What Congress can do to fight campus sexual assault
Last week, Brock Turner, who was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on the Stanford University campus in 2015, was sentenced — over the objections of prosecutors — to just six months in jail, by a judge who worried that a long prison sentence “would have a severe impact on him.”1
The decision by Judge Aaron Persky to privilege the well-being of a rapist over justice and public safety is a horrifying example of rape culture. His decision to be lenient with a white perpetrator based on the assumption that Turner would not commit more crimes shows the power of white privilege at work in our justice system.
While efforts are underway to hold Judge Persky accountable for his decision,4 it’s also important that Congress step in to do what it can to fight campus sexual assault. Fortunately, Rep. Jackie Speier has authored legislation that will help address the problem. The Hold Accountable and Lend Transparency (HALT) Campus Sexual Violence Act, which has bipartisan support, would increase support, training and accountability, and make campuses safer places for students.
Tell Congress: Pass the HALT Act to fight campus sexual assault.
The massive outcry over Persky’s decision is currently shining a much-needed national spotlight on the ongoing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. One in four college women are sexually assaulted, but more than three-quarters of them don’t report their assaults. Almost 200 colleges are under investigation by the federal government for mishandling cases of assault.2,3 Despite the alarming statistics, current federal law actually encourages colleges to under report assaults, and provides no real penalties for schools that try to sweep sexual assaults under the rug.
Title IX, which mandates gender equality in education, and the Clery Act, which requires schools to report crime statistics, are the main federal tools to help fight campus sexual assault. These laws aren’t enough to fight back against the epidemic of campus sexual assault. The HALT Act would help improve and strengthen those tools:4
- More funding for investigations: The agencies charged with investigating Title IX and Clery Act violations are overwhelmed and underfunded. HALT would allocate an additional $10 million for investigations.
- More avenues for justice: HALT would allow survivors of sexual assault to sue universities for violations of the Clery Act as well as violations of Title IX.
- Real penalties: Current penalties for schools that fail to address sexual assault on campus have no real teeth. The only allowable penalty for a Title IX violation is the loss of all federal funding, which is so extreme it will never be used. The maximum fine for a Clery violation is only $35,000. HALT allows the government to levy penalties for Title IX violations and increases the Clery penalty to $100,000.
- Increased transparency: HALT mandates anonymous, standardized surveys of students at every school in the country, with results published online. It also mandates public disclosure of the names of schools under investigation, as well as the findings of those investigations along with any resolution.
Representatives from both parties have already signed on in support of this bill, which advocates believe is the strongest of several legislative options. But despite the clear need for this legislation, the Republican leadership in the House is not pushing it through.
With the national media currently focused on campus sexual assault because of the Turner case, now is the time to send the message that it’s time for Congress to act.
- Ashley Fantz, “Outrage over 6-month sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford rape case," CNN, June 7, 2016.
- Richard Pérez-Peña, “1 in 4 Women Experience Sex Assault on Campus," New York Times, September 21, 2015.
- Open OCR Investigations for Sexual Assault, Know Your IX
- Allie Bidwell, “The new measure would increase funding for the Department of Education to investigate Title IX and Clery Act complaints," US News and World Report, June 4, 2015.