U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and a group of advocates and educators spoke at a press conference at the University of Hartford on Friday, Aug. 1, in support of recently introduced federal legislation to combat sexual assault on college campuses by protecting and empowering students and strengthening campus accountability and transparency.
Blumenthal chose the University of Hartford as the site of the press conference because the University hosted the first in a series of roundtable discussions with students, campus counselors, and administrators that Blumenthal held last January. The roundtable discussions played a key role in the crafting of the bill.
“Those roundtable discussions were incredibly important," Blumenthal said, “and I want to thank the University of Hartford for being one of the first institutions to step forward at that time.”
Also speaking at the press conference were: Laura Cordes, executive director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services; Darcie Folsom, director of sexual violence prevention and advocacy at Connecticut College; Thomas Pellegrino, vice president for student affairs at Fairfield University; Chris Piscitelli, director of judicial affairs at Southern Connecticut State University; and Connecticut State Sen. Steve Cassano.
Blumenthal said this bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, is the first major federal attempt to deal with sexual assaults on campuses. He added that “our approach is survivor-centric, with an enforceable victim’s bill of rights and with penalties that are workable and enforceable.”
He added that the bill has bipartisan support in the U.S. Senate, with four Republican cosponsors as well as four Democratic cosponsors. “This is an issue that not only crosses party lines, but also ideological lines,” said Blumenthal. “It’s not too often that you will see Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Richard Blumenthal on the same stage supporting the same agenda,” he joked in referencing another of the bill’s cosponsors.
Provisions of the legislation include:
– New Campus Resources and Support Services for Student Survivors. Under this legislation, colleges and universities will be required to designate confidential advisors who will serve as a confidential resource for victims of assaults committed against a student. The role of confidential advisors will be to coordinate support services and accommodations for survivors, to provide information about options for reporting, and to provide guidance or assistance, at the direction of the survivor, in reporting the crime to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement. To encourage individuals to come forward with reports about sexual violence, schools will no longer be allowed to sanction a student who reveals a violation in good faith, such as underage drinking, in the process of reporting a sexual violence claim.
– Minimum Training Standards for On-Campus Personnel. Currently, a chronic lack of training of on-campus personnel hampers sexual assault investigations and disciplinary processes, often resulting in negative outcomes for survivors. This legislation ensures that everyone, from the confidential advisors, to those responsible for investigating and participating in disciplinary proceedings, will now receive specialized training to ensure they have a firm understanding of the nature of these crimes and their effect on survivors.
– New Historic Transparency Requirements. For the first time, students at every university in America will be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence to get an accurate picture of this problem. This new annual survey will be standardized and anonymous, with the results published online so that parents and high school students can make an informed choice when comparing universities. The Department of Education will also be required to publish the names of all schools with pending investigations, final resolutions, and voluntary resolution agreements related to sexual harassment under Title IX.
– Campus Accountability and Coordination with Law Enforcement. All schools will now be required to use a uniform process for campus disciplinary proceedings and may no longer allow athletic departments or other subgroups to handle complaints of sexual violence for members of that subgroup alone. This legislation will require colleges and universities to enter into memoranda of understanding with all applicable local law enforcement agencies to clearly delineate responsibilities and share information so that when an assault occurs, both campus authorities and local authorities can focus on solving the crime rather than debating jurisdiction.
– Enforceable Title IX Penalties and Stiffer Penalties for Clery Act Violations. Schools that don’t comply with certain requirements under the bill may face a penalty of up to 1 percent of the institution’s operating budget. Previously, the only allowable penalty was the loss of all financial aid, which is not practical and has never been done. The bill increases penalties for Clery Act violations to up to $150,000 per violation from the current penalty of $35,000.
Blumenthal praised the Connecticut legislature for passing a similar bill earlier this year, and he also applauded Connecticut’s colleges and universities for stepping forward to tackle this issue. “Connecticut really is leading the way on this,” he said.