Senators Introduce Campus Accountability and Safety Act

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The Campus Accountability and Safety Act introduced in the United States Senate could alter the way colleges are made to deal with sexual assault claims in the near future. A bipartisan group of 12 senators “proposed to ramp up the federal government’s ability to penalize colleges that mishandle sexual assault cases, while imposing significant new transparency requirements,” reports The Huffington Post. A previous version of this bill was also introduced in 2014 that was not enacted.

Under the new bill, all colleges would be required to follow the same disciplinary procedures for sexual assault, which would involve an allocation of staff members to help the victims of sexual harassment, violence and stalking. Institutions would also be required to notify all parties involved within 24 hours of an administrative decision regarding the outcome of a sexual assault investigation and whether disciplinary action would be taken.

Senator Claire McCaskill said that the bill was intended as a way to secure the rights of students and hold colleges accountable in the investigations, as reported by the International Business Times:

 “To truly curb these crimes, we’ve got to have a road map for colleges and universities to increase responsiveness when crimes occur, better protect and empower students, and establish better-informed guidelines that actually have some teeth.”

Sexual assault on campus has been a recent focus as the alleged mishandling of sexual assault at the University of Virginia in 2012, written about in a recent Rolling Stone publication, has raised awareness about how colleges deal with the issue. As a result of an increased push for college accountability, the fines associated with violations of the Clery Act, which ensures the proper tracking of these issues annually, were proposed to increase to a cap of $150,000 from $35,000.

In addition to this, violation of Title IX, the federal anti-sex discrimination law, could potentially result in a fine of up to 1% of an institution’s total operating budget and potential for a complete removal of federal funding. The Harvard Crimson reports that Peter Lake, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, stated that the bill could mean dramatic changes to larger institutions such as Harvard especially:

“Complex schools with big budgets are definitely going to be very aware of these changes,” Lake said. “No question that it’s going to have an impact on those places.”

The result for larger institutions could mean a shift to stricter monitoring and a re-allocation of resources to protect themselves from a violation of Title IX. Larger institutions’ annual reporting of these cases would also be more complex, with a higher student population meaning more cases to deal with.

Several members of Congress also spoke vehemently on the issue expressing their support for the changes, with Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney stating in an article on her website that she is “deeply disturbed by the shocking statistics and accounts of sexual violence on campus.

Overal, the proposal hopes to bring new light to the way these issues are handled so that students feel safer on campus.

“Sexual assault is not some mere code of conduct violation,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in the release. “It is a major criminal offense. Like with any crime, weak enforcement makes the problem worse. This bill will start to turn that around.”