Senator: Sexual Assault a ‘Problem on Every College Campus'

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y) urged Congress to pass legislation that addresses sexual assault at colleges and universities, which she said has become a problem on every campus across the country.

“It really is as big as it seems. This is a problem on every college campus, whether it’s a private school, a public school, a large school, a small school. Schools across the board are mishandling how these cases are adjudicated. No one feels like justice is done, not the person who has survived an assault but certainly the accused don’t feel that justice is done. So you have a failed system,” she said at a pre-screening of a VICE on HBO episode about rape on college campuses.

“Schools just aren’t incentivized right now to report, the fines are never levied, they would take away money for students, which is never going to happen, so we flip the incentives in this bill and we want real transparency and accountability.”

Gillibrand explained that the Campus Safety and Accountability Act would allow the Department of Education to administer a survey about sexual assault for students on every campus to fill out every two years.

“Every student and parent and administrator will have a snapshot in time about what is this campus like and where is it unsafe,” Gillibrand said.

The Department of Education will be able to enforce “stiff fines” if schools do not participate in the program, she added. The fines could be as high as one percent of the school’s operating budget.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is also a sponsor of the bill, said false reporting of a rape is not a problem while under-reporting of rapes remains an issue.

“I’m not saying there’s never been a false report but our problem in this area is not false reporting, it’s underreporting. There is a small, small percentage of false reporting. There is a giant universe of women for all understandable reasons, the most personal, painful and private moment of their life, they don’t want to share it,” she said.

“I was sick about the Rolling Stone article, because I knew it would get some people distracted from the main problem which is making sure victims have good support, good information and a good understanding of what the process will look like.”

Under Title IX, McCaskill said the worst thing that happens to a rapist is expulsion from campus.

“The Title IX system was so incompetent at understanding the breadth and depth of this issue that they were doing inherently a terrible job of knowing whether someone was going to be safe on campus,” she said.

Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are also sponsors of the bill, which was reintroduced in February.

Under the legislation, all schools would be be required to use a single uniform process for “student disciplinary proceedings” on campus and could not permit athletic departments or other subgroups to handle sexual assault complaints.

“Schools must now provide written notification to the accused as well as the victim of any decision to move forward with a campus disciplinary proceeding within 24 hours of that decision,” said a press release about the bill. “The notice must include details of the complaint, a summary of the disciplinary proceeding and the rights and due process protections available to both parties.”