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New campus sexual assault bill introduced in Congress

Last week, Senator Tim Kaine and Representative Susan Davis introduced the “Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act” in their respective houses of Congress. We wrote about similar legislation introduced in 2014.

The SOS Campus Act would require colleges and universities that receive federal funding to designate an “advocate for campus sexual assault prevention and response . . . .” The advocate would be charged with “represent[ing] the interests of the student victim [of sexual assault].” The bill would also require the advocate to provide information to a student survivor about how to report a sexual assault to law enforcement, how to obtain emergency medical care, and information on other assistance services such as counseling and legal services. FIRE does not find these aspects of the bill objectionable, as they bolster the roles universities are traditionally equipped to fulfill — providing resources and education.

However, the bill also requires the advocate to “[a]ttend, at the request of the victim of sexual assault, any administrative or institution-based adjudication proceeding related to such assault as an advocate for the victim.” FIRE has long urged lawmakers to ensure that both student complainants and accused students have access to advocates of their choice in campus disciplinary hearings. We also believe that it is critical that those advocates be permitted to actively participate in the disciplinary process. SOS falls short on both counts. It does not require institutions to allow the advocates to fully participate in the campus proceedings, making them little more than potted plants. Moreover, by providing the right to an advocate for only one student in the disciplinary process, the SOS Campus Act, in its current form, cannot be called “equitable.”

Legislation on campus sexual assault should grapple with the rights and needs of both complainants and accused students. If the sponsors of SOS are open to adding more equitable procedural protections into their bill, we would welcome the opportunity to work with them.

FIRE will continue to update readers on the progress on this bill.

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