NAICU Washington Update

Sexual Assault on Campus Remains in the Spotlight

May 19, 2014

Colleges and universities can expect to see an increased and sustained focus on their handling of sexual assaults on their campuses. Both Congress and the Administration have launched numerous initiatives aimed at highlighting the issue, devising approaches to address it, and strengthening enforcement.

In the near term, institutions can anticipate—

  • Additional requirements related to campus policies and practices dealing with sexual violence. As one example, the task force led by Vice President Biden would like to require institutions to conduct campus climate surveys. The task force has published explanatory material, including a sample survey.
  • Additional enforcement actions by the Department of Education. The Department has highlighted the 55 schools currently under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights and has released a new 46-page explanation of Title IX requirements related to sexual violence.
  • Additional legislative and regulatory requirements. Members of the Senate, in particular, have been surveying institutions, planning roundtable discussions, and developing additional legislative proposals regarding sexual assault on campus. The Department of Education will soon issue proposed regulations implementing the changes made to the Clery Act campus crime requirements by the Violence Against Women Act.
  • Heightened media attention to the issue and campus responses to it. This coverage is likely to appear in the mainstream and trade media, and include both news and opinion pieces.

More detailed information about recent developments in the Senate, and at the White House and Department of Education appear below. Also below, are links to selected media coverage of these issues.

Senate Activities

Sexual Assault Roundtables: Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO)—along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—are sponsoring three sexual assault roundtables in the coming weeks. According to Sen. McCaskill’s office, roundtable topics will include the Clery Act and Campus SaVE (May 19), Title IX (June 2), and Administrative process and the criminal justice system (June 16).

Survey: Senator McCaskill sent a survey on campus sexual violence policies and procedures to 450 institutions, representing all sectors of higher education. She has indicated that the primary focus of the survey is determining how sexual assaults are reported and investigated on campus and how students are notified about the services available.

Although many of the survey questions are general in nature, others touch on regulatory requirements. For example, the Title IX guidance requires institutions to appoint a Title IX compliance coordinator, and this is one of the questions included in the survey. Institutions that have received this survey and wish to fill it out, should assure the responses are reviewed by the individuals on campus who are familiar with the applicable Title IX and Clery Act requirements.

Recommendations to White House Task Force: Senators Gillibrand and Blumenthal—joined by 5 other Senators—submitted recommendations to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. Their recommendations include: (1) Designate an individual to coordinate Clery Act and Title IX violations involving criminal acts or violence, who will report directly to the Secretary of Education; (2) Require all colleges to administer a standardized, anonymous annual survey on campus sexual assaults and publish the results online; and (3) Create a searchable database on all pending and resolved Title IX and Clery Act complaints, compliance reviews, and investigations. Ultimately, the Senators would like a “Campus Safety Metric” to be developed based on the survey and compliance activities, and to be included on the Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

Request for Additional Enforcement Funds: Earlier this year, Senators McCaskill, Gillibrand, and Blumenthal—joined by 9 other Senators—contacted the Senate Appropriations Committee to request additional federal funds for the investigation and enforcement of sexual assault laws on college campuses.

White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

Report Issued: The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault established earlier this year under the leadership of the Office of the Vice President and the White House Council on Women and Girls issued its recommendations on April 29. The White House event releasing the report, Not Alone, featured remarks by Vice President Biden and several Cabinet members.

Climate Surveys: Among the recommendations in the Not Alone report is one that encourages institutions to conduct campus climate surveys next year. A sample survey and explanatory material has been developed to assist colleges. The task force indicates it will explore options to mandate use of the survey in 2016.

Other Recommendations: The task force also urges colleges to identify individuals on campus to whom sexual assault victims can speak with confidentially; to develop more partnerships with community organizations serving victims of sexual assault; to encourage bystander intervention; and to improve institutional training, policies, and procedures related to sexual misconduct.

Department of Education

Enforcement Activities: On May 1, the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) publicly identified 55 institutions under investigation for Title IX violations related to sexual assault. OCR has also released a new document, “Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence.”

Proposed Regulations: The Department has completed a negotiated rulemaking process dealing with the changes to campus security requirements that were mandated by the Violence Against Women Act and will soon be issuing proposed regulations.

Select Media Coverage

The Debate: How Should College Campuses Handle Sexual Assault, TIME Magazine, May 15, 2014

The Sexual Assault Crises on American Campuses, TIME Magazine, May 15, 2014

College administrators learning to be sexual misconduct detectivesLos Angeles Times, May 14, 2014

Colleges Can’t Play Cop in Sexual Assault Investigations, Boston Globe, May 14, 2014

Blumenthal Calls For 'Bill of Rights' For College Sexual Assault Survivors, Hartford Courant, May 13, 2014

OCR Stays Busy on Sexual Assaults, Inside Higher Ed, May 12, 2014

To Curb Sexual Assault on Campuses, Surveys Become a Priority, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 12, 2014

Campus Sexual Assault - McCaskill Announces Public Stakeholder Roundtables, Press release, May 8, 2014

White House Issues Report on Steps to Prevent Sexual Assaults on College Campuses, The Washington Post, April 29, 2014

Targeting Sexual Assaults on Campuses – Starting With the Facts on the Ground, by Claire McCaskill, Huffington Post, April 17, 2014

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