Bill to beef up sex assault policies reintroduced to US Senate

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A bipartisan group of 12 U.S. senators introduced a renewed version of a bill Thursday that aims to curb sexual assault on the campuses of universities receiving federal funding by implementing stronger provisions that regulate how sexual assault cases are dealt with and safeguard the rights of both accusers and the accused.

If passed, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act will amend the Clery Act and enhance Title IX requirements regarding sexual violence. The bill requires universities to conduct biannual surveys recording student experiences with sexual assault, outlines a uniform campus disciplinary hearing process and stipulates that campuses must designate a confidential adviser to counsel survivors of sexual assault, among other regulations. The bill also increases penalties for Clery Act and Title IX violations, including a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget and a $115,000 fine increase for Clery Act violations.

“To truly curb these crimes, we’ve got to have a road map for colleges and universities to increase responsiveness when crimes occur, better protect and empower students, and establish
better-informed guidelines that actually have some teeth,” said co-sponsor Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, in a press release.

The CASAct was first introduced to the Senate last July and was referred to a committee, but it was never voted on. The reintroduced version of the bill received input from sexual assault survivors and advocates, such as members of the group End Rape on Campus, or EROC.

UC Berkeley and the other UC campuses have already established a confidential adviser. The campus hired confidential adviser Mari Knuth-Bouracee last November after UC President Janet Napolitano’s sexual assault task force was formed.

“Hiring a person to help survivors is one of the best step forwards that Berkeley has taken,” said Sofie Karasek, UC Berkeley senior and co-founder of EROC.

Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice — a nonprofit organization that aims to decrease the prevalence of sexual violence — said she was highly critical of the idea of a confidential sexual assault adviser who is hired by the university.

UC Berkeley is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in response to complaints filed by UC Berkeley students alleging that the campus was in violation of Title IX laws.

The Clery Act mandates that universities receiving federal aid must disclose information regarding sexual assault incidents, as well as guarantee victims enhanced rights, increase transparency of sexual assault policies and provide campuswide prevention programs. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination and requires universities to react efficiently to sexual assault incidents.

UC spokesperson Brooke Converse said in an email that the university has yet to review and analyze the amendments of the bill.

Contact Elaina Provencio at [email protected].