Sen. Warner revamps college sexual assault safety

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A bipartisan group of senators looks to overhaul the Campus Accountability and Safety Act

By Jessica Mackey

Senator Mark Warner, alongside a group of bipartisan senators, announced early last month a new piece of legislation that they hope will reverse the epidemic that is taking over college campuses today, the revamped Campus Accountability and Safety Act.

The Virginia Senator spoke to college journalists via a confernce call on March 3 to discuss the new piece of legislation being introduced to the Senate floor.

“The bill would establish a Federal baseline for encouraging prevention, establishing transparency, accountability, and ensuring that if [sexual assaults] take place that there will be procedures in place,” Warner said.

Sexual assaults occur at every college and university throughout the country, even here at Virginia Wesleyan College.

“Everyone that goes to college in America should know that they are safe,” Sen. Mark Warner said.

It’s become a topic discussed on every college campus and in every household through the media, especially noting the Rolling Stone article outlining a rape that occurred at University of Virginia, and even garnering the attention of politicians in our nation’s capital.

Sen. Mark Warner describes the publication by Rolling Stone as a practice of “shoddy journalism” that made the nation aware of an issue that needs a nationwide plan of action.

A report released by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, named two schools from the Commonwealth of Virginia, The University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary, as being investigated for violating federal law in handling sexual violence, harassment and assault complaints.

Additionally, with the documentary “The Haunting Ground” premiering in movie theaters throughout this country, which  is a film that follows survivors of rape on college campuses and explores the institutional struggles that current exist within higher education, the topic continues to be at the forefront of national discussion.

“It shouldn’t be less safe to go to college than it is to go work in the workforce,” Warner said.

The legislation would aim to establish new campus resources and support services for student survivors. Under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, schools were required to establish Title IX Coordinators. Jason Seward and McCarren Caputa serve as the VWC coordinators. However, under this legislation schools would be required to designate Confidential Advisors to all students involved in a sexual assault, especially in providing information about reporting and support services. Confidential Advisors would not be required to report the cases, similarly to the counseling services here at VWC.

“It is an issue that for too long has been overlooked and some institutions have completely thrown under the rug,” Warner said.

As a result, the new legislation would require fairness in campus disciplinary processes, which is notably the biggest contribution of this bill. It would require for one uniform process for campus student disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other student organization to handle complaints.

Other provisions of the bill would ensure that everyone who is responsible for handling sexual assault cases would have proper, specialized training.

The legislation aims to address transparency problems, or rather eliminate the perceived notion of universities covering up campus crimes. This would be done through nationwide surveys, conducted by each college and university, in an effort to gauge a better accuracy of sexual assaults occurring on campuses.

In addition, the law would require colleges and universities to come to a mutual understanding with local law enforcements to clearly define responsibilities and share information when a crime occurs. The legislation would not require victims to file criminal charges, but would make the process to do so easier.

Noting the current investigations going on in this moment, if these schools were found in violation of federal law, they would be subjected losing all federal spending and aid. However, this punishment is highly improbable and has never been implemented before. Instead, the new legislation would change the penalty for schools found guilty of not complying to a portion of the institution’s operating budget up to 1 percent.

Previsions of the bill would make the money collected from fines to institutions, the funds would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program through the Department of Education. The grant would be used for the purpose of researching sexual assaults and other related crimes and establishing better practices on how to prevent the crimes before they occur and responding to them once a crime occurs.

“No one law alone will fix this problem but it is time that we place a nationwide floor out there and this legislation does this,” Warner said.

Sexual assaults happening on campuses is not a Republican issue and not a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue and one that politicians are taking seriously.

Although the content of this legislation is premature in the process of becoming law, Senator Mark Warner and his colleagues are optimistic that this bill, or at least some provisions of it, will be passed while Congress is in session this year.

“It is an issue that for too long has been overlooked and some institutions have completely thrown under the rug,” Warner said.

Other provisions of the bill would ensure that everyone who is responsible for handling sexual assault cases would have proper, specialized training. Moreover, school’s would have to designate Confidential Advisors to all students involved in a sexual assault, especially in providing information about reporting and support services. Confidential Advisors would not be required to report the cases, similar to the counseling services here at VWC.

The legislation aims to address transparency problems, or rather eliminate the perceived notion of universities covering up campus crimes. This would be done through nationwide surveys, conducted by each college and university, in an effort to gauge a better accuracy of sexual assaults occurring on campuses.

In addition, the law would require colleges and universities to come to a mutual understanding with local law enforcements to clearly define responsibilities and share information when a crime occurs. The legislation would not require victims to file criminal charges, but would make the process to do so easier.

Noting the current investigations going on in this moment, if these schools were found in violation of federal law, they would be subjected losing all federal spending and aid. However, this punishment is highly improbable and has never been implemented before. Instead, the new legislation would change the penalty for schools found guilty of not complying to a portion of the institution’s operating budget up to 1 percent.

Previsions of the bill would make the money collected from fines to institutions, the funds would be distributed back to campuses through a new competitive grant program through the Department of Education. The grant would be used for the purpose of researching sexual assaults and other related crimes and establishing better practices on how to prevent the crimes before they occur and responding to them once a crime occurs.

“No one law alone will fix this problem but it is time that we place a nationwide floor out there and this legislation does this,” Warner said.

Sexual assaults happening on campuses is not a Republican issue and not a Democratic issue. It’s an American issue and one that politicians are taking seriously.

Although the content of this legislation is premature in the process of becoming law, Senator Mark Warner and his colleagues are optimistic that this bill, or at least some provisions of it, will be passed while Congress is in session this year.