July 31, 2014 — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday proposed a bill (S 2692) that aims to curb sexual assaults on college campuses by bolstering resources for students who report the crimes and increasing penalties against schools that violate federal requirements, the New York Times reports (Steinhauer, New York Times, 7/30).
The bill comes weeks after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), one of its sponsors, released a report that found 41% of surveyed universities in the U.S. had not conducted any investigations into sexual assault allegations over the last five years, even though some had reported sexual assault incidents to the Department of Education (Marklein, USA Today, 7/30).
The measure's other sponsors include Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Mark Warner (Va.) and Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Dean Heller (Nev.). Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) are expected to introduce a companion measure in the House.
According to the Washington Post's "She The People," it is not likely that Congress will approve the legislation in the next few months. Lawmakers start their five-week summer recesses later this week, and many will be focusing on the November election when they return (Henderson, "She The People," Washington Post, 7/30).
The measure would require every college and university in the U.S. to conduct an anonymous survey of students about their experiences with sexual assault on campus. The results would be posted online so that parents and high school students could compare colleges. In addition, the measure would increase penalties levied against schools that fail to address sexual assault on campus. For example, the bill would impose penalties of up to 1% of a school's operating budget if it fails to comply with certain aspects of the bill. Currently, schools that violate the rights of students in sexual assault cases can lose federal funding, but lawmakers said that the penalty is impractical and not enforced.
The bill also would increase penalties under the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities that receive federal funding to disclose campus crime information. Specifically, the measure increases the penalty for violating the law's requirements from $35,000 per violation to $150,000 per violation (New York Times, 7/30).
The measure also would mandate that universities designate an adviser to act as a confidential resource for students who have been sexually assaulted. The advisers and others involved with disciplinary proceedings on campus would be required to undergo specialized training.
Under the bill, colleges would not be allowed to penalize students who in good faith reveal other violations, such as underage drinking, while reporting a sexual assault ("She The People," Washington Post, 7/30).
In addition, the bill would bar athletic departments or other campus groups from handling sexual assault complaints for participants in their own division. The bill also aims to coordinate response efforts with local law enforcement authorities.
Gillibrand said that the purpose of the bill is to "flip the incentives that currently reward (colleges for) keeping sexual assault in the shadows" (USA Today, 7/30).
McCaskill said in a statement, "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." She added, "That's what our legislation aims to accomplish" ("She The People," Washington Post, 7/30).
However, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, said that colleges and universities "are simply unable to play judge, jury and executioner when they're already having trouble playing educator." She added, "Resources are limited and colleges must put their focus on their primary objective: education" (New York Times, 7/30).