Press Release

Gillibrand Leads Bipartisan Senate Coalition Urging White House Task Force to Adopt Key Recommendations to Combat Campus Sexual Assaults

Apr 21, 2014

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a letter today by a bipartisan coalition of seven U.S. Senators sent last week to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault urging consideration of three key proposals as part of their upcoming recommendations that would immediately address the disturbing prevalence of sexual assaults on campus. Studies show nearly one in five women in college nationwide will be victims of attempted or actual sexual assault in the course of their undergraduate careers. Senator Gillibrand co-authored a letter to the White House Task Force along with Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Patty Murray (D-WA). The task force, which was announced by President Obama in January of this year, is expected to report recommendations this week.  

To create more accountability and transparency, the lawmakers recommended that the U.S. Department of Education assign an employee dedicated exclusively to coordinating both Title IX and Clery sexual violence and criminal complaints, a standardized, anonymous survey of campus sexual assaults administered annually across all schools, and creating a user-friendly, searchable database on the status of all Title IX and Clery Act complaints, compliance reviews, investigations, and resolution agreements.

“When our young people go on to higher education, it should be an opportunity to learn, grow, pursue their dreams and prepare for their future careers,” said Senator Gillibrand. “But the price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. I urge the White House Task Force to seriously consider our proposals that would immediately address the scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses and help keep our students safe.”

“College students should be worried about cramming for exams or fitting in time for their internship, not about becoming victims of sexual assault. Ensuring that students’ complaints get processed and providing better access to information about the extent of the problem on campuses is an important step towards fostering a more respectful environment,” said Senator Dean Heller. “Sexual assault has no place on our campuses. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to help address this unfortunate issue and provide victims with much-needed confidence as they continue their education.”

“Sexual assault is a staggeringly pervasive scourge – not a women’s problem, a societal problem. On too many campuses, even now it’s unrecognized and underreported, so only a fraction of survivors receive the support and justice they need and deserve,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Conducting roundtables on campuses across Connecticut, I’ve listened to survivors, advocates, college officials, and families about the urgent need for stronger federal action. I call on the White House to heed our call for proactive intervention, because there can be no bystanders in this fight against sexual assault.”

“When young people go off to college, they – and their parents – deserve to know that they will be safe from sexual violence,” Senator Boxer said. “I thank the Obama Administration for taking this epidemic seriously, and urge the task force to hold schools accountable for protecting students.”

“The reporting process for sexual assault on college campuses needs to be as well-coordinated as possible in order to fully inform students and parents,” Senator Grassley said.  “Our recommendations would help make improvements to the current system by working to gather information in an even-handed way throughout higher education and to establish meaningful transparency with that information.”

“It is our responsibility to support the next generation of leaders as they pursue higher education,” said Senator Hirono. “Sexual assault has no place on college campuses, and we must work to end this violence. Giving students and parents knowledge about campus safety and holding colleges and the federal government accountable are solid steps we can take to ensure that students are safe. I urge the White House Task Force to adopt these recommendations.” 

“As we work to shine a light on the actual status of sexual assault at our nation’s colleges and universities, updating and expanding our current policies and protections must be a matter of extreme urgency,” said Senator Patty Murray. “I applaud President Obama and Vice President Biden for taking that first step with the creation of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and am proud to join Senator Gillibrand and our colleagues in presenting what I believe are serious proposals to address what is becoming a tragic epidemic. When our nation’s students weigh the important life decision of pursuing higher education, they should not be forced to question whether their health and safety is protected based on the institution they choose to attend.”    

In a letter to Co-Chairs of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, the Senators wrote, “We are writing to you today in support of your efforts to combat campus sexual assault, and to propose additional steps for consideration that we believe the Administration should take to address this alarming problem… With the benefit of having listened to student survivors and advocates among other experts, we respectfully submit the following proposals for your consideration that can be acted upon immediately.”

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses reported nearly 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2012, putting college women at a higher risk for sexual assault than their non-college bound peers.

The Department of Education handles laws covering sexual assault on campus. Title IX, a federal gender equity law, requires colleges and universities to respond to sexual assault and harassment cases on campus and have policies in place to help prevent such incidents. The Jeanne Clery Act mandates that colleges and universities must report information on crime on and around campuses and provide victims with select rights and resources.

The group of lawmakers made the following recommendations to combat the growing crisis of campus sexual assaults:

Streamline and Enhance Accountability for Higher Education Crime & Safety within the U.S. Department of Education. Currently, the Secretary of Education has 28 separate offices that directly report to him or an Undersecretary, but there is not a single office solely dedicated to addressing issues of violence prevention, sexual or otherwise, for colleges and universities. Compliance and enforcement of the Clery Act are housed in the Federal Student Aid office which reports to the Undersecretary while the Office for Civil Rights in charge of Title IX enforcement reports directly to the Secretary of Education. To streamline the process, ensure information-sharing, and strengthen enforcement, the Senators called for coordinating both Clery and Title IX violations that involve criminal acts or physical violence under one person within the U.S. Department of Education who would then report directly to the Education Secretary. 

Require All Schools to Conduct Standardized, Anonymous Survey of Campus Sexual Assaults. To begin to hold colleges and universities accountable, the Senators recommended requiring all schools to administer a standardized, anonymous survey on campus sexual assaults that would be published annually online, similar to the Department of Defense’s own SAPRO survey.  Sexual assault remains one of the nation’s most underreported crimes and the data under the Clery Act does not provide an accurate picture of safety on campus. There is currently a disincentive for colleges and universities to increase reporting since it puts them at a competitive disadvantage with other schools. This new standard for transparency would incentivize institutions to proactively address the growing crisis of campus sexual assault, encourage victims to report, and give students and parents the tools needed to assess campus safety as a criteria for choosing a college or university.

Create a Searchable Database on All Pending and Resolved Title IX and Clery Act Complaints, Compliance Reviews and Investigations. The lawmakers called on the Department of Education to create a centralized, user-friendly, searchable database that updates and monitors the number of pending investigations, enforcement actions and voluntary resolution agreements for all Title IX and Clery Act complaints and compliance reviews. This valuable data would help arm consumers with information on the number of outstanding complaints and reviews and how those challenges are resolved. The Senators pointed out that these results, along with the annual survey, could help create a “Campus Safety Metric” as part of the Department of Education’s College Scorecard, which is used by prospective students and families to make more informed decisions on which institutions to attend.