On Thursday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and 11 other senators introduced a “strengthened version” of an act that aims to hold university administrators accountable for acts of sexual violence on their campuses.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which was first introduced last year but never made it to the Senate floor, would set uniform regulations for the disciplinary procedure concerning cases of sexual assault. Under the law, colleges would be required to adhere to several new initiatives including providing confidential advisors for victims of sexual harassment, violence and stalking, extending the time bracket in which students are able to report an incident after it takes place, and requiring investigators to notify the accuser and the accused within 24 hours if disciplinary action is pursued. Furthermore, students at every U.S. university will be surveyed about their experiences with sexual violence for the government to gain a more accurate picture of college cases of sexual assault. This information would then be published biannually.
In a Thursday press release, Blumenthal said the goal of the legislation is to set a new and uniform standard of conduct and a culture of safety that will make students feel more comfortable on their respective college campuses.
“College administrators can no longer dismiss, demean or deny the problem,” he said in the release. “Even after some progress by some schools, sexual assaults are all too often undeterred and underreported.”
While CASA never made it to the Senate floor last year, supporters of the bill said they are convinced that it will prove more successful the second time around. Since the initial bill was published, the bipartisan group of 12 senators, which includes Blumenthal, sought input from a range of additional sources — including survivors of sexual assault, college students, law enforcement officials and university administrators — to put forward a second version of the act backed by further research.
The new legislation would also increase the monetary fine that universities face for violations of the Federal Clery Act, the regulation requiring colleges and universities to maintain and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses, and the Title IX legislation. The maximum penalty of $35,000 per violation would increase, allowing charges of up to $150,000 per violation. Financial penalties would be collected and distributed to campuses through a grant program supporting victims and survivors of sexual assault, and for conducting research on the issue.
When Yale was investigated for violations of Title IX in 2011, the University faced a $165,000 charge for inadequate reporting of campus crime statistics, including the omission of cases of forcible sexual assault in the University’s annual report. After the 2011 charges, Yale began to implement many of the programs that the proposed bill would require.
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd said in an email that Yale has already taken most of the steps called for in the bill, including implementing a unified disciplinary process and employing confidential advisors through the SHARE center. The University administration will also be conducting a student survey in April on the topic of sexual assault, she added.
Yale is not alone in already abiding by the requirements of the act. The U.S. Department of Education already abides by the proposed legislation’s requirement to publish the list of postsecondary institutions subject to investigation for possible violations of Title IX. While David Thomas, department spokesman, declined to comment on the pending legislation, he said the list includes investigations opened because of complaints received by the Office for Civil Rights and those initiated by OCR as compliance reviews. If a case results in a resolution, the agreement will typically be posted, he added. While these postings are currently at the discretion of the OCR, the new legislation would enforce stricter regulations, mandating the publications of these reports.
Thus far in 2015, there have been two campus-wide emails informing students of incidents of sexual assault on Yale’s campus. However, while Department of Education data shows that 5,000 forcible rapes were reported on college campuses across the country in 2013, researchers from the Department of Justice estimate that the actual number could be closer to six times that number. A report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in December 2014 revealed that 80 percent of sexual assaults that occur on campus go unreported.
While the reasons for not reporting vary, senators supporting the bill hope that strict uniform disciplinary action across the nation will make reporting easier for victims of sexual assault. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a Thursday statement that she hopes the new bill will hold colleges accountable for keeping their colleges safe.
“We know this problem is pervasive and too often swept under the rug by institutions that fail students,” Gillibrand said in the statement. “Right now, some colleges and universities are more inclined to expel a student for cheating on an exam than for committing sexual assault.”