Cosponsors Bill to Improve Response, Better Protect Students
Washington, D.C. - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet has cosponsored a bipartisan bill to strengthen and improve the response to and reporting of sexual assaults that occur on campuses to better protect and empower students, while also protecting the rights of accused students. The Campus Accountability and Safety Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of senators led by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), would flip the current incentives of a broken system to provide real accountability and transparency from higher education institutions.
"College campuses should be one of the last places students fear for their safety, yet across the country, we have a serious problem of sexual violence on college campuses," Bennet said. "As the father of three daughters, it's scary enough to send your kid off to college where they will be on their own for the first time. As a country, we need to address this issue with the seriousness it deserves. This bipartisan bill takes necessary steps to better support survivors and increase transparency and accountability. We need to ensure that there is a working system to report and to respond appropriately while protecting the rights of the accused. We must also continue working together to strengthen efforts to prevent sexual assault on our campuses and ensure all students have a safe and secure environment in which to study."
The bill would secure landmark reforms for how colleges and universities address and report incidents of sexual assault that occur on their campuses. It incorporates feedback from key stakeholders to strengthen how student surveys are conducted and strengthens newly required training standards. The provisions safeguard both survivors and accused students. It extends the amount of time survivors have to file a case with the Department of Education, and sets new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.
Key provisions of the legislation include:
- Establishes new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities will be required to designate Confidential Advisors to assist survivors of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Confidential Advisors 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 local 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 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 Confidential Advisors 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 university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biannual survey will be standardized and anonymous, 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.
- 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.
- 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. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all federal student aid which is not practical and has never been done. The bill 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, administrated 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.