Senate unveils bill aimed at fighting sexual assaults on campus

Washington – Flanked by victims of abuse, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other sponsors on Wednesday introduced their long-awaited bill aimed at fighting what some consider an epidemic of sexual assaults on campus.

The bill would require all colleges to designate “confidential advisors” for victims of sexual assault. Their role would be to coordinate support services and report crimes to campus authorities or local law enforcement.

The bill would also require training for campus personnel on the nature of sexual assault crimes and their impact on victims.

But perhaps most importantly, the bill would increase federal penalties for schools that don’t comply with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs to record and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.

Right now, the only penalty is the loss of all financial aid, which would hurt students and has never been imposed on a school.

The legislation would also establish annual surveys at every college that will collect information from students about their experience with sexual violence.

Spearheaded by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the Campus Accountability and Safety Act  is supported by a bipartisan group of senators, including Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dan Heller, R-Nev., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

They say an American woman who attends college is more likely to be a victim of sexual assault than a woman who does not attend college; and institutions of higher education across the country have been unable, or unwilling, to adequately address the problem.

The University of Connecticut recently announced it will pay nearly $1.3 million to settle a federal lawsuit filed by five women who claimed the school responded to their sexual assault complaints with indifference. UConn is also under federal investigation into its policies aimed at preventing sexual violence to determine whether they comply with federal law.

“Campus sexual assault is staggeringly prevalent and stunningly underreported,” Blumenthal said. “This measure addresses a demand for justice I heard over and over from survivors who felt victimized twice – first by their assailant, and again by administrators who failed to respond adequately…  Assault-free campuses must be the new norm.”

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