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Jun 30, 2014 02:07 PM EDT

Group of U.S. Senators Discuss 'Nuclear Option' for Punishing Schools That Mishandle Reports of Sexual Assault


With 64 colleges and universities under federal investigation for alleged Title IX/Clery Act violations, several U.S. Senators feel the Education Department should impose harsher penalties.

According to the Huffington Post, the group of senators discussed a "nuclear option" for schools found responsible of improperly adjudicating sexual assault on campus. If found responsible, the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) could revoke a school's federal funding.

"It's a pretty good nuclear option," Catherine Lhamon, OCR assistant secretary, said at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) hearing Thursday.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate HELP committee, rebutted and raised concerns over such a nuclear option.

"I'm not certain that it is a very good nuclear option ... if you don't have any other options," Harkin said.

The HP previously reported Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) plan to come up with a proposal to reform the way colleges and universities handle sexual assault. McCaskill released a large survey on her website meant to collect information on how schools respond to reports of sexual assault.

"I think there's value to cooperating, but then there's also value to bringing the hammer down," McCaskill said at a roundtable discussion Monday, according to the HP. "And if no school ever thinks the hammer is going to come down then that's a problem. We've talked a lot about that."

Alexandra Brodsky, the leader of a complaint filed against Yale University in 2012, participated in the roundtable discussion. Brodsky's complaint led to sanctions against the school and she has since been an advocate for sexual assault reform in higher education.

"It's clear that this methodology of endless second chances doesn't work," Brodsky told the HP. "We're seeing the same schools under investigation again and again, little changed because of the OCR's first intervention. Voluntary resolution agreements devoid of sanctions for schools are the equivalent of the 'slap on the wrist' book report for student rapists."

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