WASHINGTON – Anna relived the worst moment of her life to the New York Times earlier this month.
Barely through with the first few weeks of college at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva,N.Y.,she was sexually assaulted by three football players.
To make matters worse,her case was adjudicated by a panel of her peers,who found her assailants not guilty.
Anna and her mother,Susan,who asked members of the media not to use their last name,joined a group of eight senators to announce a bill that would change how universities and colleges investigate sexual assault.
“This epidemic must be stopped,” Susan said.
The Campus Accountability and Safety Act would establish a new framework for investigations and establish penalties to encourage reporting.
Campus sexual assault has remained in the national spotlight during the past few months as survivors of sexual assault have started sharing their stories.
Those stories have had real effects – the U.S. Department of Education is investigating 55 schools for violating Title IX’s sexual assault requirements.
Sen. Claire McCaskill,D-Mo.,led the push to write the bill. Earlier this month,her office released a survey addressing the national climate of sexual assault. The survey found one in 10 campuses didn’t have a Title IX coordinator,and 41 percent of schools haven’t had a sexual assault investigation in five years. Additionally,20 percent of schools said their athletic departments had oversight of investigations involving athletes.
For the past several months,McCaskill has been holding roundtable discussions with people involved with campus safety.
Sen. Dean Heller,R-Nev.,said colleges should get used to publishing how they investigate sexual assault. One of his daughters is a rising sophomore in college,and he wishes his family had this information during the college-decision process.
“This bill has teeth,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte,R-N.H. One of the major criticisms of existing law is that the only penalty for not following the rules is for the Department of Education to cut all federal funding. This “nuclear option” has never been used.
The new bill includes a penalty of up to 1 percent of an institution’s operating budget as well as an increase of Clery Act penalties from $35,000 to $150,000. For a small private school such as Occidental College,the fine would amount to $978,000,and for a large public school such as Ohio State University,it would amount to $4.3 million. Both schools are among the 55 under investigation.
“We are done with the days of asking victims why they drank too much or why they wore the wrong thing,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal,D-Conn.,said.
Victim-blaming is one of the many reasons campus rape is underreported,so the senators included a provision requiring campuses to have confidential advisers to help students through the investigation process.
Annie Clark,founder of End Rape on Campus,said many survivors experience “institutional betrayal” when schools are more worried about their image than the safety of the survivor.
While studying at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill she was sexually assaulted. A campus administrator likened her attack to a football game,saying she should “look back at my mistakes.”
Clark ended her statements with a message to survivors: “You are not alone,it’s not your fault,and we believe you.”
The bill would also forbid any departments of a school – such as the athletic department – to conduct investigations,meaning all students would be treated the same “regardless if they can dunk a ball,” Sen. Marco Rubio,R-Fla.,said.
Senators were confident the bill would make it to President Barack Obama’s desk by the end of the year. McCaskill said it will be debated on the Senate floor in September. She’s also adamant about keeping the bill bipartisan. If another senator wants to sponsor the bill,she’s making him or her find another senator on the other side of the aisle to join.
“It’s a two-by-two approach,” she said.
Anna,speaking with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand,D-N.Y.,by her side said she hoped survivors would know they are no longer alone. Her parents urged her to transfer,but she plans to return to campus in the fall to help other survivors.
“We’re all in this together,” Anna said.
Reach reporter Daniel Wheaton at [email protected] or 202-236-9871. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.