When students go off to college it is not usually with the thought that they will become the victim or the perpetrator of a sexual assault. But the recent uptick in sexual assault cases on college campuses suggests that it is becoming more likely. The backlash from communities that believe that their schools are either over or under prosecuting these incidents has precipitated state and federal legislation that seeks to address the issue.
March 7, 2014 marked a major milestone when institutions of higher learning that participate in Title IV financial aid programs were required to create policies and training programs designed to both prevent sexual assault and educate the surrounding community about a culture that includes drinking, parties, and virtually no oversight creates an environment where sexual assaults to more likely occur.
The requirement comes out of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA), which amended parts of the Clery Act. The Clery Act, passed in 1990, was named for Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Lehigh University who was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall in 1986. The federal law, originally known as the Campus Security Act, mandates that colleges and universities report information about campus crimes to local law enforcement and to the public .
The Campus Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE) is a provision of VAWA that imposes new obligations on colleges and universities that participate in federal student financial assistance programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965, including Pell Grants, Perkins Loans, and federal work-study programs.
“One of the major changes to the law is that it now includes provisions for dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking,” says Abigail Boyer, Assistant Executive Director of Programs, Outreach, & Communications, for the Clery Center for Campus Security.
The new provisions of the amended act are designed to do two things: 1) inform students and potential students about the rate of crime on campus; and 2) help to prevent colleges from creating a culture that encourages crime in general, and sexual assault in particular, Boyer explains.
Many schools, including the University of California and Dartmouth College, both of which have faced allegations of mishandling sexual assault cases, have made public splashes about the changes they have made. These schools, however, have implemented the changes as requirements as a result of the new law.
For example, the University of California announced a major overhaul of its sexual assault policy following allegations by 31 women that the university had responded to their sexual assault cases with “deliberate indifference.”
At first glance, it appeared that the University was responding to the federal complaint that the women launched against them, but Brooke Converse, a spokesperson for the university said the changes were made primarily to bring the school into compliance with VAWA.
Similarly, Dartmouth College imposed a stricter sexual assault policy in the wake of a federal investigation into the school’s handling of sexual violence on its campus. As a part of its new policy, Dartmouth is enforcing mandatory expulsion in sexual assault cases involving penetration by force or threat. As with the University of California, Campus SaVE prompted the changes at Dartmouth.
Campus SaVE mandates that institutions of higher learning implement extensive "primary prevention and awareness programs" regarding sexual misconduct and related offenses. The law allows for some flexibility and creativity on the part of the colleges, according to Boyer. For instance, it leaves open who can participate in developing the training and how the programs are implemented.
While the new legislation includes clear requirements outlining the timeframe for implementing changes, it is less clear regarding prescribed methods. As a result, schools like UC and Dartmouth are still fielding feedback about their newly introduced programs and continue to tweak their training programs to meet the education requirements for prevention under the act.
“We still consider [the policy] to be a work in progress, but in order to comply with the law we had to release it,” Converse says. In addition, several states, including California and Connecticut, are implementing their own versions of the Campus SaVE Act.
VAWA states that the changes with respect to campuses' annual security reports are to take effect one year after the date of enactment, which was March 7, 2014. Therefore, the first annual security report that must include the newly required information is due October 1, 2014 by federal mandate.