Gillibrand Pushes Bill to Fight Rape

March 11, 2015

At Niagara Gazette

One of the biggest concerns for countless parents is whether they can afford to send their children to college. The present-day cost is virtually prohibitive.

To compound matters, there is another factor now that weighs heavily on the parents and the students: How safe will they be on the college campus of their choice? Though the statistics on rape cases and related assaults have been challenged, the harsh evidence gleaned from police reports proves the problem needs to be addressed. A number of cases have been documented in the Buffalo-Niagara area.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, has re-introduced a stronger version of her bi-partisan bill, “The Campus Accountability and Safety Act.” The legislation is based on vital input from victims, students, colleges and universities, law enforcement officials and advocates. The bill will force universities to adopt standard practices for weighing sexual charges and to survey students on the prevalence of assault.

Gillibrand’s efforts come at a critical time, when the U.S. Department of Education data from 2013 — the latest figures available — shows more than 380 forcible sex offenses on campuses across the state.

Nationwide, that same year, the total exceeded 5,000. What troubles women on campuses is that too often such crimes are handled strictly by the university security staff and not regular by police agencies.

The result: the incidents are sometimes considered an internal matter, probably in the interest of protecting the school’s reputation. How many parents would agree to sending their daughter to a college where crimes committed on campus are not always reported to the proper authorities who will conduct a thorough probe.

The senator and a bipartisan group of 11 colleagues have shaped the legislation to coincide with the releases later this month of “The Hunting Ground,” a documentary film that spotlights the need to combat rape on the college campus.

“The Hunting Ground” is not without its critics. It has come under attack for using “disputed statistics” on the prevalence of college assaults and for condemning colleges across the country for failing to help victims. Some critics even complain that Gillibrand, in her drive to capitalize on a popular issue, is ignoring due process for men accused of sexual assault. Joseph Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, says that both accusers and accused suffer from bad university processes for handling assault allegations.

In responding to Cohn, Gillibrand makes a valid point: What’s currently taking place on college campuses serves no one. It doesn’t serve the victim and it doesn’t serve the accused.