Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) today announced they have led a bipartisan coalition of Senators to reintroduce the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, legislation to combat sexual assault on college and university campuses by protecting students and by strengthening accountability and transparency for colleges and universities. Gillibrand and Grassley are reintroducing this legislation with Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark Warner (D-VA).
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would reform the way colleges and universities address and report incidents of sexual assault that take place on their campuses, and it would help protect both survivors and accused students by ensuring that schools have a uniform and fair process for investigating and conducting campus disciplinary proceedings. This legislation would incentivize colleges to protect students and professionalize their responses to sexual assault. It would create new resources and support services for survivors and set new notification requirements for both survivors and accused students involved in the campus disciplinary process.
“Sexual assault is pervasive in colleges and universities all over the country, yet Congress has not done nearly enough to address this crisis,” said Senator Gillibrand. “For far too long institutions have gotten away with sweeping this problem under the rug. Students are demanding that Congress take this problem seriously, and we must listen to them. That’s why I am proud to reintroduce my bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which would hold colleges and universities accountable and help give survivors the support they need. I urge my colleagues to take this issue seriously and fight with us to pass this bipartisan bill.”
“When something as traumatic as sexual assault occurs on campus, students need a place they can go for support and unbiased information about their rights,” said Senator Grassley. “This bill takes active steps forward to help facilitate communication and support between universities, students and law enforcement, as well as foster a positive sense of community on campus.”
“For our students to succeed, they must be safe on college and university campuses,” said Senator Hassan. “By ensuring that resources are in place for sexual assault survivors and encouraging higher education institutions to improve their responses to the reporting of sexual assault, this bipartisan legislation is critical to changing the culture around sexual assault on campuses and keeping our young people safe.”
“Sexual assault is a serious matter that has no place on college campuses or anywhere else,” said Senator Ernst. “This bipartisan legislation will make campuses safer, provide critical resources for survivors, and institute important reforms to the ways universities handle sexual assault cases so victims are fairly heard.”
“It’s unacceptable that sexual assault on college campuses too often goes unpunished, and it’s time to hold colleges and universities accountable for the safety and well-being of their students,” said Senator Rubio. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation to protect and empower survivors, reform the way institutions handle sexual assault cases, and ultimately help ensure these cases are handled in the criminal justice system as the serious crimes that they are.”
“This bill’s message is clear: the days of victim-blaming and sweeping the scourge of sexual violence under the rug are over. Schools haven’t earned survivors’ trust that they’ll receive a fair process, and without it, fewer sexual assaults are reported, punished, or prevented in the first place. Our bipartisan legislation requires basic accountability for schools that have for far too long deprioritized the stories, advice, and experiences of assault survivors and advocates,” said Senator Blumenthal.
“Too many sexual assault incidents are going unreported, and students aren’t receiving the support services they need to help them through the reporting process. This has to change,” said Senator Capito. “The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is one way we can stop this trend, which is why I was proud to join my colleagues in reintroducing this important piece of legislation. This bill takes clear steps to help those in West Virginia and around the country affected by sexual assault by educating campus personnel, strengthening law enforcement response, creating transparency, and establishing support services for survivors. By coming together to pass this legislation, we can truly affect change in this area.”
“Sexual assault is a serious crime and a problem on college campuses nationwide. This is a bipartisan step toward ensuring campus sexual assault cases are handled with fairness, professionalism and transparency. It will help institutions more effectively adjudicate sexual assault cases and hold accountable schools that fail to do so,” said Senator Reed.
“Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the nation, so it’s imperative that we reform our laws to better respond to survivors as they come forward and seek justice,” said Senator Shaheen. “This bipartisan bill makes necessary, common-sense reforms that improve transparency and accountability on college campuses so we can ensure that students are supported and institutions are accountable for how they process sexual assault cases. Keeping students and college communities safe and empowering survivors with the tools they need must always remain a top priority as we work to prevent and combat sexual violence.”
“In recent years, the brave individuals behind the #MeToo movement have successfully increased public awareness and discussion about sexual assault and harassment, and Congress has a responsibility to support these efforts with legislation that focuses on preventing sexual assault in colleges and universities across the nation,” said Senator Warner. “I am very proud to reintroduce the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which demands greater transparency, consistency, and accountability from our institutions of higher learning.”
Specifically, this legislation would do the following:
- Establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors: Colleges and universities would be required to designate Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to assist survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. Sexual Assault Response Coordinators would 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 law enforcement. Schools would 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.
- Require fairness in the campus disciplinary process: All schools would be required to use one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and would no longer be allowed to have athletic departments or other subgroups handle complaints. Schools would be required to provide written notification to the accused as well as the survivor of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision. The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding, and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.
- Ensure minimum training standards for on-campus personnel: This legislation would ensure that everyone from the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings receives specialized training so that they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
- Create historic new transparency requirements: For the first time, students at every college and university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new biennial survey would be standardized and confidential, with the results published online so that parents and high school students could make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education would 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 and requirements of the Clery Act.
- Ensure coordination with law enforcement: This legislation would require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding (MOU) with each local law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction to report to a campus as a first responder. These MOUs would ensure that the school and law enforcement clearly delineate duties 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.
- Establish stiffer penalties for 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. The bill would also increase penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation, from the current penalty of $35,000 per violation. Financial penalties collected from institutions in violation would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program, administered 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 and interpersonal violence on college campuses and sharing such research with peer institutions and the Department of Education.
Gillibrand has been one of the leading voices in the Senate in combatting sexual assault on college campuses. Last fall, Gillibrand called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Trump Administration to get additional input from sexual assault survivors prior to releasing its proposed new rule on Title IX. In May 2018, Gillibrand and Senator Claire McCaskill wrote a letter calling out Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for rolling back Title IX protections and demanding the Department of Education release detailed information on all Title IX cases. Gillibrand and McCaskill’s May letter came following reports that under DeVos’s leadership, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is dismissing civil rights cases that they consider burdensome.