Feminist groups, student activists, and survivor advocates announced their opposition to the proposed Safe Campus Act of 2015, also known as the “FratPAC bill,” at a House subcommittee hearing on “Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault on College Campuses” earlier this month.
The bill, backed by the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee (FratPAC), is sponsored by Representatives Matt Salmon (R-AZ), Kay Granger (R-TX), and Pete Sessions (R-TX). The bill would make it more difficult for colleges and universities to address campus sexual assault by requiring survivors to report incidents of sexual assault to a law enforcement agency before a school could investigate sexual assault allegations. Even then, schools could not institute disciplinary proceedings against an alleged attacker until the law enforcement agency completes its investigation, a process that could take several months and sometimes years.
“This measure is designed to drastically reduce the ability of schools to respond to sexual violence allegations at all,” said Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) President Eleanor Smeal and FMF Director of Policy & Research Gaylynn Burroughs in a statement submitted to the subcommittee. “Blocking a school from fully addressing sexual violence complaints is . . . not only misguided, it undermines the intent and purpose of Title IX.”
Only 12 percent of college student-survivors report to the police, with male survivors reporting at lower rates than women. “If you’re looking for a way to not have students report – not only just to the school, but also to law enforcement – make it mandatory,” said Lisa Maatz, Vice President for Government Relations at the American Association of University Women who testified at the hearing.
Instead of using an approach that disempowers survivors and prevents schools from protecting the safety and rights of their students, Maatz advocated for adoption of the Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act (SOS Campus Act), sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA). Under the SOS Campus Act, “Schools would establish an independent, on-campus advocate to support survivors of sexual assault. Advocates would connect survivors with resources including emergency and follow-up medical and counseling care, how to report to law enforcement if they so choose, and information about legal rights on campus and off.”
Students from Stanford University held up signs at the hearing protesting the FratPAC bill, and Know Your IX actively opposed the bill, calling the legislation the “Unsafe Campus Act.” School administrators have also largely criticized the bill, including Dr. Penny Rue, Vice President for Campus Life at Wake Forest University, who testified before the subcommittee.
With one in five women students experiencing a rape or attempted rape during her time in college, feminist groups are calling on Congress to strengthen Title IX and the Jeanne Clery Act, both of which are critical tools helping students and schools address sexual assault on campus. Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally-funded education program and activities, obligates schools to take immediate and appropriate steps to investigate possible incidents of sexual assault on campus, determine what occurred, and, if necessary, take prompt and effective steps to remedy the situation, eliminate the hostile environment, and prevent its recurrence. Title IX protects all students from sex discrimination, including men and LGBTQ students, and helps to promote a safe and equitable educational environment.
The Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for enforcing Title IX. Between FY 2009 and FY 2014, complaints to OCR involving sexual violence on college campuses increased by more than 1000 percent. OCR plays an important role in remediating Title IX violations and encouraging schools to take voluntary steps toward implementing action plans to reduce sexual violence on campus. The flood of complaints and lack of adequate resources, however, have led to delays in OCR investigations. Legislation, such as the Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, sponsored by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) would, among other things, give OCR more resources to ensure thorough and timely Title IX investigations.
Media Resources: House of Representatives Committed on Education & the Workforce 9/10.15; Huffington Post 9/10/15; Feminist Newswire 6/4/15; Department of Education, Letter to Senator Boxer 4/28/15