The Law Blog of Oklahoma

Federal Bill Aimed at Curbing Campus Sexual Assault

Posted: Friday, August 01, 2014

Approximately 1 in 5 women will become the victim of campus sexual assault, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While many of these rapes and assaults go unreported by the victims, several colleges and universities are under fire for failing to investigate and report the attacks that take place on their campuses or on school-affiliated property. A federal bi-partisan bill aims to curb campus sexual assault by increasing the penalties for schools accused of under-reporting rapes and assaults and by publicly shaming the schools that fail to protect their students.

Currently, schools are required to investigate violence against women under Title IX regulations dealing with gender equality on campus, including equality in sports. They are also required to report incidents of campus crime, including forcible and non-forcible sexual assaults, under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (20 USC § 1092(f)), originally known as the Campus Security Act.

The Clery Act threatens to withhold federal funding from schools that fail to report campus crime, but in reality, the withholding of federal funds would cripple a university, and therefore punish the entire student body. The more enforceable fine associated with the Clery Act is a $35,000 fine for each unreported incident. Proposed federal legislation would increase the fine to $150,000 per incident, which would certainly put more teeth behind the Act. Last year, for example, Yale University was fined $165,000 for failing to disclose at least four forcible sex acts on its campus over the past few years. If the new fines had been in place, the total would have been $600,000.

An additional measure would require schools to conduct an anonymous survey in which students are asked about crime on campus and to disclose the results of that survey each year. Some say that this survey results in public shaming of colleges and universities who under-report sex crimes. After all, if a school discloses a small number of sexual assaults, but the student survey shows a high level of sexual violence, the institution looks as if it is failing in its obligation to its students and as if it is attempting to cover up its failures.

The problem with comparing a university's disclosures to the results of an anonymous survey is the high number of unreported assaults. The victim of a sexual assault may not report the incident to law enforcement or to university officials, but may feel comfortable anonymously reporting his or her assault in a survey. The university cannot report a crime it does not know about.

Some university officials say the proposed bill places too much emphasis on the institution's role in stopping campus violence. Anne Neal, president of American Council of Trustees and Alumni says,"Colleges are simply unable to play judge, jury and executioner when they’re already having trouble playing educator. Resources are limited and colleges must put their focus on their primary objective: education.”

The bill's authors and supporters say that no one can provide education without providing a safe place for students, and that the bill would create an incentive for campuses to be proactive in dealing with campus sexual assault.

Image Credit: tylerphotos

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