New Sexual-Assault Bills: Possibly Better than Nothing

August 5, 2014

By Spencer Case at National Review Online

With the fall 2014 semester fast approaching, lawmakers introduced three bills last week to stem sexual violence on campuses. While some of the proposals could improve the status quo, none does anything to address legitimate concerns about the rights of the accused.

On Wednesday, Senators Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) and Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) announced support for the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). On the same day, Representatives Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) and Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) introduced the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) on Campus Sexual Assault Act. Finally, California Democrats from both houses, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Susan Davis, introduced the Survivor Outreach and Support (SOS) Campus Act.

McCaskill’s survey of the sexual-violence procedures on 440 campuses in early July provided some impetus for reform. The results indicated that 22 percent of the universities allow athletic departments to supervise disciplinary cases of sexual misconduct involving athletes more than 10 percent lacked a Title IX coordinator to determine whether they were running afoul the law; and a whopping 73 percent lacked protocols for interacting with law enforcement in response to accusations of sexual violence.

CASA, the bill sponsored by Rubio and McCaskill, aims to pick some of this low-hanging reform fruit.

“Now, no bill is going to solve every problem in the world,” Rubio said. “But I do think it advances the cause forward by creating a uniform system, where every single instance [of accusation of sexual assault] is treated the same. There is no special preference because someone can dunk a basketball, or throw a ball eighty yards down the field.”

In addition to these reforms, CASA would impose stiffer penalties on schools that violate the Clery Act, which requires institutions of higher learning to annually disclose information about crimes that occur on campuses. It would also ensure minimum training standards for on-campus officials to respond to sexual assault, and mandate the creation of “Confidential Advisors” to aid victims.

Like CASA, the HALT on Campus Assault Act would impose fines for violating Title IX. It would also restructure the Department of Education to unify enforcement efforts and mandate that universities conduct an annual campus climate survey.

The SOS Campus Act, the only one of these three bills not to be introduced with bipartisan support, requires universities to designate a victim’s advocate, whose responsibilities would include ensuring the victim has access to crisis counseling and attending, at the victim’s request, any administrative or institution-based adjudication proceedings.

Some of the measures in these bills are common sense. Joseph Cohn, the legislative and policy director for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), praised CASA for tightening the relationship between universities and law enforcement.