TIME

Bipartisan Bill Aims to Reform Campus Sexual Assault Investigations

Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014.
Demonstrators protest sexual assault on college campuses at the #YesAllWomen rally in solidarity with those affected by violence in Seattle on May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would require an annual survey of students' experiences with assault at college to be published online

Eight Senators on Wednesday introduced legislation aimed at curbing on-campus rape that will include an annual survey of students about their experience with sex assault.

“We should never accept the fact that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus. But today they are. And it has to end,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in a statement about the Campus Safety and Accountability Act. “ We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer. Students deserve real safety and accountability instead of empty promises.”

Gillibrand, who has been at the forefront of efforts to combat sexual assault, was a part of a bipartisan group of Senators supporting the bill including Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

The proposed legislation came just weeks after a Senate subcommittee survey revealed that 41% of 236 American colleges had conducted no investigations of alleged assaults in the last five years. Under the new rules, colleges would be required to assign on-campus “Confidential Advisors” with the task of being a trusted resource for victims of assault. The goal of the advisors would be to encourage victims to come forward while reducing the likelihood that cases would be swept under the rug due to poorly executed, or non existent investigations.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 colleges and universities that may have violated federal law in their flawed handling of accusations of assault. (An estimated one in five women are sexually assaulted in some way while in college, though the bulk of victims fail to report to authorities.)

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act would require not only a uniform process for disciplinary proceedings; it would also colleges to coordinate with law enforcement throughout investigations. If schools fail to comply they could also face penalties affecting 1% of their total operating budgets and a $150,000 fine per violation.

Scott Berkowitz, the president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) said in a statement Wednesday that the proposed legislation “will help improve the way that colleges deal with sexual violence, and will give more victims an opportunity for justice.”

The bill also takes a historic approach to campus transparency by administering an annual survey of students to gage their experiences with assault. The results would be published online as a benefit to parents and current and prospective students.

“This bill represents a rare thing in Washington—a truly collaborative, bipartisan effort—and that bodes well for our shared fight to turn the tide against sexual violence on our campuses,” said Sen. McCaskill, who recently released a survey on college’s approach to sexual assault. “To curb these crimes, students need to be protected and empowered, and institutions must provide the highest level of responsiveness in helping hold perpetrators fully accountable. That’s what our legislation aims to accomplish.”

Read more about the campus rape crisis in TIME’s cover story here.

 

This post was updated to include a statement from Sen. Claire McCaskill.

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