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Apr 22, 2014 11:24 AM EDT

White House College Sexual Assault Task Force Update: Sen. Gillibrand-Led Group Releases Letter With Their Own Recommendations


Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has drafted a letter to the White House from a group of senators calling for three recommendations that would make college investigations of sexual assault more transparent.

According to the Huffington Post, the White House task force on campus sexual assault is set to make its formal recommendations Tuesday. Even though she sent the letter last week, Gillibrand released it Monday. The White House will review the task force's recommendations and make a public announcement next week.

Months after signing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, President Obama and the White House released a report called "Rape and Sexual Assault: a Renewed Call to Action." The report called for the task force to come up with recommendations for how schools should respond to a report of sexual misconduct.

"When our young people go on to higher education, it should be an opportunity to learn, grow, pursue their dreams and prepare for their future careers," Gillibrand said in a press release. "But the price of a college education should not include a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. I urge the White House Task Force to seriously consider our proposals that would immediately address the scourge of sexual assault on our college campuses and help keep our students safe."

Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) co-signed the letter with Gillibrand.

Her three recommendations are as follows, according to the release.

Streamline and Enhance Accountability for Higher Education Crime & Safety within the U.S. Department of Education. Currently, the Secretary of Education has 28 separate offices that directly report to him or an Undersecretary, but there is not a single office solely dedicated to addressing issues of violence prevention, sexual or otherwise, for colleges and universities. Compliance and enforcement of the Clery Act are housed in the Federal Student Aid office which reports to the Undersecretary while the Office for Civil Rights in charge of Title IX enforcement reports directly to the Secretary of Education. To streamline the process, ensure information-sharing, and strengthen enforcement, the Senators called for coordinating both Clery and Title IX violations that involve criminal acts or physical violence under one person within the U.S. Department of Education who would then report directly to the Education Secretary. 

Require All Schools to Conduct Standardized, Anonymous Survey of Campus Sexual Assaults. To begin to hold colleges and universities accountable, the Senators recommended requiring all schools to administer a standardized, anonymous survey on campus sexual assaults that would be published annually online, similar to the Department of Defense's own SAPRO survey.  Sexual assault remains one of the nation's most underreported crimes and the data under the Clery Act does not provide an accurate picture of safety on campus. There is currently a disincentive for colleges and universities to increase reporting since it puts them at a competitive disadvantage with other schools. This new standard for transparency would incentivize institutions to proactively address the growing crisis of campus sexual assault, encourage victims to report, and give students and parents the tools needed to assess campus safety as a criteria for choosing a college or university.

Create a Searchable Database on All Pending and Resolved Title IX and Clery Act Complaints, Compliance Reviews and Investigations. The lawmakers called on the Department of Education to create a centralized, user-friendly, searchable database that updates and monitors the number of pending investigations, enforcement actions and voluntary resolution agreements for all Title IX and Clery Act complaints and compliance reviews. This valuable data would help arm consumers with information on the number of outstanding complaints and reviews and how those challenges are resolved. The Senators pointed out that these results, along with the annual survey, could help create a "Campus Safety Metric" as part of the Department of Education's College Scorecard, which is used by prospective students and families to make more informed decisions on which institutions to attend.

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