Q&A: Campus Sexual Assault
With U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley
Q: Why are you leading a bipartisan effort to reform the way colleges and universities address sexual assaults on their campuses?
A: Around this time of year, moms and dads across America celebrate the achievements of their high school graduates. It’s also college admissions season. Right now acceptance and rejection letters are reaching prospective students. It is decision time for students and families. The biggest concerns typically weighing heavily on the minds of parents and college-bound students are how to pay for school, to avoid leaving college saddled with crushing debt and to graduate with a job, in addition to determining which college will provide the best value and best meet the needs of the prospective student. Another emerging, serious concern that factors into the decision for parents and students is campus safety. A growing awareness about the safety and security of students, specifically sexual assault, merits the attention of parents, students, policymakers, school officials and law enforcement. During the month of April, advocacy groups use the opportunity to raise awareness about sexual violence and assault to help build effective, year-round strategies for prevention and response. A broad coalition of civic leaders, educators, employers, government officials, health care professionals and law enforcement authorities works in communities across the country to stop sexual violence at our most sacred institutions of American life. From the nation’s military, to college campuses, and places of work and worship, we must do more to prevent sexual assault, abuse and violence in society.
Q: How will your proposed legislation help solve the problem of sexual violence on college campuses?
A: The Campus Accountability and Safety Act sends a clear signal to families and the leadership of America’s institutions of higher education: sexual assault on college and university campuses must stop. Sexual violence is not a topic that college admissions officers want to talk about with prospective families. But I’m working with fellow senators to make sure our colleges have the tools they need to prevent and respond to sexual violence and that families and students have up-to-date facts and the services they deserve to give them peace of mind. Quantifying the prevalence of sexual violence on college campuses isn’t a simple undertaking due to underreporting and flaws in the reporting process. But even if it were “only” one victim, that’s one victim too many. Our package of reforms for the first time would require biennial, confidential, standardized student surveys to every college and university in America to provide better transparency. Results for each school would be posted online along with information about pending investigations and final resolutions regarding sexual violence among the respective student populations. Sunshine is the best disinfectant and improving transparency leads to better accountability. Our bill would establish new on-campus resources and support services for reporting dating violence, sexual assault and stalking for student survivors. Colleges would have designated Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, who can provide information and support to survivors regarding their options for reporting to law enforcement or campus authorities without automatically triggering a campus investigation that they may not be ready for. While our bill does not focus on campus disciplinary proceedings, it would enhance notification requirements for both accusers and the accused and establish a uniform disciplinary process so there is not a double standard for athletes or other categories of students. Furthermore, to cut through bureaucratic red tape that gets in the way of solving crimes, our bill would require colleges and universities to reach standing agreements with local law enforcement regarding jurisdiction and responsibilities. Finally, our bill would increase financial penalties for violations of non-disclosure and failure to report crime on or near their campus as required under the federal Clery Act. Fees collected under this provision would create a competitive grant program for colleges and universities to identify best practices to prevent and respond to sexual assault, dating violence and stalking. As this generation leaves the nest to spread its wings, these campus safety reforms are smart measures to take to help keep college students safe and sound at their home away from home.