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The Early Aspects Of Legislation

Over the past two years, campus sexual violence has grabbed the attention of filmmakers, lawmakers and the White House. This issue is garnering lots of attention — which is good for students safety in colleges and universities.

From the start, United States legislation has struggled in concisely defining “affirmative consent”. The policy colloquially known as “No Means No”, deemed to be a problem early on with its adoption at universities because of it’s loose terms of sexual assault. For many years, student reports of assault have been frequently mishandled. This discouraged survivors to come forward and identify themselves as victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. The majority of state laws define sexual assault using the old consent standard (“No Means No”) in terms of campus sexual assault. However, there are sex offenses that can be charged in the criminal justice system using an affirmative consent standard. While “no means no” has become a well-known slogan, it places the burden on victims, which makes it their responsibility to adamantly show resistance.

Unfortunately, early legislation faltered in identifying assaults and effectively executing its laws to implement safety for students in college. Since “No Means No” and other policies have been lackluster in its efforts, the government and several states have taken strides for improvement.

This has led to the establishment of Campus Climate surveys. The surveys are created to afford institutions the opportunity to better understand their campus and make informed decisions when it comes to providing a safe educational environment. The states that utilize this service will conduct a uniform climate survey that ascertains student experience with and knowledge of reporting. As well as college adjudicatory processes for sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other related crimes.

Recently, the state of California enacted SB 967 legislation to make “Yes Means Yes” the consent standard on college campuses, which takes a major step toward preventing sexual violence. This legislation requires preventative education during student orientation, increased access to counseling resources and training for adjudication panels. Thus, we begin to see a shift in policy and legislation being adopted by universities that increases security and prevention of continual sexual violence on campuses.

Confining The Confusion of Legislation

Presently, the implementation of Campus Climate Surveys and new legislation have made huge strides in confining the confusion of sexual assault on campus. Legislation is beginning to narrow down the definition of consent and sexual assault. Each has it’s own interpretation like California, whose  “Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent”. Making these terms transparent is very important in effectively tackling the problem.

Until now, these sanctions have been voluntarily adopted by colleges; SB-967 gives them the backing of a government mandate. In addition to creating a vaguely and subjectively defined offense of nonconsensual sex, the bill also explicitly places the burden of proof on the accused. Stating that they must demonstrate that he (or she) took “reasonable steps … to ascertain whether the complainant affirmatively consented.” Policies as such are controversial and burden the victims more than necessary.

One of the task force's recommendations for revising sexual misconduct policies included defining consent as a "voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity." Past consent should not imply consent, nor should silence or the absence of resistance, the guidelines recommend.

Schools nationwide are in the process of rewriting or have already rewritten their sexual assault policies, procedures and prevention education programs to meet standards in the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, known as the Campus SaVE Act. That took effect in 2013 as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. With a fairer process, more students are coming forward to report crimes, and in time campuses will be safer.

Improvement of  the Federal Government’s Enforcement Efforts

The Obama administration is working to improve the Federal Government’s enforcement efforts, and to make them more transparent in practice. He states:

“We need to build on these efforts. To better address sexual assault at our nation’s schools, we need to both strengthen our enforcement efforts and increase coordination among responsible federal agencies. Also, and importantly, we need to improve our communication with students, parents, school administrators, faculty, and the public, by making our efforts more transparent.”

In 2014 President Obama proposed this call to action to identify the problem and to solve it. The White House Task Force was created to protect students from sexual assault. They have proposed a new standard to dealing with sexual assault on campus strive to show sexual assault survivors that they are not alone. The Task Force helps schools live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.

  1. Identify the scope of the problem on college campuses;
  2. Help prevent campus sexual assault;
  3. Help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted; and
  4. Improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts.

Obama has stated that, Campus Climate Surveys are necessary and will be mandated in 2016. He feels that a mandate for schools to periodically conduct a climate survey will change the national dynamic. The Federal government will have a better picture of what’s really happening on campus. Schools will be able to more effectively tackle the problem and measure the success of their efforts (notalone.gov)

Developing A Comprehensive Sexual Misconduct Policy

The Task Force has created a way for colleges and universities to have an easily accessible, user-friendly sexual misconduct policy. They realize that many schools do not have adequate policies and that there is no one approach that suits every school. So they have created a policy aid that will help with the grey area that each school will have due to their diversity.  The White House Task Force states:

We are providing schools with a checklist for a sexual misconduct policy. This checklist provides both a suggested process for developing a policy, as well as the key elements a school should consider in drafting one. Importantly, schools should bring all the key stakeholders to the table – including students, survivors, campus security, law enforcement, resident advisors, student groups (including LGBTQ groups), on-campus advocates, and local victim service providers. Effective policies will vary in scope and detail, but an inclusive process is common to all.

In June of 2014, they provided schools with a sample Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement. The MOU can help open lines of communication and increase coordination among campus security, local law enforcement and other community groups that provide victim services. This can also improve security on and around campus, make investigations and prosecutions more efficient, and increase officer's’ understanding of the unique needs of sexual assault victims. They will explore legislative or administrative options to require colleges and universities to conduct an evidence-based survey, also known as Campus Climate Surveys, in 2016.

In essence, The White House Task Force has played a big role in the improvement of legislation in colleges and universities with sexual assault. They seek to clearly define the problem, identify it, and solve it. The implementation of Campus Climate Surveys is a very important aspect of this process. It’s mandatory implementation in 2016 will only lead to vast improvement in sexual assault policy and legislation on college and university campuses nationwide. Policy and legislation has only improved since progressive policies have been implemented and helping  sexual assault become widely known all over the nation.

 

Photo by Mark Fischer