New York, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was joined in her midtown office today by State University of New York (SUNY) Commissioner of University Police Bruce McBride, SUNY Canton President Zvi Szafran and other SUNY representatives – the largest university system in the country – in becoming the first university system to announce its support of bipartisan efforts to combat sexual assaults at colleges and universities by bolstering campus’ abilities to assist victims and foster a safe learning environment for students. Also supporting the effort are Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Leslie Crocker Snyder, the founder of the first sex crimes prosecution bureau in the country and the co-author of New York State’s rape shield law, in addition to several student survivors making their voices heard in support of the recently introduced bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act.
The bipartisan bill supported by 8 Democratic and 7 Republican Senators is intended to confront a scourge of sexual violence against students on college campuses by protecting and empowering students, and strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions—including establishing stiff penalties for non-compliance with the legislation’s new standards for training, data and best practices. The legislation also calls for a groundbreaking anonymous annual survey of all students and colleges and universities to provide a complete picture of the sexual assault problem to students and parents.
“We should never accept the fact that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault as soon as they step onto a college campus. But today they are. And it has to end,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The best way to accomplish this goal is through transparency and accountability to flip the incentives that currently reward keeping sexual assault in the shadows. We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer. Students deserve real safety and accountability instead of empty promises. Simply put, they deserve action, because the price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. I want to especially thank and commend SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher for her leadership in ensuring SUNY is at the forefront of the battle to end sexual assault on campus. It makes me proud as a New Yorker to know SUNY is so committed to ensuring students safety. I hope other colleges and universities across New York and the country follow her lead and embrace this much needed reform.”
“SUNY has a long and unwavering commitment to combating sexual assault and we strongly support Senator Gillibrand in her efforts to make this pressing issue a national priority just as we have done here in New York,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “With resources, training, expert and caring staff from law enforcement to attorneys to student affairs all working together to protect and assist students, SUNY can and should be a national model. Under Senator Gillibrand’s leadership Washington is coalescing and is poised to act, making college campuses safer so we can grow our public mission of educating more students and educating them better than anywhere else in the world.”
“The scourge of sexual violence against female undergraduates is as shocking as it is unacceptable,” said Manhattan Borough President Brewer. “Colleges and universities need to do more to confront this problem – and in New York City that means crimes that happen off-campus as well as on them. I am encouraged by the bipartisan support in Congress for the Campus Safety and Accountability Act and hope for its swift passage.”
“We have been fighting for fair treatment of rape and sexual abuse victims for over 40 years, eliminating unfair evidentiary requirements, shielding victims from irrelevant and brutal cross-examination about their prior sex lives and trying to prevent their re-victimization in the courtroom,” said Leslie Crocker Snyder. “The Gillibrand bi-partisan bill is another vital step forward in this continuing effort in the university context. I am particularly happy to see provisions that immunize victims from issues like ‘under-age drinking’ which many universities, and those who run them, have used as an excuse to abdicate any responsibility in these incredibly serious cases.”
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, New York State colleges alone reported 365 forcible sex offenses. The latest available statistics show that approximately 19 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault. Because many of these crimes are not reported, that number could be substantially higher.
A 2000 Justice Department report estimated that less than 5 percent of victims of rape attending college report their attack. An investigative series from the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Public Integrity completed in 2010 found that in many cases, victims wishing to report sexual assault experienced confusion over how to report, confusion over acceptable standards of conduct and definitions of rape and sexual assault, and a fear of punishment for activities preceding some assaults, such as underage drinking.
Today, an American woman who attends college is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than a woman who does not attend college. At the same time, institutions of higher education across the country have been unable, or unwilling, to adequately address the problem. The current lax oversight of the federal laws on the books has the perverse effect of incentivizing colleges to encourage non-reporting, under-reporting, and non-compliance with the already weak standards under current federal law.
The bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act will flip the incentives and make it in the schools’ immediate best interest to take proactive steps to protect their students and rid their campuses of sexual predators.
Provisions of the bipartisan legislation include:
· New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors: Under this legislation, colleges and universities will be required to designate Confidential Advisors who will serve as a confidential resource for victims of assaults committed against a student. The role of Confidential Advisors will be to coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, to provide information about options for reporting, and to provide guidance or assistance, at the direction of the survivor, in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. To encourage individuals to come forward with reports about sexual violence, schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation in good faith, such as underage drinking, in the process of reporting a sexual violence claim.
· Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel: Currently, a chronic lack of training of on-campus personnel hampers sexual assault investigations and disciplinary processes, often resulting in negative outcomes for survivors. This legislation ensures that everyone from the Confidential Advisors, to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings, will now receive specialized training to ensure they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
· New Historic 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 annual 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.
· Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement: All schools will now be required to use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints of sexual violence for members of that subgroup alone. This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information so that when an assault 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 don’t comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1% of the institution’s operating budget. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all financial 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.
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 report information on crime on and around campuses and provide victims with select rights and resources.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is supported by a growing bipartisan coalition of 15 Senators including Gillibrand: 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.), Mark Begich (D-AK), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The Senators have been working together for months to examine federal, state, and local policies, collect feedback from stakeholders, and craft bipartisan legislation to better protect and empower students, and hold both perpetrators and institutions accountable.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act is also supported by some of the leading advocacy groups in the country including: End Rape on Campus, RAINN (“Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network,” the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization), Know Your IX, SAFER (Students Active For Ending Rape), V-Day (the global activist movement to end violence against women and girls), SurvJustice and Generation Progress.