A congressional effort aimed at curbing sexual assaults on college campuses smartly seeks to simplify the maze victims must navigate after an attack. The bill, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included Sen. Marco Rubio, would make clear the channels for reporting rape and require training for campus investigators and persons involved in disciplinary panels. It also will hold universities accountable for being transparent about on-campus assaults. These steps are necessary to force change in a culture that too often protects perpetrators, shields universities and discourages victims from pursuing justice.
The legislation, the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, seeks to revamp a broken system surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses, where as many as 95 percent of all rapes go unreported. The act would provide victims with confidential advisers who would support and guide them through their legal options. The proposal also requires specialized training for advisors and anyone participating in on-campus disciplinary procedures or investigations. Students would be surveyed annually about sexual violence on campuses and the results made public in an effort to present a more accurate picture of campus life.
The legislation also would require that campuses create uniform procedures for disciplinary proceedings and discontinue hearings by subgroups such as athletic departments. Under the legislation, colleges and law enforcement would share information to solve alleged sexual violence crimes. Schools that fail to comply could see a 1 percent hit to their operating budgets and face other financial penalties.
Lawmakers should be commended for trying to change rules and operating procedures on campuses that too often benefit perpetrators and leave victims to fend for themselves. But the proposed measures don't go far enough. Investigating sexual assault complaints and meting out punishment should not be handled by universities. It should be a police matter, handled by personnel trained to deal with such highly complex cases. Law enforcement should take the cases seriously and conduct timely and thorough investigations.
Overhauling campus cultures with a bias toward protecting athletes and blaming the victim will not happen overnight. But no student, male or female, should have to view the possibility of being sexually assaulted as one of the routine hazards of college life. Colleges and universities have an obligation to provide safe environments for all students, and when those safeguards fail, students should be directed to police. Students also must take responsibility for protecting themselves and be mindful that alcohol and drug use can lower their defenses and make them easy prey for those who would do them harm. There is never an excuse for sexual assault, and the entire country must make sure that message and the punishment for violations are clear and consistent.