NAICU Washington Update

Sexual Assault on Campus Continues to be a Priority

December 17, 2014

Addressing sexual assault on campus continues to be a high-profile issue for campus officials, policy makers, and the media. Most recently, the November 19 Rolling Stone article regarding the University of Virginia and its attendant controversy has generated even more intense interest in identifying fair and effective means of addressing the issue. Several recent events underscore just how complex that task is for policy makers, institutions, law enforcement, and students and families.

Senate Subcommittee Examines the Role of Law Enforcement in Campus Sexual Assault Cases

In the waning days of the 113th Congress, the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism of the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing focusing on the need for greater involvement of law enforcement officials in sexual assault incidents on campus and for improvements in the way in which law enforcement handles these situations.

Repeated themes at the hearing were that police often handle assault cases badly, while colleges are more concerned about sweeping things under the rug than in addressing the problem. In general, members of the subcommittee suggested that law enforcement officials should be more heavily engaged in addressing campus sexual assault incidents than is currently the case.

Legislation introduced earlier this year by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and a bipartisan group of cosponsors would require that colleges enter into memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with local law enforcement officials. Witnesses, who included the Assistant Director of Student Support and Intervention for Confidential Advising at Southern Oregon University, the Chief of the Cornell University police, and the Executive Director of Day One, an organization dedicated to dealing with issues of sexual assault, addressed the pros and cons of such a requirement.

Proponents argued that the requirement would avoid situations where physical evidence is destroyed and would bring all relevant parties to the table to work together in addressing assault cases. On the other hand, the Cornell University police chief cautioned that—while MOUs can be helpful— better, less costly options should be explored. She pointed out that MOUs are often time-consuming to negotiate, can strain the resources of small institutions or those located in areas with multiple law enforcement authorities, and offer no guarantee to an institution that they will be honored.

The witnesses also discussed the different purposes and procedures of campus disciplinary proceedings versus those of the criminal justice system. Highlighted during the hearing was the Campus Choice Program at Southern Oregon University. The program, which focuses on maximizing victim choice after an assault has occurred, has been widely cited as a model by policymakers. Among other things, it provides an assault victim with a confidential advisor who is exempt from Title IX requirements to report the assault. At the same time, one of the objectives of the program is to increase reporting of assaults by offering victims more control over the steps to be taken.

Underscoring the substantial interest in this topic, Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) observed that seven members of the Senate had actively participated in the hearing. He noted that it was an unusually high level of participation in a subcommittee hearing—particularly during the busy closing days of a Congress.

Proposed Changes to Campus Safety and Security Survey to Reflect New VAWA Requirements

The Department of Education is soliciting comments on revisions made to the Campus Safety and Security Survey to reflect the additional reporting requirements made by amendments to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Paperwork Reduction Act requires that the public be given an opportunity to comment on any new information collection in terms of the accuracy of the institutional burden estimate and how that burden might be minimized. This version of the document highlights the additional information to be provided.

Comments must be submitted on or before January 27, 2015, either through the website, by selecting Docket ID number ED-2014-ICCD-0153, or by mail to Director of the Information Collection Clearance Division, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, LBJ, Mailstop L-OM-2-2E319, Room 2E103, Washington, DC 20202.

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