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Senators Taking on Sexual Assault

May 5, 2014

Nicole Giles ’15  Women in Leadership

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has spent most of the last year in a major fight over how the U.S. military deals with cases of sexual assault. The Congresswoman has recently announced that the next issue she plans to tackle is one of rising concern in this country: sexual assault on college campuses. However, Senator Gillibrand is not alone in this new focus; fellow Democrat Senator Claire McCaskill is attacking this topic of controversy as well. With the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness Month of April, the senators began to research further into the issue. McCaskill requested data from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This data would be used to show the specifics of what she called the “disturbing” lack of action on the part of the colleges and universities regarding on-campus sexual assaults.

According to a recent press release on April 7, Gillibrand and McCaskill have released a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting $109 million in new federal funds to be used for the Clery Act and Title IX enforcement on campuses. However, this is merely a first step for the duo. Gillibrand’s communications director, Glen Caplin, said Gillibrand will introduce legislation about sexual assault on college campuses by the end of the year. Gillibrand has also said in a statement that the requested funds would go through the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights that handles over 10,000 complaints a year, but has no staff member dedicated to complaints relating to sexual assault cases under Title IX.

All Clery Act complaints also go through the Office of Federal Student Aid’s Compliance Division, which stated in the press release that it was unable to investigate 63 percent of schools that violated the Act. In addition, around one third of the sexual assault policies at nearly 300 college campuses do not comply with the Act. On Tuesday, April 15th, Senator Claire McCaskill announced the release of an extensive survey that was sent to 350 colleges and universities nationwide as a means to further look into how these campuses handle reports of sexual assault. She hopes to obtain the results by May as a basis to access this current problem in the country.

This topic is extremely relevant to all young women in the U.S., particularly those that are in higher education. By numerous senators focusing on this problem, it confirms that it is a priority for the government. These actions are sent into motion as a means to make our colleges safer, and therefore, make women feel more comfortable attending them. However, this also confirms that the current legislation to combat sexual assault on college campuses has flaws. Despite VAWA, the Clery Act, and Title IX, the statistics of assaults on college campuses are on the rise. This shows that there is still work to be done in order to create the ideal learning environment in which women do not feel like they need to be the only ones preventing rape.

Instead of focusing on teaching girls how to protect themselves from rape, the country needs to focus on teaching men, and women, not to rape. The high statistics of this problem leads to the belief that it is a societal problem for the U.S. that could stem from a number of problems such as the prevalent “rape culture” in the country. To have this type of culture present is to present the idea that sexual assault is accepted by society because society is blind to the facts about the issue. Under a “rape culture,” society is taught that rape is only when a stranger attacks a random female walking by or that if a girl is dressed provocatively that she is asking for misfortune to fall upon her. Hopefully, with the new focus of some of the female senators in office, this topic can be discussed and a plan of action can be put in place to eliminate these injustices to young woman across the country.

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