Senate Bill Would Add Sexual Violence to Law on Campus-Crime Reporting

April 15, 2011

Legislation in Congress that would broaden federal law on campus-crime reporting to include sexual violence has won support from nearly 20 advocacy groups.

The legislation, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (S. 834), was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by two Democrats, Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania and Patty Murray of Washington. It would amend the Jeanne Clery Act, the federal law that governs the obligations of colleges to report crimes that take place on their campuses.

Among other things, the bill would require colleges and universities to include incidents of sexual violence in their annual crime reports, to offer programs in sexual-violence prevention, to define consent in sexual relationships, and to provide victims of sexual violence with a written summary of their rights to a disciplinary proceeding and other campus support, such as assistance with changing academic or living arrangements.

Alison Kiss, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit advocacy group, said it and other organizations in the coalition have offered feedback in drafting the bill. Those groups include the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, and Students Active for Ending Rape.

Senator Casey's move to introduce the legislation followed an announcement by the Education Department this month of new guidance for responding to sexual assault at colleges, universities, and schools. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the guidelines at the University of New Hampshire at Durham on April 4.

Senator Casey is optimistic about the bill's chances, according to Larry Smarr, his deputy chief of staff. "Senator Casey definitely thinks that the bill should be a priority—this really should be a no-brainer," Mr. Smarr said. "He's going to push it aggressively, and he hopes that we can get something moving this year."

Ms. Kiss was also hopeful that the recent spotlight on sexual assault would give the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act greater momentum in the Senate, though there currently is no comparable version of the bill in the House of Representatives.

"It's a true top-down approach," she said. "It really shows that they're embracing this at that level. Unfortunately, that's what needs to be done sometimes for people to take notice."