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Editorial: Continue progress against sexual assault

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | AUGUST 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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As reported in The Daily Iowan on Wednesday, Congress has proposed — with bipartisan approval — new penalties for U.S. colleges and universities that do not take appropriate steps to handle issues of sexual assault and misconduct on their campuses.

The proposed bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, includes expensive fines for campuses that do not meet minimal regulatory standards. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is a proponent of the bill, and the UI claims that it is on track, citing its Six Point Plan to Combat Sexual Assault. The Editorial Board agrees that the UI has taken important first measures to combat sexual misconduct, but we urge the university to shoot for a standard well past the minimal requirements laid out by the proposed bill.

Last year was an especially messy time for the UI as the number of reports rose drastically and some public-relations moves regarding the problem flopped, leading to firmer action. The six-point plan — laid out on the Office of the UI President website, markssix steps regarding cracking down on offenders, increasing support for survivors, and adding funding, among others. There are even circular graphics indicating the progress of each step, though they seem a little problematic. 

Accepting a certain level of progress — somehow objectively measured to be reflected in a graphic — isn’t the kind of methodology that shows an eagerness to tackle the problem of sexual assault on campus. To be perfectly clear, it is a solid start, and the plan seems to cover all the bases pretty well, but without being able to record tangible proof (say, from the results of the coming school year), progress isn’t yet something to be measured.

The university is ahead of the curve — Grant Laverty, the chairman of the UI President Mason’s Student Advisory Committee says so, and we agree — but with such a sensitive issue, it’s never time to slow down. We take issue with a few of the plan’s points, such as explaining that offenders will be expelled in the “most severe cases,” adding subjective confusion to the seemingly objective premise of the plan, a subjective confusion that could be better, more thoroughly explained. 

The bill, perhaps, will not be voted on until next year; Congress is in recess for the rest of the summer, and there’s a short fall session in the works — apparently too short to pass a much-needed bill that could potentially protect thousands of young adults. During this break, we encourage the UI to take an even more active approach on handling cases of sexual assault. Set the bar. Pull out the stops. Spend even more money, and get absolutely everybody trained. Have an open, honest approach to the problem. There are a lot of cuckoos out there, No. 2 party school or not, who should receive swift reprehension and punishment.

Obviously, such a sensitive issue will require thoughtful action, something Congress seems to want but is too busy vacationing to make happen in the near future. The university should fill that void, going even further beyond proposed regulations, even before they happen.


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