U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited the University of Rochester on Monday to participate in a roundtable discussion on ending sexual violence. In a meeting with UR staff and students, Rochester officials and visitors from neighboring colleges, Gillibrand discussed a new bill that would provide stricter sanctions against campus sexual violence.
Representing the UR studentry were SA President and senior Antoinette Esce, SA Vice President and junior David Stark, representative for Consent is So Frat sophomore Tate Richards, and members of Men Opposing Violence Everywhere (MOVE) senior David Markakis and senior Michael Silverstein. Also in attendance were Rochester mayor Lovely Warren and Chief of Police Michael Ciminelli.
Gillibrand reintroduced a bill called the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA) in the Senate last Thursday, prompted by support from students and colleges. The bill was first introduced on June 30, 2014 but was not enacted. CASA expands on and revises the 1965 Clery Act, a piece of legislation aimed at colleges and universities. The Clery Act requires institutions of higher education to report crimes on their campuses to the U.S. Department of Education. Clery Act reporting is tied to some federal funding of college programs.
“[CASA] creates historic new transparency requirements,” Gillibrand said. The bill would require a biannual survey of students at all colleges in order to gather information about campus climates. All schools would also be required to establish a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with their local law enforcement agencies, detailing the procedures for reporting and investigating sexual violence. Rochester Chief of Police Michael Ciminelli noted that his agency has already established an MOU protocol with UR Public Safety. The MOU protocol ensures that law enforcement will be notified in the event that a rape or sexual assault occurs on UR’s campus.
One aim of the bill is to help improve the reporting of rapes and other sexual crimes. Citing a U.S. Senate study in which 40 percent of all college campuses said they had never reported a sexual assault under the Clery Act, Gillibrand discussed the need for greater transparency.
“A lot of campuses have gotten this wrong over a long period of time because it’s not worth their while to get the reporting right,” Gillibrand said, adding, “We can’t imagine that there were no sexual assaults on that 40 percent of campuses, but we can imagine that the climate may be so bad there that there is no reporting, or that schools are shoving it under the rug.” CASA increases fines for universities failing to report sexual assaults from $35,000 to $150,000 per violation of the Clery Act, which Gillibrand said she hopes will “flip the initiative” from the federal government to university administrations.
“When I look at this issue, the reason I know campuses aren’t taking it seriously is the way they look at the crime,” Gillibrand said. She noted that schools are more likely to take disciplinary action against a student for academic dishonesty or for not paying fees than for sexual assault.
In response to questions on the prevention of sexual violence, Gillibrand said she hoped the federal government’s stricter enforcement of Title IX would enable schools to change the culture surrounding sexual violence on their own campuses. “We can provide the transparency, so each school can take that information and then do something about it,” Gillibrand said.
Visiting administrators from SUNY Brockport described their “Bystander” program, a student education initiative that works to change student attitudes toward sexual violence on campus. Brockport students attend discussions on alcohol, sexuality and relationships to help teach them how to intervene in risky situations. The program focuses on the laws surrounding alcohol and consent, as well encouraging sober communication about sex.
Gillibrand pointed out that most rapes on college campuses are committed by students who target their victims in a premeditated way. “On average it’s six rapes per predator.” Gillibrand said. “Yes, there are examples where there might have been confusion or a lack of understanding […] but for the most part, we’re talking about people who are premeditating these crimes and targeting the victim.”
“We’ve had broad, bipartisan support,” Gillibrand said of the bill, adding that she is grateful for the increased advocacy from students and grassroots organization. “We have to make sure there’s not a senator or congressperson in Washington who hasn’t heard from their own constituents on the importance of these kinds of reforms.”
Passanisi is a member of
the class of 2017.