Sexual assault on college campuses is one of the most scrutinized social issues in the nation these days, and the country is fortunate that U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri is at the front of a powerful movement to remedy this frequently marginalized problem.
McCaskill has been touring Missouri colleges and universities, talking to students and school officials about the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which she and three other Democratic senators and four Republican senators introduced last summer.
McCaskill got the audience’s attention early on when she said:
“It’s an embarrassing but true fact that if you’re a young person going to college, you’re more likely to be assaulted than if you don’t.”
Here are three other alarming facts she put forward:
:: Ten to 15 percent of colleges and universities don’t have a Title IX coordinator, often leaving that job, McCaskill said, “to a phys-ed teacher with a clipboard.” (Title IX is the 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.)
:: Many people mistakenly believe that most sexual assaults on campus are the result of the “hook-up culture” and widespread use of alcohol and illegal drugs. In fact, McCaskill said, “Most of the individuals who commit acts are predators, and they don’t do it just once; they do it over and over and over until they get caught.”
:: A survey McCaskill generated found that of 440 four-year colleges and universities, 41% of the schools surveyed had not initiated a sexual-assault investigation in the previous five years.
The survey results indicate one of two things, McCaskill said:
That the 41 percent either did not have complaints (extremely unlikely) or that students had tried to bring complaints but school officials had discouraged them from doing so (much more likely).
McCaskill’s bill would help address some of the existing situations by:
— Establishing new campus resources and support services for assault victims
— Requiring campus law enforcement personnel to have appropriate training
— Increasing campus accountability and coordination with law enforcement
— Establishing enforceable Title IX penalties
One of the possible penalties set forth in the act is that a college or university found to be in violation could forfeit up to one percent of its federal funding. McCaskill said she intended to amend that provision to say that up to one percent of a school’s federal funding would be redirected from general coffers to shoring up its sexual-assault prevention and investigation program.
McCaskill’s presentation, while very serious for the most part, had its lighter moments.
At one point, for example, Avila President Ron Slepitza asked McCaskill if it was possible, in her bill, to clear up conflicting provisions in other laws, such as the 1990 Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities receiving federal money to keep and disclose information about crime on and near their campuses.
McCaskill looked at Slepitza for a second and said, “Well, you’re asking us to be efficient.” As laughter broke out, she added, “Do you know where I work?”
McCaskill is almost uniquely qualified to lead the charge to reduce sexual assault on campuses and to beef up schools’ prevention and investigation programs. For several years, when she was an assistant Jackson County prosecutor many years ago, she prosecuted sex-crime cases. In addition, she was Jackson County’s elected prosecutor from 1993 through 1998.
McCaskill told the Avila crowd that she remembered the time, in the early 1970s, when the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) was just getting started and when St. Luke’s Hospital was the only place where women could go to get tested for evidence of sexual assault.
…Thankfully, times have changed and we’ve come a long way on the problem of sexual assault on American campuses. But not nearly far enough or fast enough. A lot of heads remain in the sand, and McCaskill’s bill would go a long way, it appears, toward forcing school administrators to pull them out and pay much more attention to sexual assault on campuses.
As McCaskill alluded to in her joke — “Do you know where I work?” — dysfunction prevails in Congress, and the campus accountability and safety act could easily flounder in the sea of friction and disharmony. But McCaskill said she was willing to compromise to get a bill that would bring significant improvement, even if the bill didn’t hit all of her checkpoints.
“We’ve got to have bipartisan support, or it’s not going to pass,” she said. “I’m not going to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”