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Senators Focus on Campus Assault Police Reports
Posted by On Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Previously, we have written about victims’ reluctance to report campus sexual assaults to the police. Finding the solution to that problem is front and center in the debate about how schools and the criminal justice system should be handling cases of sexual violence. This debate set the stage for a hearing held last week by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on improving law enforcement’s response to campus sexual assault and the relationship between police departments and campuses.

Opening remarks at the hearings unanimously called for a different approach that will better address sexual assault victims’ fear of being revictimized when reporting these crimes.

Sen. Claire McCaskill discussed the importance of strengthening victim support systems, stating that “A victim who is assaulted on a Friday night needs to know, on that Friday night, where she can call and where she can go for confidential support and good information, which we hope gives her the encouragement to make the choice to move forward in the criminal justice system.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand testified, “[O]ur ultimate goal should be that 100 percent of survivors of campus sexual assault feel comfortable and confident reporting to law enforcement . . . But, time and again, I have heard from far too many survivors of campus sexual assault that they have felt re-victimized by the process of trying to seek justice for the crime committed against them.”

Last July, together with a bipartisan group of Senators, Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, intended to protect and empower students and increase accountability for schools around sexual violence.

Improving Campus Response Goes Hand-in-Hand With Improving Police Response

Angela Fleischer, the Assistant Director of Student Support and Intervention for Confidential Advising at Southern Oregon University, helped create the Ashland Police Department’s You Have Options Program and Southern Oregon’s Campus Choice. Fleischer said at the hearings that “The need for programs like these is urgent and undeniable . . ..”

According to Fleischer, improving the campus response goes hand-in-hand with improving the law enforcement response. To improve reporting of sexual assault, she urges both campus administration and law enforcement to start by training anyone who interviews victims on trauma informed interviewing techniques. By creating a coordinated victim-centered approach, the You Have Options and Campus Choice programs have more than doubled reporting of sexual assault in their jurisdictions.

This approach also focuses on collecting information about offenders in the community by allowing victims to come forward and report in the manner in which they are most comfortable, whether it is anonymously, in person, or online. Besides having control over reporting, victims also decide the timeframe and scope of the investigation with the option to suspend the investigation at any time.

Best Practices

Speaking from the perspective of law enforcement, Kathy Zoner, Chief of the Cornell University Police, offered best practices that can be adopted on all campuses:

  • Adopt victim-centered and offender-focused response procedures;
  • Prioritize medical and advocacy resources for every victim who reports a sexual assault;
  • Provide non-victim-blaming education to community members within the agency’s jurisdiction;
  • Train and hold accountable every member of the participating agency – sworn and non-sworn – for the same victim-centered and offender-focused response; and
  • Promote an environment within the agency where victims of sexual assault are not judged or blamed for their assault and instead are treated with dignity, sensitivity, and courtesy.

Creating a New System

Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One, Rhode Island’s sexual assault coalition, told the committee that what’s needed is to create a new universal system such as the You Have Options program. According to Langhammer, “We can’t expect victims to report when the system in place doesn’t work . . . So the question is not, should colleges be mandated to report these crimes to police? The question is how do we create a system where the victim’s choices are the priority and the process is designed to work in the best interest of the victim?”

Langhammer recommends a new system made up of a team of representatives from law enforcement, prosecution, victim advocates, medical professionals, and higher education that is responsible for handling sexual assault cases from the initial report to investigation and resolution.

According to Langhammer, “The college hearing process should be integrated with law enforcement. Police need to be involved, but it has to be a team approach.”

Cooperation and Education

Senators Grassley, McCaskill, Gillibrand, and Whitehouse all pledged to work with the new Congress to pass the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would require schools to enter into a memorandum of understanding with local law enforcement to define their respective responsibilities and to share information in sexual violence cases, “when directed by the victim.”

Meanwhile, Philip Cohen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland at College Park, argues that an institution’s “most important obligation and best hope for solving the problem: educating students to change the culture around sexual violence.”

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, December 12, 2014

For this week’s roundup we bring you the latest news from the Senate and the Department of Justice’s report on sexual assault.

Senate Hearings on Campus Sexual Assault

On Tuesday the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime met to discuss campus sexual assault. Senators expressed concern with the way campus sexual assaults are handled by universities and colleges, with several lawmakers questioning the role of the police, or lack thereof, in investigating assaults. Additionally, both Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Claire McCaskill expressed concerns about how the fall-out from Rolling Stone’s now-controversial article on an alleged gang rape at UVA  might affect efforts to fight campus sexual assault at UVA and other schools. Senator Gillibrand said, “And I hope it will not discourage other students from coming forward because it is the students themselves all across the country who are demanding reform and their voices are vital in this debate. And I refuse to let this story become an excuse for Congress to do nothing and accept a broken system.”

Senate Will Move Forward with Campus Sexual Assault Bill in the New Year

One thing the Republican take-over of the Senate will not affect in the new year is Senate plans for bills to combat college sexual assault. Indeed, Republican co-sponsor of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act Chuck Grassley is set to become the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senate Republicans take control of the Senate next year. Said Grassley, “Obviously, this is something we are going to deal with or I wouldn’t be putting my name on a bill. I would think it’s a major issue.”  As we’ve previously reported, the CASA legislation would increase support and resources for victims and survivors, including the creation of a new confidential advisor position at all colleges and universities.

The DOJ Report on Sexual Assault

The Department of Justice has released a report on sexual assault and rape among college-aged females. Their findings are sobering, as might be expected. According to the report, “Fewer than one in five female student and non-student victims of rape and sexual assault received assistance from a victim services agency,” a finding that reinforces the need for a victim-centered approach . The DOJ also found that college-aged women were more likely to experience rape and sexual assault than any other age group, that women not in school were more likely to be assaulted than their peers in college, and that young women in school were less likely to report their assault to law enforcement.

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5 Stories About Compliance That You Need to Know this Fall
Posted by On Thursday, August 28, 2014

We know you’re busy preparing your campus for the Fall semester or welcoming students to campus. Over the next few months, however, there are some important developments you should be following. Below is a handy overview.

The Campus SaVE Act Regulations

Yes, the Campus SaVE Act is already law, but the regulations are still being finalized and won’t be released until November.

Signed into law in March of 2013, the Campus SaVE Act amends the Clery Act. It includes three major provisions: it expands the crimes that schools must report in their Annual Security Report; it establishes what should be included in the school’s policies and procedures to address campus sexual assault; and, finally, it mandates extensive “primary prevention and awareness programs” — which include training for students and staff — regarding recovery, reporting, and preventing sexual misconduct and related offenses.

After a process of negotiated rulemaking, the Department of Education published the draft regulations for the SaVE Act in the Federal Register this June, collected public comments on the proposed regulations this summer, and will publish the final regulations by November 1st. The regulations will be effective by July 1, 2015. Though the final regulations have not been published, schools need to make a good faith effort to comply with the SaVE Act by October 1st this year.

Check out some of our past coverage of the SaVE Act.

The Campus Safety and Accountability Act (CASA)

Of the bills recently introduced into the Senate or House of Representatives, CASA has received the lion’s share of the attention. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill are the most visible sponsors of the bill, but CASA enjoys strong bi-partisan support and includes prominent Republican co-sponsors such as Marco Rubio. The bill was developed by McCaskill and Gillibrand through a series of roundtables with victims, survivors, experts, advocates, and administrators. The senators also conducted a national survey of colleges and universities about how they responded to sexual misconduct on their campuses. Based on the findings of the survey and roundtables, the bill aims to curb campus sexual violence “by protecting and empowering students, and strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions.”

Specifically, the bill introduces fines for non-compliant institutions of up to 1% of their operating budgets and increases penalties for Clery Act violations from $35,000 to as much as $150,000 per violation. In terms of transparency, CASA would establish a government administered annual campus climate survey as well as a website run by the Department of Education with contact information for all Title IX coordinators and information on the Department of Education’s investigations, findings, and resolution agreements related to Title IX. Finally, the bill increases support and resources for victims and survivors through provisions detailing extensive training for staff, the creation of a new confidential advisor position at all higher-education institutions, and a required amnesty policy for students who reveal conduct violations (such as underage drinking) when reporting in good faith an incident of sexual violence.

For our past coverage, check out this list of our stories about CASA.

The Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act)

Introduced in the Senate by Barbara Boxer, and in the House by Susan Davis, the SOS Campus Act is fairly straightforward; it would require schools to “designate an independent advocate for campus sexual assault and prevention.” The Advocate would help victims and survivors connect with support resources like counseling or legal services and guide them through the reporting and adjudication processes. The bill emphasizes the independence of this new position, explaining that “the Advocate shall represent the interests of the student victim even when in conflict with the interests of the institution.”

Boxer recently wrote a letter to Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, asking her to voluntarily adopt the provisions in the bill: “I am working hard to pass the SOS Campus Act in Congress, but our students cannot afford to wait another minute for that to happen.”

Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency on Campus Sexual Violence Act (HALT Act)

Introduced by Representatives Jackie Speier and Pat Meehan, the HALT Act — like CASA — would improve transparency around campus sexual assault and increase the sanctions for schools violating student’s Title IX civil rights.

The HALT Act would require public disclosure of resolution agreements and program reviews from Title IX investigations and create mandatory climate surveys (the first of which would have to be administered no later than April 1st, 2015). It would also create a Campus Sexual Violence Task Force that would, among other things, publish an annual report on these issues.

With the praise of some and the condemnation of others, the bill would also create much stronger sanctions for non-compliant schools. It gives the Office of Civil Rights the ability to levy fines, “the amount of which shall be determined by the gravity of the violation.” It also gives students a private right of action. In other words, students could sue schools directly without going through the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.

New Training Materials

The White House’s Not Alone report promised a host of new training materials and information on best-practices for this fall. Below is a list of what we can expect:

  • This Fall — “the CDC, in collaboration with the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women and the Department of Education, will convene a panel of experts to identify emerging, promising practices to prevent sexual assault on campus.”
  • September — “the Justice Department’s Center for Campus Public Safety will develop a training program for campus officials involved in investigating and adjudicating sexual assault cases.”
  • December — “the Department of Education, through the National Center on Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, will develop trauma-informed training materials for campus health center staff.”

We look forward to the release of these materials, which should prove valuable to schools trying to develop and improve their comprehensive awareness and prevention programs.

Even without the passage of any new legislation, new federal regulations, along with the recommendations and workshops, should provide schools with a strong set of requirements and best practices that will help them change campus culture to eliminate sexual violence.

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Second Roundtable Discussion: Title IX
Posted by On Thursday, June 5, 2014

The second of three roundtable discussions focused on the role Title IX plays in the issue of campus sexual harassment and sexual violence, as well as what Senator McCaskill described as how to address “inadequate training, inadequate resources, and little proactive enforcement.” Among the topics discussed were:

  • the importance of customizing a school’s prevention program to meet the unique needs of that particular campus community
  • increasing penalties and proactive enforcement by regulators
  • making it easier to sue a college or university for damages suffered as a result of its mishandling a complaint
  • creating transparency around best practices for Title IX compliance

Customized Compliance
Senator Jon Tester of Montana talked about the Title IX investigation of the University of Montana by the Departments of Justice and Education. Jocelyn Samuels, the DOJ’s Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, noted that the agreements reached with the University of Montana and its Office of Public Safety serve as a “model for other universities around the country to be able to adopt the kind of proactive steps necessary to really address these problems,” including:

  • having a unified set of policies that comply with the law and are easily accessible to the campus community
  • ensuring that everyone on campus knows their rights and responsibilities when it comes to dealing with sexual assault
  • providing proper training for school officials, students, and anyone involved in the investigative or disciplinary process
  • promptly responding to complaints
  • taking corrective action whenever sexual assault occurs
  • collecting data on the scope of the problem at a particular campus so that the school is taking informed measures to address the problem

Emphasizing the last point, Ms. Samuels said it’s important for every institution to engage with members of its community to make sure that serious steps are being taken to customize prevention efforts to the needs of individual schools.

Proactive Enforcement and Private Lawsuits
Laura Dunn suggested at the first roundtable that the penalty for Clery Act violations be calculated as a percentage of the institution’s gross revenue so that it hurts large institutions and doesn’t overwhelm smaller institutions, and that idea was brought up again at the second roundtable discussion. McCaskill asked, “how do you impact change on the thousands of campuses out there . . . that’s kind of where I think we need to be going if we can figure out a way to do it that’s not draconian on small universities and meaningful to larger universities.”

Besides penalties, Senator McCaskill suggested that making it easier for students to prevail in private lawsuits for monetary damages could also encourage Title IX compliance by a college or university. Ms. Samuel noted that the standard for obtaining an injunction is less demanding, requiring a showing that the school has not taken “reasonable steps” to address the sexual misconduct, instead of the standard for obtaining money damages, which requires proving that the institution was “deliberately indifferent,” or took no action to address the situation.

Other suggestions to make private lawsuits a viable option included extending the statute of limitations beyond 180 days and making the standard of review for Title IX complaints consistent at the OCR’s twelve regional offices.

Best Practices

Transparency around regulatory investigations was a popular topic, and Ms. Noble-Triplett, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Missouri, noted that she would also like to have access to information about “those institutions that have demonstrated sustainable, evidence-based results from doing things well.”

As with many discussions at the roundtable, this came back to the duty of the institution to educate its campus community on their rights and responsibilities to address the sexual assault problem. Noble-Triplett suggested that instead of creating a compliance mentality with more legislation, a more effective approach would be to create more accountability within an institution.

Also, Ms. Noble-Triplett noted that the correlation between alcohol and substance abuse with sexual assault cannot be ignored where the institution is faced with changing the campus culture.

At the end of the second session, panelists got a chance to talk about their wish list which includes a:

  • website for Title IX officers that provides information, such as the best practices and other helpful information from regulators
  • list of forensic investigator training competencies required since training results are inconsistent (McCaskill suggested looking at military training)

Look for draft legislation in late June which, according to McCaskill, needs to have “the right mix of regulation, support, and penalties.” The discussion at the next roundtable set for June 23rd will center on using disciplinary proceedings and the criminal justice system to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable.

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Roundtable Theme: Training and Consequences
Posted by On

First Roundtable Discussion: The Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act

Senator Claire McCaskill opened the first of three roundtable discussions on campus sexual assault by stating her goal to tackle the “complex labyrinth of different rules between SaVE and Clery and Title IX . . . and see if we can simplify, clarify, augment, support, perhaps provide more mandatory training but with the grants that go with that so that universities can access grants to help train people on campuses . . ..”

Yes, that means yet more new federal laws are being drafted on campus sexual assault, which McCaskill hopes to introduce by the end of the month. Here are some of the topics that were discussed, which we’ll explain in more detail below:

  • making school employees mandated reporters
  • training students and employees about reporting responsibilities and confidentiality
  • stepping up enforcement of Clery Act compliance

Training and Mandated Reporting
As a former prosecutor of sex crimes, Sen. McCaskill is focused on bringing perpetrators to the criminal justice system and the only way to do that is if a crime is reported. The discussion about training began with McCaskill asking if all school employees should be mandated to report information about sexual violence to campus authorities.

Laura Dunn, a victim advocate and survivor of sexual assault, raised serious concerns about taking that control away from the victim-survivor: “I promise you if we handle this issue well it will go up on its own, you don’t ever have to mandate [reporting] . . . When we see that consequence we know it’s safer for us to speak out.”

McCaskill responded, “the vast majority of these perpetrators are not even getting a criminal interview . . . they’re never having that moment where the police officer sits across the table from them and asks them the difficult questions. We aren’t going to get any meaningful deterrence on this problem until that begins happening. So there is a chicken and egg problem here.”

Two panel members pointed out that training students and employees is a critical piece of any mandated reporter legislation. Holly Rider-Milkovich of the University of Michigan cautioned that, “If we require faculty especially but also staff to report information then number one we have to vigorously educate our student body about where there are confidential resources and about the responsibilities of anyone who they share information with to report and also we need to ensure that every member who has an obligation to report also has an equally robust training so that they are appropriately responding to that student . . ..”

Alison Kiss with the Clery Center for Security on Campus agreed that there needs to be “training about what do you do when a student discloses and how you handle that disclosure, [because] if there is not training then it could have a chilling effect . . ..” Kiss also pointed out that the legal definitions of sexual assault required in a school’s education program must be “in the language that students may understand what happened to them—I can actually be raped by my friend.”

McCaskill later commented on the state definitions of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking, “We cannot define for states elements of their crimes.” However, she is concerned about the fact that in sixteen states lack of consent requires that the perpetrator used force or threatened to use force. So, McCaskill will be looking at ways to “incentivize states to update their definitions of consent.”

Regulatory Enforcement
McCaskill also noted the need to “step up the enforcement side” instead of “waiting for another tragedy to hit the front pages.” According to Lynn Mahaffie with the Department of Education, there are currently only thirteen auditors who conduct about twenty Clery compliance reviews per year. The Department plans to double the number of auditors over the next few years, although even that increase will barely scratch the surface of the 7,000+ campuses covered by these laws.

Moreover, Laura Dunn pointed out that there is no integration of effort between the Office for Civil Rights that enforces all civil rights laws, including Title IX compliance, and the Federal Student Aid office that enforces Clery compliance. Ms. Dunn said, “If you’re going to spend money somewhere, please spend it on enforcement.” The absence of a specialized enforcement unit is a big part of the problem, according to Dunn: “We spend all day making laws, making rules, making regulations. It’s overwhelming institutions and when it comes to survivors who ask for enforcement we don’t even have specialized enforcers who know the details of this law or even work together.”

McCaskill jumped in here and suggested, “at least force integration” to help institutions figure out how to put these three different laws—Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Campus SaVE Act—together and streamline their compliance efforts. This provides a great segue into the second roundtable discussion on Title IX, which is the subject of a separate post.

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Weekly Roundup
Posted by On Friday, April 4, 2014

To mark the end of the first week of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight three stories of survivors, campuses, and legislators doing what they can to increase awareness about sexual assault.

Survivor’s Open Letter to Harvard Prompts Change

A sexual assault survivor’s “Dear Harvard: You Win” letter , detailing her assault, her ensuing struggle with Harvard University to have her assailant removed from her dorm, and the resulting depression she still struggles with, is a tough read, but one that seems to be provoking at least some change. In response, Harvard has formed a task force which will review the university’s sexual assault policy, criticized by the letter’s author as being specifically responsible for discouraging her from pressing charges against her assailant.

McCaskill Turns Her Attention to College Sexual Assault

Having already championed legislation that reformed how the United States military and military academies handle sexual assault cases, Senator and former sex crimes prosecutor Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is now turning her attention to the problem of sexual assault in higher education. McCaskill has written Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, requesting detailed information on how the Department of Justice and Education Department enforce laws addressing how colleges handle sexual assault. McCaskill has said, “I fear that, like the U.S. military, we’re going to find problems on college campuses just as systemic as our troops faced.”

Ball State University Aims to Change Culture with Think About It

As part of an ongoing effort to fight sexual violence on campus, and to comply with the requirements of the Campus SaVE Act, Ball State University will be using the online-training program Think About It to increase awareness about sexual assault amongst their student body. All incoming freshmen will be required to take the training program, which integrates substance abuse and sexual assault training in a single interactive course.

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