Earlier this month, The Nation partnered with Know Your IX, a national survivor-run campaign to fight campus sexual violence. Together we called on Congress to give the Department of Education the tools to hold colleges accountable for their treatment of sexual assault. This morning, a group of senators introduced a bill that would do just that.
Title IX is famous for its impact on women’s sports, but the law also requires schools to protect students from gender-based violence. Our campaign asked Congress to give the DOE the authority to impose fines on schools that violate students’ Title IX rights by not protecting them from sexual violence. The DOE’s Office for Civil Rights has never once sanctioned a school for sexual assault-related violations. Part of the reason is that the current option at their disposal, the full removal of federal funds, is too onerous. Senator McCaskill called it an “idle threat” that is “like having no penalty.”
Between the petition hosted at The Nation and another at Change.org, we collected over 11,000 names in favor of the change. Along with lending their support to the campaign, many shared their stories with us, and the reasons they were demanding reform. A number of supporters said they lacked faith in institutions’ treatment of victims; one woman wrote, “My daughter was raped going down to the ladies room at night while studying in the campus in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She never even told me until years later. She thought no one would do anything about it.” Another commented, “I graduated college in 1983. This was an issue then. Why has nothing been done in thirty-one years?”
Called the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of senators that included Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill and Republicans Marco Rubio and Dean Heller. Wagatwe Wanjuki, a member of Know Your IX, spoke at the press conference, as did other survivors and advocates. In addition to fines, the bill would require schools to make public the results of annual anonymous surveys on sexual assault on their campuses, ensure minimum training standards for staff handling sexual assault complaints and require colleges to implement uniform procedures for handling complaints, forbidding them from allowing subgroups, such as athletic departments, to handle accusations for their group alone.
Members of Know Your IX see the legislation as an important step forward in holding colleges accountable for their treatment of sexual assault. “We’re glad to see this bipartisan effort, rooted in students’ experiences on the ground and their recommendations, moving forward,” they said. “It’s a promising step toward building campuses that are safe for students of all genders.”