On June 3, 2014, Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal held the second of three roundtable meetings in preparation of a proposal for legislation to improve response to sexual assault on campus. This most recent session focused on Title IX, a law passed in 1972 that aimed to create gender equality in educational programs that receive federal funding. A provision of that bill was a guarantee of civil rights for all students. The first roundtable discussion focused on the Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act, a provision to 2013’s reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The discussion ultimately led to a proposal of increased standards in enforcing Title IX. McCaskill stated that the information gleaned from all three roundtable discussions would lead to the changes proposed in official legislation.
In recent months, there has been massive national push to eliminate sexual violence in colleges. This includes the federal government with the White House recently issuing guidelines on responding to sexual assault, student and victim advocacy groups and congress. Student and victim advocacy groups have cited Title IX civil liberties in the fight against sexual violence as many state that any university’s suppression of accusations or failure to properly respond to an accusation is in fact a violation of the civil liberties under Title IX. In recent news, there have been several major universities accused of mishandling sexual assault claims.
Senator McCaskill began her campaign to focus on sexual assault in college following a major legislative victory in handling military rape cases. Sen. McCaskill was a sex crimes prosecutor before becoming a senator. The most recent roundtable discussion picks up on the theme of using the provisions of Title IX to combat sexual violence. She proposes making stricter penalties for colleges found guilty of Title IX violations. While Title IX gives authority to the Department of Education to revoke federal funding entirely in such cases, no college or university has actually had a full cut to funding, according to THE Chronicle. In most cases, penalties vary from warnings to fines and some decrease in funding. McCaskill notes that while there is a lot of power in the potential penalties, cutting federal aid entirely would punish “way too many innocent people.” For this reason, much of the discussion was centered on how to improve the penalty system.
In addition to the three senators, the roundtable hosted advocates for victims, college administrators and U.S Department of Justice representative Jocelyn Smith. The discussion illuminated how one of the challenges in enforcing Title IX is a lack of centralization and national standards. Many universities struggle with their sexual assault response strategies due to the lack of clarity. One of the proposals would be to create a centralized system with understandable standards. Another issue was the financial penalties. While wealthier institutions could easily manage financial and legal penalties, more impoverished universities would struggle, creating an inequality of enforcement standards.
The final roundtable discussion is scheduled for June 16. This discussion will focused on the criminal-justice system and campus administration as they relate to perpetrators of sex crimes on college campuses. It is likely the final version of the bill will follow shortly after the final roundtable meeting. If it includes the suggested alterations to Title IX, college campuses will need to implement those new standards.
Want to join the campaign to eliminate sexual assault on campus but are unsure on how to implement the new federal guidelines? Join us for “Stop Sexual Assault: White House Guidelines to Curb Violence Against Women” on July 15
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Kevin – Higher Ed Hero