By Mary Beth Marklein at USA Today
Colleges would be required to keep track of incidents of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking that take place on or near their campuses under proposed regulations to be published Friday by the Department of Education.
The proposals also would allow both accusers and the accused to bring an “advisor of their choice” to campus disciplinary proceedings. Colleges also would have to provide more information, including a list of possible sanctions, about how disciplinary cases involving sexual violence are handled. Left unaddressed was any definition of consent, a contentious issue that is often at the core of campus sexual assault cases.
The proposals, drafted by a federal panel, the members of which included students who have reported being sexually assaulted, are designed to address growing concerns about sexual violence on college campuses.
They grew out of federal legislation enacted last year as part of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and add to existing federal requirements, including compiling statistics on sexual assaults and meeting obligations under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
“These new rules strengthen schools’ capacity to provide safer college campuses for students and to keep everyone better informed about campus security policies and procedures,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement.
Questions about sexual assault policies in higher education have emerged as a national issue in recent years as more young women file complaints with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights about how their cases are handled by campus administrators.
The Obama administration took up the cause this year, creating a task force in January and releasing in May a list of 55 colleges under investigation for possible violations of federal law over the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Among them: Harvard, the University of Chicago, Dartmouth College and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
On Thursday at Dartmouth, a revised student disciplinary policy for charges of sexual assault went into effect. The new policy requires that an independent investigator look into complaints and calls for mandatory expulsion in some cases of sexual assault. Other schools, including the University of North-Carolina Chapel Hill and Amherst, have developed policies in response to cases on their campuses.
The growing momentum in support of women who have been assaulted has spurred a wave of complaints by men who have been punished — in some cases suspended from campus — after being accused of assault. Their legal strategies differ, but most argue that the campus judicial process was weighed against them.
In a letter this month to the Office for Civil Rights, lawyers for a Brown University student who was suspended and eventually withdrew after being accused of sexual assault described the disciplinary process as “Kafkaesque.” Lawsuits have been filed, many in recent weeks, against a number of colleges, including Occidental College, Kenyon College and the University of Michigan.
In responding to concerns raised on their campuses, some colleges “have let the pendulum swing too far in the wrong direction,” said Brett Sokolow, CEO of the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management Group, a law and consulting firm. He said he has taken on some sexual assault cases on behalf of men in which both parties had been drinking heavily before having sex. “It’s a trend that really needs to be nipped quickly. We have to provide equal dignity for all students,” Sokolow said.
Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said some of the proposals aren’t forceful enough in protecting the rights of the accused. “Their futures are really on the line,” he said. “They deserve that kind of fair shake.”
Citing research that says as many as one in five women on campus will be sexually assaulted before graduation, the federal panel recommended several steps, including campus surveys to better understand the extent of the problem, engaging men in prevention efforts, and creating clear procedures for reporting incidents of sexual assault.
Draft proposals, being published in the Federal Register, recommend:
• Adding gender identity and national origin as categories of bias under existing campus crime laws.
• Adopting the FBI’s definition of rape.
• Requiring institutions to ensure that disciplinary proceedings in response to alleged incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking are prompt, fair and impartial.
• Strengthening protections for victim confidentiality while helping victims to access support, services, and disciplinary and legal options.
• Specifying requirements for programs to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, including prevention and awareness programs and campaigns.