By KAITLYN WIEDMANN
Aiming to change the way rape and sexual assault cases are handled and reported on college campuses, Sen. Mark Warner and his colleagues have reintroduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act. This act, an amendment to The Clery Act, is a bipartisan effort that will require campus officials to adhere to standard training and consistent reporting practices. Its goal is to empower survivors by making sure they have access to support services and are in control of their own care and the reporting process.
80 percent of rape against female students goes unreported to police, which is partially due to current legislation making it possible, and even beneficial in some cases, for colleges to cover incidences up. There is very little transparency. Not all institutions have properly trained officials or protocols, and some subgroups, such as student athletes, tend to receive unfair protections against accusations. CASA intends to change all of that.
Under CASA, all schools will be required to use the same disciplinary process for all complaints, which will prevent them from being handed off to individual departments to resolve internally. It is hoped that this will make the process treat every situation equally.
“It’s best to treat all cases the same, instead of changing things on a case-by-case basis,” said history major Joe Sartori.
Schools will also be required to give all involved in the disciplinary process specialized training in order to be able to more thoroughly understand both the physical and psychological aspects of the crime.
CASA will prevent misunderstandings with local law enforcement over jurisdiction, since schools will be required to enter a memorandum of understanding with them ahead of time. This makes it clear who has what responsibilities and how information will be shared, which allows the schools and law enforcement agencies to cooperate and deal with these crimes more efficiently.
However, victims will never be forced to report sexual violence if they do not want to. Schools will need to have designated Sexual Assault Response Coordinators who work with students to ensure they have access to support and services. It will also be the Coordinator’s responsibility to make sure that students know all of their options regarding reporting the crime.
Survivors are completely in charge of how they want their specific case to be handled, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators are mainly there to ensure they get the support and guidance they need. The proposed system has received positive feedback.
“It is beneficial both for victims and for prospective students; it would make them feel more secure knowing they have an advocate,” said Cathleen Smith.
Students feel that the support the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator can survive is important in the process.
“It’s good that people will have someone to go to,” said senior Matt Smith.
Another aspect of CASA that has the potential to help prospective students is a new survey given to students in all upper level educational institutions about their experiences with sexual violence at school.
The survey would be held every two years and be completely confidential, with all results published online. The names of schools with pending investigations would also become publicly available.
Dawnielle Woodman, a geography major, is one student who supports this idea.
“Transparency is most important, there’s been way too much cover-up,” Woodman said.
The survey is something that is supported by students and parents alike.
Jeanne Cotton, both a parent and student, thinks the survey is great. “We want more transparency and accountability. As a parent, it would affect my decision on where to send my daughter,” said Cotton.
Some, such as Woodman, feel like more should be done than just a survey but recognizes that there are privacy boundaries that need to be respected.
Finally, CASA will change the protections it offers to be more in favor of students, than schools, for any violations. Students who reveal a non-violent crime in good faith, such as underage drinking, while reporting sexual violence can no longer be punished by the school. On the other hand, schools themselves will face harsher penalties for not abiding by the requirements laid out by CASA.
Colleges and universities previously faced a maximum fine of $35,000 for Clery Act violations, which under CASA will be increased to $150,000 and they may be fined up to one percent of their operating budget for failing to comply with CASA requirements.
While this money will be distributed back to schools in order to fund prevention and treatment of sexual violence, some students worry that this will not be enough to cover all of the costs of upholding CASA regulations. Cotton wonders if the states or universities themselves will be funding the act, while Cathleen Smith worries that it will fall on the students.
“I’m thinking it may raise tuition,” Smith said.