Lawmakers want universities to be held accountable for sexual abuse

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campus sexual assault

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), Representative Elissa Slotkin (MI-08), Senators John Cornyn (TX), Debbie Stabenow (MI) as well as Representatives Fred Upton (MI-06) and Paul Mitchell (MI-10) Tuesday called on Congress to pass their bipartisan, bicameral legislation to hold universities that receive federal funding accountable for sexual abuse cases that threaten the safety of their students. The Accountability of Leaders in Education to Report Title IX Investigations (ALERT) Act would require university leaders to certify they have reviewed any reports of sexual abuses perpetrated by university employees. April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives held a press conference on the need to pass their bill.

For the video of their remarks, click here.

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To watch video click here. To download the full HD video, click here.

Peters recently reintroduced the ALERT Act with Cornyn and Stabenow, and Tuesday Slotkin led introduction of the bipartisan House companion bill with Upton and Mitchell. 

“The leaders that are responsible for the safety of our students at colleges and universities across the country cannot be allowed to escape accountability when they fail to take action following instances of assault,” said Senator Peters. “‘I didn’t know’ can never be an excuse for college and university leadership. It’s time for Congress to pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that would hold university officials accountable if they neglect their basic responsibilities in responding to reported instances of young people being abused or assaulted by an employee affiliated with the institution.”

“It is critical that we answer survivors’ courage with action, and I’m proud to introduce the bipartisan, bicameral ALERT Act in the House today,” said Representative Slotkin. “This legislation is about the accountability of leaders on our nation’s campuses to the students they are supposed to serve, and is one important step toward protecting the safety of our students. I’m proud to stand alongside equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in support of this bill – an important signal that working to prevent sexual assault and protect students is not, and should never be, a partisan issue.”

“When parents send their children off to college, they expect school officials to keep them safe,” said Senator Cornyn. “Unfortunately, we’ve heard too many allegations of sexual abuse where university leaders failed to take action. With this bill, we’re putting a spotlight on school leadership who’ve turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct and saying no more.”

“I’ve had the honor to meet with a number of young survivors, both in Washington and in Michigan, and many of them have mentioned how incredibly alone they have felt,” said Senator Stabenow. “We are here today to tell them that they are not alone now. Our legislation will help hold universities accountable to keep our young people safe.” 

“We should be doing everything we can to protect student safety on college campuses. Our students deserve nothing less,” said Representative Upton. “Unfortunately recent incidents on college campuses across the nation demonstrate we need to do more. The bipartisan ALERT Act is an important step forward, ensuring university leaders are informed of incidents of sexual violence on their campus. Those reports can then be addressed quickly and in the correct manner.”

“When we send our young folks off to college, we have an understanding and expectation that the institution at a minimum will provide safety and security. While most colleges and universities do a good job meeting that expectation, we must hold them accountable when they fail,” said Representative Mitchell. “That’s why I’m cosponsoring the bipartisan, bicameral ALERT Act, which will ensure colleges and universities receiving federal funding confirm they are effectively monitoring Title IX sexual abuse complaints on campuses nationwide; additionally, this legislation ensures university leaders do not interfere with, or unduly influence, an ongoing investigation.”

The bipartisan ALERT Act is supported by the American Association of University Women and the National Women’s Law Center.

“Gender equity is only possible if women and girls have full access to education free from fear or violence and harassment,” said Deborah J. Vagins, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Research at the American Association of University Women (AAUW). “AAUW applauds the bipartisan, bicameral introduction of the ALERT Act, which would prioritize responding to sexual assault committed by employees at colleges and universities by involving the highest levels of leadership – the president and boards of the institution. The ALERT Act is one of many proactive steps that Congress can take to ensure that schools work to protect students from sexual violence.”  

“The ALERT Act would mandate an additional layer of review of Title IX processes involving complaints by covered employees on campuses, an accountability measure that is necessary to ensure that campuses – all the way up to the President and Board of Trustees – take sexual harassment reports seriously,” said Emily Martin, Vice President for Workplace Justice and Education, National Women’s Law Center.

Under Title IX, colleges and universities that receive federal funds are required to establish clear procedures for promptly responding to instances of sexual violence on campuses. They must also have a Title IX coordinator in place to oversee investigations, coordinate disciplinary actions, and ensure compliance with federal guidance. However, after university leaders have continually failed to take action on or even claim they were unaware of reports of sexual abuse by university employees, such as in the cases of Larry Nassar at Michigan State University and Jerry Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University, official Title IX or external investigations as currently constructed have not proven to be sufficient motivators for high-ranking university officials to report the truth.

The ALERT Act would require federally funded colleges and universities to submit an annual certification to the Secretary of Education affirming that the school’s President, or equivalent officer, and at least one other member of the Board of Trustees have reviewed all sexual abuse investigations involving an employee reported to the Title IX coordinator that year. The annual certification would also require confirmation that neither the President, or equivalent officer, or board member had interfered with or inappropriately influenced an ongoing investigation.

To watch the press conference, click here. To download the full high-res video, click here.

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