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Campus Sexual Assault Focus of Senate Hearing

On July 29, the Senate Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions Committee held a hearing, “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Combating Campus Sexual Assault.” The hearing focused specifically on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) (S. 590).

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), said the legislation provides significant support for sexual assault survivors and empowers them “to make informed decisions regarding the adjudication and disposition of their cases” with the assistance of designated confidential advisors, newly established in the bill. Such advisors would guide “the survivor through the difficult process of understanding potential legal and campus reporting processes following a sexual assault and can provide confidentiality through that process.” Sen. McCaskill noted that the bill “would also provide critical information about options for reporting these crimes to campus authorities and/or local law enforcement.”

Janet Napolitano, president, University of California, encouraged the development of comprehensive, system-wide standards in education, prevention, response, investigation, and adjudication for all community members, both on and off campus, as well as standardized data collection methods for sexual assault and violence incidents. Her recommendations included improving clarity and coordination of existing and future laws and policies, as well as better coordination between state and federal regulations, legislation, and laws. She also urged the committee to consult with “institutions and other affected stakeholders prior to implementing any new policies or regulations for CASA.”

Mollie Benz Flounlacker, associate vice president, Federal Relations, Association of American Universities, expressed her concern with the legislation’s proposed campus climate survey, including the development and implementation of one “single survey instrument, without the input of higher education experts, for use at all institutions.” Ms. Flounlacker also raised questions about standards in survey completion, including participation rates and incentive options, as well as “who administers the survey and how information gained from the survey will be made available, in what form, and at what level of specificity, and by whom.” She raised additional concerns with the legislation, including the details of memoranda of understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement agencies, specifically that “requirements specified in CASA could be made more flexible and less prescriptive, while still ensuring better coordination and clarification of roles and responsibilities between the college and local law enforcement.”

The following witnesses also testified:

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