Colleges and universities could be held more accountable to rape victims under legislation introduced Wednesday by a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by New York's Kirsten Gillibrand.
"My office has heard from many survivors about campus sexual assaults in America. These young women have been demanding that Congress help stop the endless wave of campus sexual assaults, and I share their outrage." New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, charges America is going through an "epidemic of campus sexual assault."
The Campus Safety and Accountability Act takes aim at sexual assaults on campuses by protecting and empowering students, and strengthening accountability and transparency for institutions—including establishing stiff penalties for non-compliance with the legislation’s new standards for training, data and best practices. Senator Gillibrand said the newly proposed legislation should strengthen college policies while also imposing penalties for schools that don't comply.
"If you are a young woman and you attend college in America, the odds jump that you'll be sexually assaulted at school, probably by somebody you know, from your class, your dorm, from a party or sports team. Our students deserve better than this. The price of college education should not include a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted," said Gillibrand.
The bill would require campuses to designate advocates who would confidentially discuss available options with victims and to develop an agreement with local law enforcement over how such cases are handled. It would also increase penalties for universities that did not comply.
Gillibrand contends that universities currently fear student applications would be jeopardized if sex crimes are publicized. "With this bill, underreporting will have stiff fines with real teeth. With this bill, students will have a place to receive the confidential counseling they deserve, survivors will work with advisors who have proper training, and high school kids across the country will have new criteria to consider as they sit down with their families to decide where to go to school."
Gillibrand says Suzanne Lyall's disappearance in the spring of 1998 from the University at Albany campus encouraged her involvement in combating sexual assault. Lyall has never been found.
UAlbany spokeman Karl Luntta says the university continues to pro-actively develop resources to assist and support all victims of sexual or relationship violence... "...through our advocacy center for sexual violence, and numerous campus resources and through training of staff and first responders and students, we are committed to providing a safe environment in which all our members are treated with dignity and respect. UAlbany takes the strongest possible stance against sexual violence in all forms."
The future of the bill, co-sponsored by four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate, is a bit fuzzy: Congress is heading out for a month-long recess. "I'm gonna be urging Harry Reid and asking him for floor time in September. I will take floor time as soon as I can before the election. If we're not allowed to have floor time, we only have about two weeks in September, then we'll do it right after the election. I'm very optimistic we'll get it done this year."
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that approximately 19 percent of undergraduate women have been the victims of sexual assault.