Proposed bill encourages colleges to address underreported sexual assault

Proposed bill encourages colleges to address underreported sexual assault

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - A bill to tighten federal laws targeting college campus sexual assault cases is expected to pass in 2015.

The Campus Accountability and Safety Act has been proposed to address claims that sexual assault and violence are extremely underreported on college campuses.

The bill aims to address the issue in four ways:

1. By making and enforcing new financial penalties and/or fines against schools that don't file crime reports in a timely manner.

2. By requiring schools to make detailed reports on how each crime was handled.

3. By requiring schools to come up with agreements with local police forces on how to address sexual violence crimes and how to share information.

4. By creating training standards for all on-campus staff who will deal with victims.

The bipartisan bill was proposed back in July; it is now in a sub-committee, and it is expected to be approved in the new year.?

In light of the UVA issues, many colleges are now under investigation for failing to follow through and protect victims. "Fines for campuses that aren't following the policy, seems quite reasonable," says Dr. Debbie Conner, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Coastal Carolina University. "I think that universities, there should be no reason a university isn't stepping up and following the policies that have been provided."

Colleges and universities already have to comply with new Title IX requirements this year. At Coastal Carolina University, all students are required to go through certain courses that teach them what their rights are, how to be a responsible bystander, what their options are in case they do become a victim of sexual violence, and what the consequences are if they are the attacker.

CCU keeps track of every single sexual violence case. And doing so keeps them one step ahead of the proposed bill. According to CCU's records, there were 28 reports of sexual violence on campus last year, five of which were forcible sex offenses. Included this year in that count are reports of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. All are considered a part of sexual violence according to new Title IX regulations. These are posted as public record, because if they aren't, the school could be fined.

The vice president of student affairs says that CCU is actually pretty far ahead of the curve when it comes to what the new federal guidelines would require. For example, CCU started training faculty and staff two years ago on how to help and address sexual assault situations. Also, they already have connections with local law enforcement and hospitals. Some of the same nurses who work as the hospital's sexual assault response nurses also work on the university's sexual assault response team.

The vice president says that the biggest difference they've seen over the years is with the students themselves. "We have seen an increase of our students' ability to be better bystanders," Conner says. "So, what I have seen as a result of the training we've implemented, specifically with students, students now know if they have a friend who has suffered a sexual assault what steps they can help their friend take. Because often times a person who has been a victim of sexual assault might not be thinking through the steps of 'What should I do next?'"

According to the crime logs, since November 10, there have been five reports of some type of sexual harassment or violence on campus. At least two of those are open investigations which could result in charges if the student decides to do so.

CCU wants to continue to stay ahead of federal requirements because leaders believe that is keeping their students safe. One thing they want to do first is to test the waters on attitudes among the students on campus. They plan to survey students in January 2015. And while that would be a requirement of the federal bill, CCU wants to get ahead of the curve. The anonymous survey covers topics from sexual violence, to religion, gender equality, and sexual orientation. In the end, faculty will have a better idea of how students feel about sexuality and sexual assault. This will help them gauge how to readjust any of their programs. They're also increasing programs for the gay and lesbian population.

Conner notes that most students report sexual violence to school officials instead of taking action through local law enforcement. Conner says that's fine, no matter which avenue, they want more students comfortable to report these situations. The school then has to offer the student options to make them feel comfortable on campus, like switching classes or moving residence halls to minimize contact with the accused attacker.

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