Sexual assault is rampant on college campuses across the U.S. As we wrote in the winter/spring 2014 issue of Ms., one in five women students will be assaulted during her post-secondary career.
The good news is that lawmakers are taking action to stop campus rape: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) announced earlier this month plans for federal legislation that would require annual campus surveys, more funding for federal investigators and reports revealing the results of campus investigations.
“The prevalence of sexual assault on campuses is an epidemic,” Speier said. “It’s going to take money, resources, enforcement and a dramatic change in the culture [to fix it].”
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have also taken up the charge for victims of campus rape by asking for more funding for the Clery Act of 1990, which requires post-secondary schools receiving federal financial aid to disclose crimes committed on campus.
When the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized last year, changes to the Clery Act were also made—and the senators say that more money is needed for it to be truly effective.
According to a letter co-written by McCaskill and Gillibrand, the federal government’s Clery Compliance Team doesn’t have enough staff members to investigate the estimated 63 percent of schools that fail to comply with Clery’s requirements (there are more than 6,000 post-secondary institutions that fall under the Act). From 2000 to 2013, the group was only able to investigate and impose fines on 21 post-secondary schools.
McCaskill and Gillibrand have asked for $2 million to hire 13 new staff to the Clery Compliance Team, $102 million for the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and $5.046 million for OCR to hire staff to investigate crimes and enforce sexual assault-related rules under Title IX.
Even without adequate federal funding, students are speaking out against campus sexual assault and calling on schools to take sex crimes seriously. For example, more than 50,000 people signed a petition last month urging Dartmouth College to “expel rapists, list rape as a punishable offense and expulsion as the preferred punishment in the student handbook, and block access to the ‘rape guide‘ [an anonymous online forum promoting sexual assault] on campus.”
Stephanie Hallett is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She can be found on Twitter @stephhallett.