A bipartisan group of eight senators introduced legislation Wednesday that U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, one of the bill's Democratic proponents, likened to a bill of rights for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses.
"The broad principles of this bill are incontrovertible," Blumenthal said. "The days of blaming the survivor are done. Schools can no longer demean or dismiss this problem. A survivor can no longer be blamed for what she wore or where she went or what she drank."
The bill seeks to add structure to the way colleges and universitties and law enforcement deal with campus sexual assault cases. Critics have charged that such cases are now often mishandled in awkward and at times ineffective combinations of school disciplinary bodies and the traditional criminal justice system. If passed by Congress, the law would require schools to clearly and publicly settle their relationship with local law enforcement in dealing with reports of assault.
Schools would also have to adopt more formal support systems for victims, including providing confidential assistance to those who are deciding between the criminal justice system or the school's disciplinary board. The bill would also required specialized training for any school officials asked to deal with sexual assault cases.
A press release announcing the bill cited a statistic that nearly 20 percent of female undergraduates have been the victims of sexual assault, a figure that may be far lower than the actual number because many victims choose not to come forward.
With Congress heading for its traditional August recess, Blumenthal said that he hopes to have public hearings about the legislation in September. In the meantime, he urged schools to being adopting the major provisions of the bill as soon as possible.
"They should be preparing and taking steps to implement these measures even before passage because they make good sense as a matter of policy," he said.
The bill was announced in Washington, D.C. by the following cosponsors: Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Blumenthal, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).