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Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

1 in 5 women undergrads sexually assaulted: Senators introduce new bill to help

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A bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill to hold colleges and universities more accountable to sexual assault victims.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that about 19 percent of undergraduate  woman have been victims of sexual assault. And that number is believed to be under-reported because of the nature of the crime.

From the Associated Press: 

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., led the effort, with lawmakers from both parties saying they have heard too many stories of campus assault and bungled cases. More than a half dozen senators stood with campus sexual assault victims on Capitol Hill as they announced the legislation.

At least two senators — Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Mark Warner, D-Va. — said that as fathers of college-age daughters, they want campuses to track the problem more effectively.

“There is no reason or excuse to demean, dismiss or deny the problem, and accountability has come,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Added Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa: “Sometimes a victim is treated worse than the person who committed the crime.”

The action on Capitol Hill further escalates the dialogue in Washington on an issue long handled locally. Earlier this year, a White House task force on campus sexual assault recommended a series of actions schools should take, and the Education Department took the unprecedented step of releasing the names of schools facing federal investigation under Title IX for the way they handle sexual abuse allegations.

So here is what the law would do:

From USA Today:

“A key provision would require colleges to conduct an annual, anonymous survey in which students would be asked about their experiences with sexual assault on campus. Colleges would be required to publish the results online “so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities,” a summary of the bill says.

The proposal would toughen sanctions against colleges that fail to report sexual assault crimes as required by federal law, raising the penalty from $35,000 per violation to $150,000 per violation. It also would fine schools up to 1% of their operating budgets if they fail to investigate reports of sexual assault on their campuses.

The idea is to “flip the incentives that currently reward (colleges for) keeping sexual assault in the shadows,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., one of the bill’s eight sponsors. “We will not allow these crimes to be swept under the rug any longer.”…

“McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight, earlier this month released a survey of a national sample of 236 colleges and universities that found that 41% had conducted no investigations of alleged sexual assaults over the past five years, even though some of the schools had reported sexual violence incidents during that time to the Department of Education.

From AP: 

“This bill would require campuses to designate advocates who would confidentially discuss available options with victims and to develop an agreement with local law enforcement over how such cases are handled. It would also increase penalties for universities that did not comply.

To encourage victims to come forward, the bill stipulates that schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation, such as underage drinking, in “good faith.” It also would require schools to survey their students to learn more about the scope of the problem and to use one uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings, not singling out groups such as athletic departments to independently handle such cases.

So what do you think: Do you believe the CDC number of 19 percent assaulted? Does that worry you to send your daughter off to college? Have you discussed sexual assault with your daughter in high school or before heading off to college? Do you think the colleges are doing enough now or turning a blind eye? Do you think these measures will help? 

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