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Michigan Introduces “Yes Means Yes” Policy & Campus Climate Surveys

Campus climate survey at Michigan StateAlthough some may be weary of this decision, Michigan lawmakers have introduced “Yes Means Yes” policy, through Senate Bill 5102 and House Bill 4903 to the state. The senate bill was introduced September, 24, 2014 to make efforts to stop sexual assault on campuses. This makes it one of the 16 states who have been introduced or passed bills in relation to “Yes Means Yes” policy. "Bills like this in and of itself can't end sexual violence but it can be a very positive first step in changing the culture and the norms," said Executive Director Kathy Hagenian.

U Mich Leads the Pack on Campus Climate Surveys

Actions have been taken in Michigan colleges and universities. The forerunner, University of Michigan, currently administers Campus Climate Surveys. They have taken measures to reduce sexual assault and spread awareness of affirmative consent. The University of Michigan released the findings of a second campus climate survey of students on the Ann Arbor campus regarding sexual misconduct. U-M was one of 27 universities across the nation to participate in a survey sponsored by the Association of American Universities.

“This research [Campus Climate Surveys] is vitally important to our understanding of this problem so we can design education and prevention efforts in the most effective manner possible,” states their university president Mark Schlissel.

The university released a video earlier this year to bring additional awareness to the university’s commitment to creating a campus free of sexual assault, and broadly share the policy and reporting resources.

Universities and colleges in Michigan are beginning to enact progressive “Yes Means Yes” policy. After its introduction to the state, further action on sexual assault, affirmative consent, and campus climate surveys look like they may be in progress in the near future.

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Photo by David Paul Ohmer

Photo by Jeremy Bronson

Campus Climate Surveys: What to Expect in 2016

campus climate survey for 20162016 is a big year for Campus Climate Surveys and legislation. The surveys aims to give institutions the opportunity to better understand their campus and to make informed decisions about how to create and improve the safety of their educational environment. Recently, the US Senate Hearing 7.29.15 addressed the official bill The Campus Accountability and Safety Act. With that, the White House Task Force is adamant about cracking down on sexual assault and violences on campus.  With that, this upcoming year Campus Climate Surveys will potentially be federally mandated for all colleges and universities.

The first step in solving a problem is to name it and know the extent of it -- and a campus climate survey is the best way to do that. The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault

Several states like California and New York have already adopted these surveys and other policies like “Yes Means Yes”. This is a standard that requires affirmative consent — affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity — throughout the encounter, removing ambiguity for both parties. With these two proactive states leading the way, the Campus Climate Surveys surveys will soon be required as part of a Title IX/Clery Act compliance program.  So what do these tests entail?

They compromise student and employee knowledge about:

    • The Title IX Coordinator’s role;
    • Campus policies and procedures addressing sexual assault;
    • How and where to report sexual violence as a victim/survivor or witness;
    • The availability of resources on and off campus, such as counseling, health, academic assistance;
    • The prevalence of victimization and perpetration of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking on and off campus during a set time period (for example, the last two years);
    • Bystander attitudes and behavior;
    • Whether victims/survivors reported to the College/University and/or police, and reasons why they did or did not report.
    • The general awareness of the difference, if any, between the institution’s policies and the penal law; and
    • The general awareness of the definition of affirmative consent.

With the topics being brought to light in the college community, many people will now be educated  about the basics of sexual assaults and what to do if involved. Many people remain unaware about the severity and frequency of sexual assaults. So, the surveys are an excellent tool in providing “education” to people who would otherwise be blind to an offensive and serious situation.

Surveys May Hold Problems Clearing Areas Of Ambiguity

The surveys seem invaluable but, there are also challenges like areas of ambiguity for the utilization and implementation of them. It is unclear for what purpose a climate survey would be used: “Is it intended as a consumer information tool, an institutional improvement tool, an enforcement mechanism or some combination of all three?” The answer to this question could have a substantial impact on how a survey is designed and on how schools and others react to its results.

However, the plausibility of how these tests results can impact schools across the nation is incremental and erases many doubts. But, the usage and implementation continues to be questioned. As legislation improved and becomes widespread, we will begin to see change in colleges and universities. California and New York provide proof that Campus Climate Surveys and “Yes Means Yes” legislation can work and be properly enforced.

Forerunners New York and California Enact 2015-16 Bills

New York and California are two out of fifty states to enact “Yes Means Yes” legislation requiring Campus Climate Surveys and legislation against sexual assault state-wide. As these forerunners continue to implement their policies, they set an example for the rest of the states to follow.

State by state Campus Climate Survey requirements as of Dec 2015

The leader of the pack, California created a standard in 2014 that requires affirmative consent throughout the encounter, removing ambiguity for both parties. The law protects both individuals by ensuring that there is a mutual understanding. Legislation deems a person who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent. With this legislation, California colleges are being held more accountable for prevention, evaluation and a consistent protocol surrounding sexual assault.

New York’s Campus Climate Assessment Policy gives institutions the opportunity to increasingly understand their campus and to make informed decisions when it comes to providing a safe educational environment. Beginning in the 2015-2016 academic year, each State University of New York State-operated and community college will conduct a uniform climate survey that ascertains student experience with and knowledge of reporting and college adjudicatory processes for sexual harassment, including sexual violence, and other related crimes.

With these states creating the standard, Affirmative Consent laws and policies are making their way through the states. To Keep updated with continuing legislation, here is an updated list of Title IX Schools under investigation for Sexual Assault by the US Department of Education.

Affirmative consent legislation isn’t just about the more than 20 percent of young women and girls who will have to live as assault survivors. It’s about the 100 percent of women who have to live every day, never quite certain of their physical safety. Research shows that with affirmative consent education, we can create a culture of respect.”

 

Campus Climate Surveys - How The Legislation Has Evolved

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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

Campus Save Act of 2013 - Five Things You Should Know About It

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Five Things You Should Know About Violence Against Women Act of 2013 and Campus Save Act of 2013

On November 25th of each year a little known date is recognized by only a few the world over.  “The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.”  This day instituted by the General Assembly of the United Nations was started in 1999 in hopes of raising public awareness of the countless women who have been attacked, assaulted, or coerced into actions against their will.

The prejudices that are launched against many women are deeply rooted practices that go back thousands of years and will take much more than a special day to change. Add to this the fact that this historical plague against women most often on college campuses and you’ll soon realize that violence against women on school campuses is an assault on our nation’s future.

Still, efforts to make such changes are being made and a modicum of success has been seen.  One of those efforts has been with the passing of the Violence Against Women Act of 2013 and the Campus Save Act both of which have been designed to slow the tide of violence against women.  While both of these documents are very encouraging steps forward in our fight against violence against women there are some things that everyone should know about them.

1. Student Training Programs

According to the 2013 Violence Against Women Act and the Campus Save Act all students will be required to attend a comprehensive “primary prevention and awareness” program where they will be clearly educated on what offenses like rape, acquaintance rape, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking entail and the school’s position on prohibiting these behaviors.

 2. New Student Discipline Requirements

The VAWA Act of 2013 also must detail the proper procedures victims should follow to preserve evidence of an assault and where the assault should be reported.  The compliance should also explain clearly the victim’s rights in these cases.

 3. Standards of Investigation

Another requirement of the VAWA Act of 2013 must also address the proper standards of investigation and conduct of student discipline proceedings in cases of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking cases.

 4. New Reporting Requirements

 The 2013 Violence Against Women Act also has new reporting requirements that every college campus must meet.  In the past, reporting of these types of assaults was also very inconsistent.  There was a lack of clarity of definition that that made those reporting campus statistics unsure.  With clear definitions listed in the VAWA Act of 2013 reporting now is clear.

In addition to the annual reporting of crimes of “forcible and non-forcible sex offenses and aggravated assaults” campuses are also required to report cases of domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking as well.

 5. The New Law Is More Inclusive

The previous violence against women act of 1994 not all women were included.  Native American women and LGBT survivor complaints were not always respected.  With the passing of this new reauthorization of the law these critical gaps have now been closed.  Today, all women who are victims of violence can get the protection that they need.

According to a December 2000 report entitled “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” published by the National Institute of Justice, a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes per year.  That fact along with other acts of violence against women is the very reason why the new Violence Against Women Act of 2013 is so important to the future of our women and society as a whole.

 

[Image source: STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN EVERYWHERE Speak Out Rally at Columbia Heights Plaza on 14th between Kenyon Street and Park Road, NW, Washington DC on Saturday afternoon, 9 March 2013 by Elvert Barnes PROTEST PHOTOGRAPHY]