Buffalo, NY – At a round table meeting at University at Buffalo, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul were joined today by students and officials from University at Buffalo and other Western New York area colleges, as well as survivors, advocates, and law enforcement and discussed bolstering efforts to combat sexual violence on college campuses. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses in New York reported 388 forcible sex offenses and over 5,000 offenses nationwide in 2013.
Last week Gillibrand reintroduced a strengthened version of her bipartisan bill The Campus Accountability and Safety Act (S.590) after receiving input from survivors, students, colleges and universities, law enforcement, and advocates. Gillibrand’s legislation would flip the current incentives of a broken system to provide real accountability and transparency from higher education institutions. The legislation would professionalize the response to and reporting of sexual assaults that occur on campuses to better protect and empower survivors of campus sexual violence, while also protecting the rights of accused students.
The legislation would secure landmark reforms for how colleges and universities address and report incidents of sexual assault that occur on their campuses. It incorporates feedback from key stakeholders to strengthen how student surveys are conducted and strengthens newly required training standards. The provisions safeguard both survivors and accused students. It extends the amount of time survivors have to file a case with the Department of Education, and sets new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.
“Right now, some colleges and universities are more inclined to expel a student for cheating on an exam than for committing sexual assault,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We know this problem is pervasive and too often swept under the rug. This bipartisan bill is a new path forward to protect students by flipping the incentives and holding schools accountable. I am grateful to the survivors and advocates whose work inspired this legislation. Our work isn’t done, and now we need to work together to spotlight this problem, raise awareness, and organize around getting this bill passed so we can make our colleges safer and more transparent.”
“We all have a responsibility to help combat the culture of sexual assault and rape on college campuses,” Governor Cuomo said. “Senator Gillibrand has been a leader in this fight in Washington, and I commend her for the important work she has done and continues to do on this critically important issue. In New York, we’re fighting to enact the toughest and most comprehensive law in the nation to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Enough is Enough, and this year I urge all New Yorker’s to join our fight in combatting sexual assault on college campuses.”
“Sexual assault is all too prevalent on college campuses, which is why here in New York we’ve said “Enough is Enough” and we are committed to doing something about it,” said Lieutenant Governor Hochul. “Now is our defining moment to ensure that every college and university — both public and private — abides by the same set of standards so that victims have confidence to come forward without fear of retribution. Along with Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in Washington and Governor Cuomo’s actions at home, we are ready to bring fundamental change to a system in dire need of reform.”
“As SUNY adopts a uniform sexual assault policy across the university system, we feel strongly that ours can be an example for the nation, and I commend Senator Gillibrand for her continued leadership on this issue in Washington,” said State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “The Senator’s bill represents a critical step forward as we aim to ensure safe learning environments on college campuses across the country.”
“For many years, the University at Buffalo has had prevention and awareness programs, policies and practices in place to deal with reports of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and we have adjusted them over time to make them more effective and assure that they comport with new laws, regulations and agency guidance,” said Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director of UB’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Title IX coordinator. “We can always be doing more. Sexual assault prevention needs to be everyone’s responsibility.”
“On behalf of UB’s student body we welcome Senator Gillibrand’s dialogue on our campus, and we thank her for her leadership on the important issue of campus sexual assault,” said Minahil Khan, Student Representative to the University at Buffalo Council. “The Senator’s legislation would ensure that universities will hold perpetrators accountable, and I appreciate the powerful voice she has lent to students across the country.”
“For too long victims of sexual assault and intimate partner abuse have been suffering behind closed doors; traumatized, terrified , embarrassed, brain-washed into believing it’s their fault and paralyzed to move forward convinced no one will believe them or help them,” said Mary Murphy, Executive Director of the Family Justice Center in Buffalo. “Sen. Gillibrand’s leadership aimed at shining a spotlight on this issue and assisting victims via legislation is critical in ending this scourge on our society and holding abusers, and those who protect them, accountable for their actions.”
“I am pleased to be part of the discussion about sexual assaults and working toward enhanced reporting and support systems on our area campuses,” said Erie County Sheriff Timothy B. Howard. “My office dedicates a great deal of resources and manpower to prevent and investigate sexually related crimes. This roundtable is another opportunity to reinforce our message that sexual assaults are not tolerated.”
Key provisions of the legislation include:
• Establishes New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors: Colleges and universities will be required to designate Confidential Advisors to assist survivors of sexual harassment, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. Confidential Advisors will coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, provide information about options for reporting, and provide guidance or assistance—at the direction of the survivor—in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. Schools will no longer be allowed to sanction students who report sexual violence but reveal a non-violent student conduct violation in good faith, like underage drinking.
• Requires Fairness in Campus Disciplinary Process: All schools will now be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints. Schools must now provide written notification to the accused as well as the victim of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.
• Ensures Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: This legislation ensures that everyone from the Confidential Advisors to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings will receive specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
• Creates New Transparency Requirements: For the first time, students at every university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biannual survey will be standardized and anonymous, with the results published online so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education will also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to Title IX with respect to sexual violence.
• Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement: This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information so that when a crime occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
• Enforceable Title IX Penalties and Stiffer Penalties for Clery Act Violations: Schools that do not comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all federal student aid which is not practical and has never been done. The bill increases penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation from the current penalty of $35,000. Financial penalties collected from universities in violation will be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administrated by the Secretary of Education, for which colleges and universities can apply for the purpose of researching best practices for preventing and responding to sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.
Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges and universities have a legal obligation to provide an environment that is free from discrimination on the basis of sex in all education programs and activities. Sexual harassment, which includes sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX.
Gillibrand introduced the bipartisan legislation Thursday along with Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Gary Peters (D-MI.).