United States Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), and Susan Davis (D-CA) requested Monday that the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) conduct a comprehensive review of past and existing campus climate surveys used to collect data on the incidence of sexual violence on college campuses in order to provide recommendations to Congress for developing a standard, nationwide survey.
“A safe campus environment free from sexual assault is essential to ensure that all students can pursue higher education,” the Representatives wrote in their letter to US Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “Achieving this goal requires accountability from colleges and universities that receive federal funds and a well-developed standardized survey will ensure that we have accurate data on the scope of the problem.”
The Representatives request that the GAO address student perspectives on the incidence of violence, including domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking on campus; student knowledge of institutional policies and procedures related to this violence; and the utility and efficacy of making survey data public. For student survivors, the Representatives request that the GAO review reporting trends, response to reports of violence, contextual factors surrounding the violence, and whether survivors were made aware of appropriate resources. The goal is for the GAO to asses the effectiveness of past and existing surveys in collecting complete and accurate data and make recommendations in each of the areas studied.
In 2014, the Obama-Biden White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault recommended that colleges and universities undertake campus climate survey on sexual assault and produced a toolkit that schools could use to help them create and conduct such surveys. Climate surveys are currently not required by law. Congresswoman Maloney introduced the Campus Accountability and Safety Act in 2017, which would establish a biennial, confidential survey of students about sexual violence on campus. The bill would also create new protections for survivors and strengthen enforcement of existing federal law. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) introduced the companion bill in the Senate.
The request from the Representatives to the GAO comes in the middle of a fight to ensure robust enforcement of Title IX for survivors of sexual violence. In September, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidance meant to protect the rights of survivors of sexual assault and reduce the high levels of sexual violence on college and university campuses. The Department then issued new interim guidance that Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal says, “tipped the scales against victims.”
Last week, three groups that represent survivors filed a lawsuit against DeVos and the Department of Education seeking to vacate the new guidance. In their lawsuit, the groups assert that the new policy, developed in consultation with so-called “men’s rights” groups, is based on dangerous sex stereotypes about women, is discriminatory and illegal, and violates the constitution.
Media Resources: Office of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Press Release, 1/30/18; National Women’s Law Center, 1/25/18; Feminist Newswire, 9/22/17