Bill targets sexual assault on campuses

Congress set higher standards for university crime reporting and sexual assault prevention when it approved the Violence Against Women Act Thursday, after months of partisan squabbling.

Under the newly reauthorized act, universities will be required to include instances of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking in their annual security reports. The changes will go into effect for the 2014-2015 academic year.

“We need to fully digest the bill and what has been reauthorized and, more than what has been reauthorized, what has been added,” Deputy Title IX Coordinator Tara Pereira said. She added that in the early versions of the bill, GW was “above and beyond anything that they would expect of a campus,” and look over the final draft to ensure GW is in line with those standards as well.

Pereira added that her office plans to include more details about the legislation in training sessions for first responders – those most likely to have students, faculty or staff disclose an incidence of sexual violence to them. The law would also continue federal funding for non-University resources, such as the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, she said.

Part of the bill, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, is geared toward sexual crimes on college campuses. It calls for more stringent guidelines for informing victims of their legal rights and upholding sexual assault prevention policies. It also require universities to educate students on how they can intervene as bystanders in a situation of sexual violence.

Universities are already required to report campus crime under the Clery Act, passed in 1990 to lay out across-the-board rules for compiling crime data and issuing warnings.

Daniel Carter, former senior vice president of the nonprofit Security on Campus, said the act would modernize the Clery Act for the 21st century and outline best practices for school to respond to sexual violence.

“What the campus act is intended to do is eliminate the cultures on campus that tolerate sexual violence,” he said. “It’s more like getting an inoculation for the disease instead of treating the disease.”

Carter, an expert on the Clery Act, added that the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act was first introduced in 2010, driven by an investigation of sexual assault on college campuses and the murder of University of Virginia senior Yeardley Love, who was murdered by ex-boyfriend that year.

The House of Representatives voted 286 to 138 in favor of the bipartisan Senate bill last week.

President Barack Obama is expected to give his stamp of approval this week.

“Renewing this bill is an important step towards making sure no one in America is forced to live in fear, and I look forward to signing it into law as soon as it hits my desk,” Obama said in White House press release.

The approval came after a Republican substitution, which left out the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, among other provisions, failed in the House. Republicans argued their version gave more consideration to the rights of accused sex offenders.

Vice President Joe Biden penned the original law as a Delaware senator in 1994, which gave $1.6 billion toward the investigation of violent crimes against women and also covered male victims of domestic violence.

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