In what was a busy day on Capitol Hill yesterday, two bills were introduced addressing the issue of sexual assault on university campuses. FIRE issued a statement on the first bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA), yesterday, in which we praised some aspects of the proposed legislation and raised some concerns about other aspects of it.
The other bill, the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer in the Senate with a corresponding bill sponsored by Representative Susan Davis in the House of Representatives.
Pursuant to the latter legislation, the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA) would be amended to require institutions of higher education that receive federal funding (virtually all of them) to “designate an independent advocate for campus sexual assault prevention and response.” According to the bill, “the Advocate shall represent the interests of the student victim even when in conflict with the interests of the institution.” Among the advocate’s responsibilities would be to connect the alleged victim to important support services and law enforcement, but only if the alleged victim consents to this assistance.
Interestingly, the legislation also says that it will be the advocate’s responsibility 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 the accused enjoy the right to the advocacy of an attorney during campus adjudication proceedings. This bill does not do that.
There are certainly aspects of both of these bills that deserve praise, but there are also aspects that raise concern. Over the coming weeks, FIRE will continue to analyze these bills and work with lawmakers to address the areas where changes are necessary.