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Q&A: Sen. Bob Casey on his campus sexual assault bill


(Photo courtesy of U.S. Senator Bob Casey's office)

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Senator Bob Casey’s office)

Colleges and universities in the U.S. are now required to disclose incidents of domestic and dating violence, such as stalking, in their annual crime reports, thanks to a sexual assault reform bill that went into effect this academic year.

Introduced by Democratic Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey and Democratic New York Representative Carolyn Maloney, The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (SaVE Act) is among the more substantial updates to the Jeanne Clery Act, the 1990 sexual assault prevention bill requiring colleges and universities that receive federal funding to disclose campus crime data like rape, assault and robbery.

The SaVE Act aims to make sexual assault proceedings on campuses more transparent. For instance, both parties, the survivor and the accused, must now receive written outcomes of all disciplinary proceedings at the same time. (Survivors have claimed that the University of California university system, for example, did not contact them for information during the investigation process.)

It also mandates that survivors must receive a written copy of their rights to mental health resources and to change academic, living, working or transportation arrangements to avoid a hostile environment, among other provisions.

The act passed in 2013 as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. Casey touts it as “a huge step forward” in boosting the accountability of universities and colleges during sexual assault investigations.

Casey spoke to USA TODAY College about the discourse surrounding sexual assault bills in Congress, the SaVE Act’s upsides and shortcomings, and the difficulty some students face when reporting an assault. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

USA TODAY College: Is the statistic that 1-in-5 women will be sexually assaulted in college widely accepted in Congress? It’s gotten some backlash from university administrators who think it’s an exaggeration.

Sen. Robert Casey: The number is important. Even if the argument proves true that it’s not (valid) — that it’s 1 in 6, 1 in 7, 1 in 10, 1 in 20 — that is still way too high. I have four daughters, two in college. So this hits people in a very personal way. We could spend all day debating numbers. I’m much more concerned about taking action.

(The SaVE Act) is a substantial step forward because for the first time in a long time we’re focused on making sure there’s more transparency, that every student knows their rights. And that it’s on all of us. Everyone has a role to play — especially young men. For too long they’ve had no responsibility or accountability. I’ve said directly to young men, “Don’t think that it’s not your problem. You can’t be a bystander who does nothing. You’ve got to speak up, be aware, watch for indications of when (bad) conduct might occur.” If you know someone who’s drunk, who’s behaving inappropriately, you’ve got to act right away.

What I worry about isn’t whether the 1-in-5 statistic is accurate, but about underreporting — that young women who are victims are alone or feel like they’re alone. The ones who don’t engage in a system that they feel won’t bring about justice or treat them with the respect they should be accorded as a victim of a horrific crime.

Some university administrators have said they feel over-regulated, and are concerned about conflicting provisions in both the Title IX and Clery Acts regarding survivor confidentiality. There are also two more bills on the floor, the SAFE and FAIR Campus Acts, which aim to boost due process in campus sexual assault proceedings by involving the local police force. What’s your response?

Whenever you legislate in a manner that results in new rules and regulations that create an additional responsibility for institutions like colleges, you’re going to have pushback.

I invite college and university administrators to come to me after a responsible period of time — at least a year — so that if there are problems we (can address them). This bill wasn’t something I sat in my office and came up with off the top of my head. We talked to advocates and organizations to help shape the bill … they saw a need to fill gaps in transparency and information.

A big part of it comes down to awareness and prevention. Victims should be aware of her rights in what can only be described as the horrific aftermath of the assault. Colleges are a community unto itself.

(But) one of the problems is there’s a lot of variety there. Some schools are already required to tell students their rights. And obviously there are differences between big universities that might have their own police force, and small campuses with public safety officers (instead of fully trained cops).

What’s the climate in Congress regarding sexual assault policy? What’s the discourse?

The discourse is positive in the sense that people in both parties are recognizing the problem and wanting to take action — and with a sense of urgency. That doesn’t mean we’re getting close to passage of anything that’s new. Congress — other than the Clery Act many years ago — has been kind of late to this. We have to do a lot more. (The SaVE Act) was a huge step forward. … But my sense is that there’s been a lot of young men getting away with (assault). And it’s unacceptable. Unlike a lot of issues in Congress, this is an issue that has a lot of bipartisan support.

What does your bill not address that you think it should?

This bill was not intended to address every problem. It mostly addresses what the advocates said to us, over many years, both procedural and basic: That bad guys know there would be more eyes on their crime (and that sexual assault) is a real crime that should be punished. There needs to be more work done — the next phase will be more focused on accountability and any defects or gaps in Title IX.



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