April 30, 2014

Summary: The mishandling of sexual assault allegations on college campuses is a growing problem in the U.S., but only recently has the government stepped in to fix the problem.

Horrifying allegations of sexual assaults on college campuses have flooded the news stream in the past few months.  Stories such as victim blaming at God’s Harvard (Patrick Henry College), the anonymous letter from a sexual abuse victim blasting the real Harvard, allegations that universities cared more about their bottom line and boosters than investigating abuse claims, or the ongoing rape allegation against Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston at Florida State University have cast light on the dark and uncomfortable topic of sexual abuse; one which too many colleges and universities have turned a blind eye to; not just over the past few months, but for the past several years.

Unfortunately for victims of campus sexual abuse, there are financial perks for colleges to keep their allegations quiet.  The human element in capitalism often comes second to profits; this becomes a huge problem on public campuses, who earn their ‘public’ designation by their inability to arbitrarily refuse attendance.  Think about it in this light; it’s cheaper for a school to ignore and eventually settle sexual abuse claims than it is for them to go through internal investigations and eventually the courts.  As it seems too often, it’s not “sometimes” about the money – it’s always about the money; even on college campuses.  This might explain why colleges across the U.S. are dragging their heels.

It’s only fitting that with the culmination of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, that awareness of campus abuses has reached a peak.  Fortunately, the highest levels of government have taken notice and are taking action.  President Obama signed the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act into law last year, which takes effect October 1st.  The highlights of the SaVE Act are:

  • The requirement for schools to disclose incidents of domestic/dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking in annual crime statistic reports.
  • Campuses are mandated to assist those victimized, including the enforcement of restraining orders, transparency in the disciplinary process, and given contact information for advocacy, legal, and health services.
  • Mandatory programming for students and employees that addresses prevention, awareness, and bystander intervention.
  • Outlines minimum standards for institutional disciplinary procedures.
  • Establishes collaboration with the U.S. Department of Justice with education, health, and human services to establish best practices to prevent abuse.

A California lawmaker have also noticed this troubling trend; U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), after meeting with six UC-Berkeley students who filed claims against the federal government against the university, pledged to press for more aggressive action against sexual assault by introducing additional legislation to toughen up sexual assault laws on college campuses.  The changes Rep. Speier seeks to implement are:

  • Increased funding for federal investigators
  • Annual campus surveys
  • More comprehensive data on the outcomes of cases
  • Require universities to interview students who file claims of sexual abuse

Speier’s pledges are in addition to the proposed California Senate Bill 967 (SB-967) which would require that any college receiving public funding to adopt an “Affirmative Consent” standard that adds “only yes means yes” to the “no means no” standard; this removes mitigating factors, such as drunkenness, from the equation.  For all of the troubles within federal and state government, they’ve got this one right – even if it took them a while to get involved.  Let’s hope the momentum generated by President Obama, Rep. Speier, and the brave victims at UC Berkeley among all victims of sexual abuse on college campuses can parlay into greater awareness, stricter laws, and ultimately more safety on our campuses.

If your child, or a child you know is a victim of sexual abuse, contact your local police department and report it.  To find out more about the victim’s legal rights, contact Estey & Bomberger today to get a free consultation at (800) 925-0723 or via email at info@estey-bomberger.com.


New Campus Sexual Assault Legislation Is Not Enough to Prevent Another Florida State Scandal

Congresswoman aims to crack down on campuses’ sex assault ‘epidemic’

3 Ways Congress Is Getting Serious About Sexual Assault on College Campuses

PCC grapples with sex abuse allegations in viral blog post

Campus SaVE Act: Homepage

Clery Center: The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act

California Senate Bill 967