent of campus sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.
  • Confidential reporting options facilitate reporting of campus sexual assault to police and campus authorities.

Current federal law has had the perverse effect of encouraging colleges to under-report sexual assaults. The bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act (S. 590) would flip the incentives to protect students and professionalize the response to and reporting of sexual assault by doing the following: 

1. Establishing new campus resources and support services for student survivors

Colleges and universities would be required to designate Confidential Advisors to assist survivors of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Confidential Advisors would coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, and provide information and assistance regarding options for reporting the crime to local law enforcement and/or campus authorities at the direction of the survivor. A report to a Confidential Advisor would not automatically trigger a Title IX investigation, and survivors would have support in filing a police report, thus making prosecutions more likely. Schools would no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation, like underage drinking, in good faith.

2. Ensuring minimum training standards for on-campus personnel

The lack of training for campus personnel can interfere with sexual assault investigations and student disciplinary proceedings, resulting in negative outcomes for both survivors and accused students. This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Confidential Advisor to those responsible for investigating and participating in student disciplinary proceedings would receive specialized training, so that they would have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes.

3. Creating historic new transparency requirements

Students at every university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence. The new biennial survey would be standardized and anonymous. Colleges and universities would publish the results online, and the Department of Education would 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.

4. Requiring a uniform discipline process and coordination with law enforcement

All schools would use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints of sexual violence against members of that subgroup. Both survivors and accused students would receive notification if schools proceed with a disciplinary process regarding an allegation of sexual assault within 24 hours of such decision being made, and both survivors and the accused would be informed of their rights. Colleges and universities would be required 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 facilitate law enforcement investigations.

5. Establishing enforceable Title IX penalties and 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. Currently, the only allowable penalty is the loss of all financial aid, which is not practical and has never been done. The bill would increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation.