A bipartisan group of eight senators, led by Democrat Claire McCaskill of Missouri, have introduced a bill in the Senate they hope will cut down on the frequency of sexual assault on college campuses.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would increase pressure on colleges to stop assaults by creating new requirements, as well as upping the penalties for colleges that fail to comply with existing laws such as the Clery Act and Title IX.
“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,” Sen. McCaskill said in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.
One of the provisions of the bill would require colleges to provide confidential advisers who will aid students who claim to have been sexually assaulted. Another would mandate that all campus officials involved with sexual assault matters receive specialized training.
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The bill would also create an annual, standardized survey of students at each college campus about their experience with sexual violence, with the goal of achieving greater transparency about the situation at each university.
To add teeth to the law, colleges that fail to adequately comply with certain provisions of the new law, as well as older laws such as Title IX, would face possible fines of up to 1 percent of their operating budget (for the largest schools, a sum that could exceed $10 million).
This penalty is actually less than the current punishment for Title IX non-compliance, which is the loss of all federal financial aid. However, the bill’s cosponsors said in a joint statement that this older penalty was too severe to be practical, which led to it never being used. A new fine regime, the senators hope, would be lenient enough to be usable but harsh enough that colleges will work hard to avoid it.
“Sexual assault is not some mere code of conduct violation,” said Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, another cosponsor. “It is a major criminal offense. Like with any crime, weak enforcement makes the problem worse. This bill will start to turn that around.”
Besides McCaskill and Grassley, supporters include Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Mark Warner of Virginia, as well as Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Dean Heller of Nevada and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
There has been a flurry of activity from the federal government on the issue of sexual assault in the past year. The Obama administration created a task force to investigate sexual assault last January, and during the spring the Department of Justice announced ongoing investigations of over 50 universities for their handling of sexual assault claims.
Meanwhile, in May Sen. McCaskill’s office conducted a survey of several hundred American universities that found many schools had done little to address the dangers of on-campus assaults.
Scott Berkowitz, the president of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), described the bill as “promising,” and praised the bill’s provision requiring annual surveys of students regarding sexual assault.
“We have a lack of data now,” Berkowitz told The Daily Caller News Foundation.”This will let us see whether the changes we make are working.”
Berkowitz said the large number of co-sponsors from both parties made him optimistic the bill would pass, despite the distraction of the approaching midterm elections.
“I’m pretty optimistic. It’s rare a bill has such diverse sponsorship,” he said.
McCaskill’s office said they want the bill to advance quickly, with the hope of having a final vote on the bill in September.
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