Author's Note: The news this week that more than one-fourth of undergraduate women at a large group of leading universities report incidents of campus sexual assault sheds new light on this post I put up last week.
I've been hearing from a lot of women who are proud of Hillary Clinton's lifelong commitment to preventing violence against women. Lately, they've been telling me they like what they've seen and heard about her vision for preventing the alarming reality of sexual assault on college campuses.
"As President, I'll fight to make sure every campus offers every survivor the support she needs, and we'll make sure that these services are comprehensive, confidential, and coordinated."
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, college campuses reported over 5,000 forcible sex offenses in 2013 - but a recent study shows that the actual number of offenses is estimated to be at least six times that number.
Rather than protect survivors and hold assailants accountable, colleges and universities too often sweep cases under the rug. A recent survey of colleges and universities found that 41 percent of colleges have not conducted a single investigation of sexual violence on their campus in the past five years.
Why is this happening? Too many colleges and universities don't understand the scope of the problem, fail to provide adequate, accessible resources and services to students reporting sexual violence, lack adequate training for faculty, staff, and campus law enforcement, allow sexual violence to go uninvestigated, and fail to comply with federal law and best practices.
But there's a remedy that's already on the books--one that Hillary Clinton understands and has pledged to bolster.
Title IX is a landmark federal civil rights measure that prohibits sex discrimination in education. There's an awesome website called KnowYourIX, a national survivor-led, student-driven campaign to end campus gender-based violence. Here's how they explain the statute:
Title IX is not just about sports; it is a prohibition against sex-based discrimination in education. It addresses discrimination against pregnant and parenting students and women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs. It also addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and sexual violence. Sexual violence includes attempted or completed rape or sexual assault, as well as sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism, exhibitionism, verbal or physical sexuality-based threats or abuse, and intimate partner violence.
Title IX does not apply to female students only. Title IX protects any person from sex-based discrimination, regardless of their real or perceived sex, gender identity, and/or gender expression. Female, male, and gender non-conforming students, faculty, and staff are protected from any sex-based discrimination, harassment or violence.
Hillary Clinton understands that ending campus sexual assault requires a comprehensive response, more accountability, and more prevention.
- A comprehensive response means essential, critical, confidential treatment for victims
- Strengthening accountability measures include campus disciplinary procedures that respect survivors
- Prevention starts with the recognition that it's not enough to address this problem by responding only once sexual assault occurs. We need to redouble our prevention efforts and start them earlier--not only in college, but in high schools and middle schools as well.
It's also important to expand our frame of reference away from thinking that every response must involve more policing and harsher sentences (called "carcarel" solutions) for sexual assault. An article by Victoria Law makes this point about intimate partner violence:
Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare. And finally, positioning police and prisons as the principal antidote discourages seeking other responses, including community interventions and long-term organizing.
KnowYourIX says something similar:
We support the choices survivors make -- whether or not to report, and to whom to report -- and recognize that these choices are particularly difficult because our laws and communities offer a severely limited set of options for survivors. Given the tremendous flaws and violence of the criminal justice system, we celebrate Title IX's potential to create effective anti-carceral responses to serious harms while recognizing that this promise has not yet been realized.
But calling the cops and filling the jails is the only remedy endorsed by conservatives in Congress. The so-called "Safe Campus Act" was originally introduced by Reps. Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Kay Granger (R-TX).
It would would restrict colleges from punishing students accused of sexual assault unless the victim goes to the police and files a complaint. But that requirement takes control away from the survivor, whose rapist already took all control away from her. Far from helping, it compounds the trauma she experienced.
The conservative bill would also create irrational results. As an article this week in HuffPost said,
Under the Safe Campus Act, colleges would still be allowed to punish a student for illegal acts like selling drugs, stealing or physical assault regardless of police involvement, but sexual assault and battery would be off limits unless the reporting victim goes to cops in addition to school administrators.
In one scenario that could be envisioned under the bill, a student could accuse a classmate of sexual assault, and also accuse the classmate of harassing her in the hallways by pinching her butt -- but if she doesn't want to report the incidents to police, then the university would only be allowed to discipline the accused student for the hallway harassment.
A much better solution is the bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The bill would do the following:
- Establish new campus resources for student survivors and support services: Every college and university would have to designate a Confidential Advisor to provide survivors with information and assistance.
- Ensure that college and university staff meet minimum training standards to address sexual assault cases. Both survivors and accused students would receive notification when a campus decides to pursue a disciplinary hearing about an alleged assault within 24 hours of such decision being made.
- Create historic transparency requirements: To provide an accurate picture of this problem, students at every university in America would be surveyed about their experience with sexual violence. Schools would be required to publish the results.
Sen. Gillibrand's bill, like the Know Your IX website, focuses on the survivor's right to an equal educational opportunity.
As I mentioned earlier, the Hillary Clinton emails that matter to me are the ones I'm seeing that quote her strong, progressive views on ending campus sexual assault. Pass this one on to your friends:
So today I want to send a message to every survivor of sexual assault: don't let anyone silence your voice. You have the right to be heard. You have the right to be believed. And we're with you as you go forward.
If you want to focus on what really matters about Hillary Clinton and her campaign, the solution is simple. Just listen to what she's saying. Her voice and her connection to voters are getting stronger every day.