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Wed July 30, 2014
Politics

Senate Bill Would Fine Colleges For Mismanaging Campus Rape Cases

Originally published on Thu July 31, 2014 12:48 pm

Eighteen-year-old Anna went off to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York last year, where she says she was raped several weeks into her freshman year.

A medical examiner's report found blunt-force trauma, possibly from multiple men, and found she had high alcohol levels. A witness described seeing her in the back of a dance hall being raped by a football player while others watched or took photos.

That football player and several others denied the allegations, and the school cleared them of wrongdoing 12 days later, before the results of the rape kit were complete.

One of the first people Anna called was her mother, Susan.

"There are really no words to explain what a parent goes through when they get a phone call like that," Susan told reporters yesterday. "It is hard to convey what this means to the families out there, because their child has been assaulted, harassed, retaliated against and have been made to feel lost and powerless."

(NPR doesn't identify the names of those who may have suffered sexual assault.)

A bipartisan group of senators is aiming to change that. On Wednesday the lawmakers introduced legislation meant to stem the shocking number of sexual assaults on American college campuses. Studies show 1 in 5 women is raped or assaulted while pursuing a degree.

The bill aims to hold schools accountable for how they handle sexual assault allegations, by requiring colleges to investigate all possible incidents, to provide advocates for victims, and to conduct and make public the results of annual student surveys.

If a school fails to comply, it could be fined up to 1 percent of its operating budget. For larger schools, that could mean millions of dollars.

"We are done with the days of asking victims why they drank too much or wore the wrong thing or went to the wrong place or hung out with the wrong guy," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who is one of the bill's co-sponsors.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., recently conducted an anonymous survey of colleges and found most schools ill-equipped to handle assault cases. What's more, it found that schools have financial and public relations incentives to not investigate or report allegations that arise.

Almost 20 percent of the 200 schools that responded to the survey still allow athletic departments to adjudicate rape cases involving athletes. That no longer would be permitted if the senators' bill is passed.

House lawmakers are putting together a similar bill in the house. McCaskill and Gillibrand say they hope to get the legislation passed by Congress by the end of the year.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We've heard a lot about federal efforts to stem the epidemic of sexual assault on American college campuses. The latest action comes from a bipartisan group of lawmakers who introduced new legislation today. Studies show one in five women are raped or assaulted while in school. The bill imposes new penalties on colleges and universities for not complying with certain requirements. In a moment we'll hear from two of the bill's sponsors. First, NPR's Laura Sullivan reports on a story shared at today's news conference on Capitol Hill.

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Anna went off to Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York last year and was allegedly raped 16 days into her freshman year. A medical examiner's report found blunt force trauma possibly from multiple partners. And an eyewitness said he saw Anna passed out in the back of a dance hall being raped by football players while others watched and took pictures. The football players denied the charges. The school cleared them 12 days later. One of the first people Anna called was her mom, Susan.

SUSAN: There are really no words to explain what a parent goes through when they get a phone call like that.

SULLIVAN: Susan and Anna have been trying to pick up the pieces ever since.

SUSAN: It is hard to convey what this means to the families out there because their child has been assaulted, harassed and retaliated against and have been made to feel lost and powerless.

SULLIVAN: A group of senators is aiming to help them with a new bill meant to force colleges to handle rape accusations aggressively - provide advocates for victims and produce a survey of students each year that will be made public. If they don't they could be fined up to 1 percent of their operating budgets which for some schools could mean millions of dollars. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, is one of the bill's cosponsors.

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: We are done with the days of asking victims why they drank too much or wore the wrong thing or went to the wrong place or hung out with the wrong guy. Those days are done.

SULLIVAN: Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrats from Missouri and New York, recently conducted an anonymous survey of colleges and found most schools are ill-equipped to handle assault cases. What's more, it found schools have a financial and public incentive not to investigate or report allegations that do arise. Twenty percent of U.S. colleges still allow athletic departments to adjudicate rape cases involving athletes. McCaskill and Gillibrand say, they hope to get the legislation passed by Congress by the end of the year. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, the Capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.